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Artisan chocolates for Valentine's Day

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Fellow worshipers of the cacao bean, rejoice! For lo, the season of love is upon us, and commerce has blessed us with many temples in which to express our devotion. (Translation: If you need to buy some goodies for your valentine, and you want to skip the drugstore, read on.)

Chocolaterie Stam (1820 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite B-10, Chapel Hill, 967-9373, www.stamchocolate.com), open since March, sells divine chocolate bonbons, truffles and coffee drinks. Owner Bob Drood grew up in Amsterdam eating Stam chocolates; after he moved to the United States, he could never find anything that tasted as good to him. "When I would go to Holland, the only thing I would bring back would be Stam chocolates," he says. So when he thought about being his own boss, the natural choice was this century-old family business, run by his countrymen at home and in ... Iowa. He convinced the family to let him open a store here, and the result is stocked with goodies for Valentine's Day, plus free Wi-Fi and, Drood says, "the best mocha in town." Drood also sells pastries from Hereghty Patisserie (2603 Glenwood Ave., Suite 123, Raleigh, 510-9161, www.hereghty.com).

(P.S.: An item for your choco-knowledge: Drood explained that a "bonbon" is a filled chocolate, and a "truffle" is a chocolate filled with chocolate. So a truffle is a type of bonbon.)

In Raleigh, Escazú Artisan Chocolate Co. (610 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, 832-3433, www.escazuchocolates.com) is now open. Escazú makes and sells "handcrafted chocolates using the finest all-natural and organic ingredients from across Latin America." These include single-origin beans, sea salt, bananas, Guajillo and chipotle chiles, and Costa Rican vanilla. "By sourcing our cocoa and ingredients from only Latin America, we keep transportation to a minimum," the Web site states. "Pairing this chocolate with other foods that are indigenous to the region ... allows us to showcase the unique flavors of these areas."

Chocoholics can geek out at a free lecture on the origins of chocolate, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, in UNC's FedEx Global Education Center (corner of McCauley and Pittsboro streets, Chapel Hill, www.global.unc.edu). Dorie Reents-Budet, Ph.D., curator of the art of the ancient Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, will speak on "The New World Origins of Chocolate."

And wait, it gets better: A reception follows, featuring samples of chocolate crepes, Mexican fondue, Mayan chocolate cake, Mexican flan, Aztec chocolate and hot chocolate Mexican-style, with chiles and cinnamon. I am so there.

Attendees will receive a Valentine token: a booklet of recipes for some of those dishes from UNC's Institute for the Study of the Americas.

"Chocolate was introduced to the world in the 16th century from Mexico," said Sharon Mujica of the institute. "It was a highly esteemed food, an offering to the gods and a medium of exchange, or money. The ancient chocolate foods were very different from the bar form we know today."

Know about a special food happening in the Triangle? Send it to Now Serving at food@indyweek.com.

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