A Passion for Chocolate

Nothing says “I love you” quite like gourmet chocolate.

Here at Cary Magazine, it’s our duty to keep you apprised of the best artisan chocolate available in the Triangle area. That’s why we ventured out to sample … er … research the finest locally crafted indulgences at five first-rate chocolatiers. Enjoy!

Purveyor: Videri Chocolate Factory

Passion: At this bean-to-bar haven, each chocolate bar is hand-wrapped with love.

“When you open your box, two gorgeous, shiny bars are waiting for you,” said co-proprietor and chocolate maker Starr Sink Ratto.

Her husband, Sam, is fellow co-owner/chocolate maker, while convivial manager Chris Heavener rounds out the partnership team. Gracious customer service, social responsibility and attention to detail are fundamental tenets at Videri. The factory opened in December 2011 in the former Raleigh train depot.

“We are group- and family-friendly,” Starr said. “A free self-guided tour is available anytime we’re open.”

Process: Endeavoring to source fair-trade, organic ingredients whenever possible, Videri uses select cacao beans from Central and South America. Employees hand sort the beans before winnowing, roasting and grinding.

“I always want the chocolate to taste great but have a ways to go until perfection,” Sam confessed while tending to several small batches in progress.

Particulars: Enticements range from pepper-infused chocolate to smooth-tasting 90 percent dark. The 90 percent Dark Chocolate Ecuador Camino Verde earned a nationwide 2014 Good Food Award in January, based on blind taste testing and sustainability and social responsibility criteria.

Videri services wholesale accounts nationwide, including Whole Foods; Whisk, a kitchenware outfit in Cary; and Parker and Otis restaurant and gift shop in Durham.

Pricing: $7.99 for two bars. A “Flagship Four” gift box featuring a quartet of Videri’s signature bars is $19.99. Prices vary for caramel and ganache confections.

327 W. Davie St., Sweet 100, Raleigh
(919) 755-5053, Viderichocolatefactory.com

Purveyor: The Chocolate Boutique

Passion: A scientist by trade, co-owner Kesha Dozier and her husband, Maurice, started The Chocolate Boutique in Raleigh in 2011 before opening the Morrisville location in May 2013.

“When it came to finding my true passion, it was either chocolate or hot yoga, because I love both,” Kesha said with a smile. “My husband took one hot yoga class and quickly realized he wasn’t a fan. I studied chocolate in Italy, Belgium, Spain and New York, ultimately deciding there was a niche for fine chocolates in this area.”

Process: Employing European-style methods, large slabs of Callebaut Belgian chocolate are melted down and tempered. The boutique offers onsite chocolate making parties for children and adults, at which customers create using any of 1,200 accessible molds.

Particulars: Fine fair-trade Belgian and Swiss chocolates fill exquisite glass display cases. Delectable offerings like dark chocolate salted caramels, toasted coconut truffles, and milk chocolate-covered bacon abound.

“We have about 9,000 taste buds on our tongues, which react strongly to the sweet and salty combination,” Kesha  explained.

Pricing: Buy five truffles at $2.50 each and get one free. Chocolate party packages range from $20-35 per person. Adult parties include white or red wine.

3308 Village Market Place, Morrisville
(919) 465-0770, mychocolateboutique.com

Purveyor: Escazu Artisan Chocolates

Passion: A former chef, head chocolate maker Hallot Parson visited Costa Rica in 2005 and met a farmer who was growing organic cacao and making chocolate.
“That trip spurred my imagination, and I realized not many people in the U.S. were creating chocolate this way,” said Parson, a contemplative entrepreneur who named his shop after the Costa Rican town he visited.  He joined forces with Danielle Centeno, a Venezuela native and Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, and opened Escazu in 2008.

Process: Not many chocolatiers visit the sourcing farms, but Parson and Centeno believe relationships with growers are vital.

“These connections help ensure the quality and integrity of the chocolate,” Parson said.  Traditional methods of sorting, winnowing and grinding involve using a vintage 1920s roaster and stone grinder imported from Spain. The grinding process lasts four days, allowing for sugar crystal reduction and evaporation of volatile flavors. The result? Superior handcrafted bars and an ever-evolving assortment of confections.

Particulars: Besides eclectic truffles and confections like clove orange and honey chamomile, popular bars include the best-selling 65-percent dark chocolate with sea salt and 74-percent chipotle chili. Decadent hot chocolate is prepared using rare recipes from yesteryear. Despite cramped production space, the business boasts wholesale accounts coast-to-coast, including all Whole Foods locations in the Southeast.

Pricing: Confections range from $1.65 to about $2 apiece. Chocolate bars are $6.50-$6.99.

936 N. Blount St., Raleigh
(919) 832-3433, escazuchocolates.com

Purveyor: Chocolate Smiles

Passion: 2014 marks the 30th anniversary for the downtown Cary chocolatier.
“It’s great to own a place where everyone coming in is happy,” said gregarious proprietor Melanie Williams. The store is known for exceptional customer service and wide product selection.
“During the holidays, the wait time can be an hour or more, so calling ahead is wise,” Williams said.

Process: Premium milk, dark and white chocolate is crafted using six tempering kettles. Pennsylvania-sourced chocolate arrives in 10-pound blocks.

Particulars: Seasonal specialty truffles include champagne, cherry blush and pistachio (call for availability). Locally grown chocolate-dipped strawberries are available at Valentine’s Day and beyond.
“Sometimes I even go to the fields and pick them,” Williams divulged. “We also dip maraschino cherries in dark or milk chocolate.” Be sure to try the Charlie Chaplains, which comprise peanut butter, roasted peanuts, marshmallows and toasted coconut in dark chocolate.

Pricing: Chocolates are purchasable by the piece, although most candy is sold by the pound. Novelty chocolates range from 50 cents to $3 per piece. Gift boxes start at $10, and cello wrap is available.

312 W. Chatham St., Cary (919) 469-5282, chocolatesmiles.com

Purveyor: Red Light Chocolates

Passion: Rob and Kirstin Neira started their business as a fallback plan after encountering a double crisis. Kirstin abruptly lost her job at the same time that the couple’s prematurely-born daughter was convalescing in a neonatal intensive-care unit. Kirstin, who enjoys cooking, enrolled in classes at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago. Soon afterward, the Neiras upgraded their Fuquay-Varina home kitchen to professional-grade standing and launched Red Light Chocolates in 2010. Why the name Red Light?
“We have a red toolbox with a light bulb inside to keep cocoa butter at a constant temperature, and at night the whole room glows red,” Kirstin explained.

Process: Rob airbrushes the outsides of the truffles, while Kirstin creates the fillings. Six-year-old Addyson helps with packaging.
“We hand-make the truffles and use all-natural ingredients with no preservatives,” said Kirstin. The family plans to relocate to the Jordan Lake area soon.
“We’ll have a much larger kitchen and can move toward making chocolate for a living,” Rob said.

Particulars: Distinctive truffles like Starrlight blackberry (made with local Starrlight Mead), key lime and coffee caramel deliver a full-bodied taste. Red Light also specializes in creating custom logo-emblazoned chocolates for companies or events, as they did for Gov. Pat McCrory’s inaugural ball.  Besides mail order from the website, products are available at Southern Charm Gift Boutique at Cary Towne Center; NOFO @ the Pig in Raleigh; and Southern Season in Chapel Hill.

Pricing: Artisan bark bars, $5; 9-piece boxed collection, $18; 16-piece boxed collection, $30; deluxe gift box with assorted chocolates, sea salt caramel sauce, hand-wrapped caramels and two artisan bark bars, $49.50, includes shipping.

(919) 290-4223, redlightchocolates.com

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