I never understood why sinful and chocolate go hand in hand. Is it wrong to love the soulful goodness that's borne of a simple cacao bean? Sin is wrong, right? Sin is bad, corrupt, immoral, evil. Why on earth would anyone equate chocolate's pure pleasure and delightful rapture with sin? If loving chocolate is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
In light of Valentine's Day and all its treacly sweet glory, I got to sample some of the most delectable handmade chocolates to be found in the 919 area code. This was an agonizingly great assignment. My palate was tempted, teased, and titillated by the likes of Escazu, Péché, WR Chocolatier, and Chocolate Smiles. And I dutifully tasted them all, succumbing to sharing only when it was a social or familial blunder not to.
Lest you think all chocolate is the same, I'm here to tell you it ain't so.
All the chocolates I tasted were lovely to the eye and even more pleasing to the palate. While I'm not a fan of dark chocolate (I know, I know...blasphemy to "real" chocolate connoisseurs and frightfully off track from what you'd expect from a girl who loves her coffee thick and black), I did enjoy the samples all the chocolatiers sent along to expand my horizons. Dark chocolate tidbits included.
WR Chocolatier surprised me with some unique flavors. Even my sons, ages 6 and 4, took a liking to the Habanero Orange. I was partial to the Key Lime Pie truffle (perhaps because I got married in Key West almost 10 years ago so all things reminiscent of that make me swoon). All the chocolates looked lovely in a glass dish that rounded out the tasting experience by making my mouth water upon sight alone. When I get a chance, I'm reaching for the Truffle Pops next.
Escazu thrilled me with the sheer beauty and design of their chocolates. As a blogger who posts a weekly cocktail recipe on a feature called 5:00 Fridays, I particularly loved the liqueur enhanced morsels. The shop is a proverbial stone's throw from my house, presenting a serious danger to my waistline. I love that it's a local business that contributes to beefing up downtown. The flavor combinations change frequently and are guaranteed to thrill your taste buds. This is serious chocolate, folks. Eat it as soon as you get it. I enjoyed mine with a glass of deeply rich red wine.
Péché de Chocolat, also a stone's throw away from me, is a chocolate boutique like no other. It's inviting and cozy, not stuffy and cold. Nothing frou frou about this place. These chocolates are the only ones I tried that had individually wrapped options, and the packaging is gorgeous. There's a divine little cappuccino cream that will put you over the top. And this milk chocolate purist was in love with the solid chocolate heart. Péché is both tasteful and tasty.
Chocolate Smiles is another small, hand crafted operation. One taste of this creamy milk chocolate, and Cadbury won't be good enough anymore. Nevermind the waxy check out aisle stuff that tempts you in a weak moment. I inhaled the chocolate covered potato chips (trust me, the perfect blend of salty and sweet). In that same vein, the sea salt caramel was divine. My husband, who normally eschews sweets, even got busted with his hand in the candy box. Let's just say that Chocolate Smiles is aptly named.
And I know Valentine's Day is around the corner and all. But don't sneak chocolate into your day just on the pinnacle of Hallmark holidays. Despite my waistline trying to nag me about the perils of swimsuit season lurking before me, I don't skip chocolate. Ever. Deprivation is not in my culinary vernacular. After all, chocolate is the foundation of every girl's food pyramid, right?
Ilina writes about food on Wednesdays here on Go Ask Mom, but you can always read more from her on her blog Dirt & Noise.