Chapel Hill, N.C. — Chocolate and Valentine's Day just go together. But forget about giving that special someone just a box of the same old truffles. I went to Southern Season, which has one of the largest truffle and chocolate collections in the area, to find out which cocoa treats were worthy of those Valentine's Day boxes.
Local - You can get some great locally made chocolate at the Chapel Hill store. French Broad (Asheville) and Red Light (Fuquay-Varina) are a few of the chocolatiers offering small boxes. And you know it is fresh because every two weeks another shipment comes in.
Unique - Christopher Elbow, of Kansas City, Missouri, constructs works of art of out his artisanal chocolate. Southern Season has a sampling of his work, which include heart-shaped chocolates filled with flavors including Passion Fruit, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Tequila Lime and more. He airbrushes each chocolate so they are absolutely beautiful. You almost don't want to eat them. And then you do and you eat the whole box. You can buy a prepared box of Elbow's chocolate or mix and match your own box from Southern Season's display case.
Another chocolate to try: Louis Sherry out of New York which come in 1920s inspired reusable tins.
Say 'I Kinda Like You' - Ticket Chocolate has hot chocolate squares on a stick. Cute idea and even better when you use it to make some hot chocolate. For a special Valentine's Day twist, they are also offering little conversation hearts on top of the squares. And to go with that hot chocolate: Check out Wondermade's Bourbon Marshmallows!
Seattle Chocolates offers really cute boxes of chocolate that say "Like" with a thumbs up. The flavors inside include San Juan Toffee.
Not just chocolate
Some other cute ideas I saw while browsing Southern Season:
Dinner in a Box - Which contains all the essentials for that special meal. Or just order a meal through Southern Season and let them do the work.
Eat Your Heart Out Pasta - Pasta shaped like hearts
Red Velvet Cake Mix, heart-shaped pan and heart-shaped sprinkles.
Surprise Bouquets - These bouquets made by TOPS Malibu contain about 12 items, everything from games to sparklers. And you can get them for different occasions - birthday, Valentine's Day, etc. Each piece inside is hand-made by artisans in Oregon.
Flowers and plants - With a full floral department located next to the cards, you really can't go wrong.
Lotions, soap and body wash - Crabtree and Evelyn, Thymes and Jack Black are a few of the brands available at the Chapel Hill location.
Shaving kit - One of the hottest gifts right now is the old-fashioned shaving set. Omega has a great one that includes a brush, cream soap and stand.
Wine and beer
If you are craving something sweet, there are several chocolate stouts available including Mystery Brewing's Six Impossible Things chocolate breakfast stout, Atwater Brewery's Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale and Vanilla Java Porter.
There are also chocolate wines available, but if you are looking for a good pairing Southern Season wine buyer Liz Cooper has you covered.
"When pairing wines with food, especially where sugar is involved, its best to be sure the wine is sweeter that what you are serving or you will end up with a flat wine that shows little to no fruit," Cooper says.
While there are always exceptions to every rule, some of Cooper's favorite pairings are:
Sant Evasio Brachetto D’aqui – this frizzante red is delicious with moderately dark to milk chocolate and chocolates that are coating fruit – it shows bright raspberry, strawberry and rhubarb notes with a kiss of sweetness that refreshes rather than coats.
Cantamessa Malvasia Frizzante – This is perfect with darker to bittersweet chocolates as it shows more dark cherry, cassis and blackberry fruit with a hint of licorice (almost herbal leaning towards basil) that really works well with dark or salted dark chocolate. The wine finishes again just slightly sweet and has the structure to hold up to the chocolate tannins.
Graham Beck Rose – Here is a completely dry sparkling wine (the exception) who delicate effervescence and elegant fruit character (strawberry, watermelon, honeydew) work well with really any dessert; but one of the few wines I would put up to not only dark but milk and white chocolate as well. It is not only beautiful to see; but one of the best Cap Classique (South African Methode Traditionelle) I’ve had the privilege to taste!
Strauss Frizzante Muskateller – from Austria, this is a fantastically aromatic wine with just the right spritz, sugar and sweet jasmine, grape and ambrosia aromatics to entice any palate – perfect with the traditional Sacre Torte.