09 April 2009

Some Favorite Artisan Chocolates


The Pacific Northwest is home to many amazing food products some of which I have highlighted over the past year or so here at My Own Sweet Thyme. I have tasted barbecue sauce with such a spicy hit you’d feel sure it was made south of the border. I have explored local honey products, hazelnuts, nut butters, sake, wine and cheese.

For Easter I though I would look into locally produced chocolates. One of my personal favorites is Alma Chocolate off Burnside in Portland. Owner Sarah Hart makes gorgeous chocolates, molded in the shape of religious icons and burnished with edible gold leaf. They are made from solid single origin dark chocolate and they are beautiful, so beautiful in fact it was hard to convince myself to eat the gilded sacred heart I was given for Valentine’s Day several years ago.

When I visited her shop I realized she makes a number of outstanding bon bons, caramels and bars too, many of which are also brushed with a metallic gleam. My absolute favorite are the Habanero Caramel Crowns. A crown shaped shell of dark chocolate holds a deceptively soft caramel center that packs a spicy punch. The punch comes from habanero peppers and in my view it is perfectly balanced by the sweet ooze of the caramel.


Alma Chocolate also carries seasonal specialties. For spring there are bunnies, frogs and Hazelnut Hedgehogs with a praline filling. Like all of treats sold here they are soulful and unique. Alma's brilliant chocolates make a thoughtful, tasty and gorgeous addition to any Easter basket or other special celebration!


Another intriguing chocolate maker in the Pacific Northwest is Lillie Belle Farms. This small company in southern Oregon produces handmade artisan chocolates from organic couvertures in an enticing array of flavors. Several flavor combinations are award winning, most notably their Smokey Blue Truffles made with Smoked Oregon Blue Cheese produced by their neighbor, Rogue Creamery. When I researched locally crafted blue cheese to substitute for imported blue cheese in some recipes I found a link to these ingenious truffles.



I was thrilled when, finally, I had a chance to sample an assortment of Lillie Belle Farms' bonbons, caramels and ganaches. The custom assortment I created on-line included a Maker's Mark Cup, a dreamy bourbon-laced pecan butter ganache in a dark chocolate shell topped with a splendid candied pecan, and a Black Pepper Ganache, infused with just the right amount of earthy heat.


There was also a wholesome dark chocolate Marionberry Bon Bon, filled with Lillie Belle Farms' own organic Marionberry preserves.


And I was able to taste a Jamaican Spiced Caramel richly laced with island spices. All were wonderful and yet, of all the daring flavor combinations, that Smokey Blue Truffle remained the center of interest.

I have to say that the Smoky Blue Truffle was truly, and somewhat unexpectedly, amazing! Beneath the blue foil wrapper, it was encrusted in a shell of toasted almonds which beautifully harmonized with the subtle smokiness said to be imparted to the cheese by the smoke of hazelnut shells. Inside, the creamy sharp tang of the blue cheese combined with the dreamy sweetness of organic milk chocolate to produce a wonderfully balanced flavor sensation. The taste was both surprising and delightful.


This unique truffle seems to have successfully married the earthy flavor of aged cheese to the smoothly elegant taste of milk chocolate without compromising the unique strengths of either flavor. It’s like one of those marriages you thought would never work, when he is older and from New York, trained in the sciences but is always on the jazz and talks a mile a minute, while she is a shy young woman from the rural lanes of lush bluegrass country…..

Wait, that’s my marriage!

But you get what I mean. You wonder how that could possibly work but, with just the right blend, the strong supports the weak and the weak tempers the strong, and the rough edges of both mellow as they transform each other with an alchemy that makes them more than the sum of their parts. That is this truffle. Exotic, yes! Edgy? Sure! But it works beautifully and is fun to experience.


Lillie Belle Farms' Easter treats are also edgy. Not only do they offer sweet organic dark and white chocolate egg truffles filled with vanilla bean or blood orange ganache, but they also have solid chocolate bunnies and, for the stout hearted, a collection of very unusual voodoo bunnies!

8 comments:

MaryBeth said...

OMG...These candies look so good, rich, gooey and down right YUMMY!!! I feel my blood sugar rising just from looking at them!

Elyse said...

Wow! All of these chocolates look amazing. What a fabulous post. You have me drooling at the computer screen. I need some chocolate now.

Mary said...

These are just sensational looking. The one with the dripping caramel has my name all over it. These really are amazing.

Nicisme said...

W O N D E R F U L !!!
I love good chocs, mmmmm...

Pam said...

Well, that was a hard job, but someone had to do it, right?!!!!

Bunny said...

I want the easter Bunny to bing me some of these!!

Grace said...

good heavens, lisa! half-bitten chocolates are one of my favorite types of food porn, and these little nibbles sound amazing.

disa said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.