Valentine’s Day always conjures up images of roses and chocolates. The Valentine’s Day gifts of our youth were usually foil-wrapped, milk chocolate cones produced by The Hershey Company. Today chocolate is as widely varied as wine, micro-brewed beers or designer olive oil, from coveted Belgian chocolates to handcrafted specialty chocolates.
Most Atlantans do not realize how lucky we are to have a true chocolate maker in our midst. A chocolate maker buys and roasts cocoa beans and grinds them into chocolate, while a chocolatier uses existing bars (called couverture) to create their confections. Kristen Hard, owner and founder of Cacao Atlanta, is both the first bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the Southeast and the first female bean-to-bar producer in the U.S. There are approximately 20 chocolate makers currently in the United States; conversely, there are hundreds of chocolatiers.
One might envision the life of a chocolate whisperer as being that of champagne-sipping glamour rather than the muck-trudging adventures Kristen endures to secure her carefully-sourced cocoa beans, including an overnight stay in a broken-down car in the Peruvian jungle while four months pregnant. With a mischievous smile she adds, “It was worth it to bring home the best beans for our customers.” Once she has the beans at her 3000-square-foot “laboratoire” in Inman Park, she roasts the beans, removes the shells and breaks them into small pieces. A paste is then formed, refined and kneaded to develop flavor, and at last the chocolate is tempered and poured into molds.
Kristen’s latest marvel is the “Love Bar” which is a 75% dark chocolate bar created from Hispaniola cocoa beans. The beans have been fermented and dried in the sun on a small, family-owned estate in the Dominican Republic. This bar is wonderfully full-bodied; not overly sweet with natural undertones of raspberry and coffee. Other seasonal offerings include the Valentine’s Day Sweet and Spicy Box of Love (with 12 flavored artisanal chocolates including cayenne passion fruit, strawberry pate de fruit, white chocolate rosewater, Aztec aphrodisiac, raspberry thyme, and almond marzipan) as well as chocolate flowers to celebrate Spring. Kristen is excited to be doing her three-foot chocolate rabbit again this year for Easter and will feature a selection of irresistible Easter eggs and bunnies.
And for those of you who would like to do more than woo your sweetheart with a box of truffles this year, it is not too late. You can immerse your sweetie in the world of chocolate at one of five 40-minute classes taught by Kristen herself on Valentine’s evening. The class will feature a brief educational talk, three ounces of chocolate to craft your own confections, hot cocoa, cookies and pastries. Classes are held at the Inman Park factory store. For more information, please visit http://www.cacaoatlanta.com/events.
Local food blogger Denise Romeo has lived in the Virginia-Highland area for 23 years. She and her husband, Dom, enjoy spending time together cooking and entertaining. You can read more from Denise on her award winning blog at We Like To Cook!