Hillsborough, N.C. — We got to chat with Matthew Shepherd of Matthew’s Chocolates in Hillsborough, just after Valentine’s Day, one of his busiest times of the year. Find out how he found his passion for chocolate and how he keeps coming up with amazing new flavor combinations – and not so amazing ones too.
How did you get into making chocolate?
“I started making cocoa rolled truffles in my late teens, early twenties, hadn't even thought about doing anything else with chocolate other than in baked goods. Even through my year of culinary school at New England Culinary Institute we didn't study chocolate, though I made a few batches of truffles to pass around just because. We were shown how to temper chocolate, and that was about it. Years after culinary school my sister asked me to make chocolates for her wedding, so, instead of making baked goods for Christmas presents that year, I made chocolates. The following year everyone ordered chocolates to give as gifts themselves! It all clicked and that is when I decided to open a chocolate shop.”
Where do you get your inspirations for your designs?
“A lot of my inspirations come from customer requests or just brainstorming in the kitchen with my crew. Sometimes colors on a billboard with make me think of flavors or a picture in a magazine. You never know where inspiration will come from, so I always keep my eyes, ears and nose open for it. I was always an artistic kid, and watercolor is my favorite medium to work with. I opened an incense manufacturing company in South Florida which taught me all about aromatherapy and blending oils for perfumes with base notes, mid notes and top notes. I made a line of ceramic oil and incense burners, so I had to learn pottery, making molds, glazing and firing, all of which has added a little bit to what the chocolates are today.”
Which truffle is your best seller?
“After being open for 8 years, we have quite a list of favorites, and it’s hard to pick just one as being the top. But our Hot Cocoa truffle is right up there with the favorites. One of our best sellers over Christmas is the Persephone's Kiss, which is a pomegranate infused truffle!”
How much chocolate do you eat in a day?
“Very little. We have to taste everything in the kitchen all day long, and I'm hard pressed to pick up a truffle and eat it. I can eat a cream before I could a truffle. They are just so rich I can't hardly do it anymore. I have now turned to chips and those lovely crunchy fried savory things! Sigh...”
What is your favorite kind of chocolate that you sell?
“People ask me all the time what my favorite thing in the case is, and I always tell them, ‘The empty plates!’ Ha! I don't know that I have a favorite thing to make – whatever new thing I'm working on is my favorite! They are all like my little children, hard to pick a favorite. And, no, I don't have any children.”
What was the most surprising flavor combination that turned out to be amazing?
“How about amazingly bad? It’s more fun to talk about the horrible flavors we come up with! My favorite worst one was based on an incense scent called Jazz. Jazz was a combination of cinnamon and jasmine; it was divine. However, when blended it into a chocolate truffle, the cinnamon hit you like a ton of bricks, and the aftertaste was just a floral note that accentuated the bad. It was the vilest thing I think I have ever made. One taste, right in the trash. Nasty!”
What’s your current chocolate obsession?
“My current obsession is Easter and planning the menu for it! Each holiday, I design 9 chocolates that go well together in the box, both in shape and color. Something else I've been thinking on for a long time is bottling our own sodas. I make a killer ginger ale and root beer I would love to bottle, and I have to say that a cold fizzy jasmine tea is quite refreshing! We are playing around with that and bottling our iced lattes for a quick grab and go!”
What do you love most about being located in Hillsborough?
“I like the people here, very friendly, easygoing and quite the characters! I do include myself in that list as well!”
Editor’s Note: On April 21, chocolatier Matthew Shepherd of Matthew’s Chocolates will be featured at TASTE 2016, presented by Johnson Lexus. The Grand TASTE Experience will be held at the Durham Armory, from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. The evening will feature 30 local chefs and a dozen beverage purveyors—not to mention a live jazz band!
Tickets are on sale now at tastetheevent.com. This is part of the TASTE the Event series, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.