Now this is a chocolate whopper – eighty-six percent of Americans report that they’ll share a gift of chocolate and candy this Valentine’s Day, according to the National Confectioners Association. This means big business for artisan chocolatiers, many of whom are small mom-and-pop companies.
While there are many well-known national brands in the marketplace, artisan chocolates are considered by many as the small gems, usually focused on ethically sourced (fair trade), high-quality ingredients. While the term “artisan” may be applied to many foods- not always correctly-the Fine Chocolate Industry Association states “Artisan chocolate must be made under the care and supervision of a knowledgeable chocolate maker who could be defined as an artisan. If there is no artisan at a company, then the chocolate cannot accurately be called artisanal.”
Artisan chocolate makers are increasing around the nation, and not all are small retail shops anymore. Many have bustling e-commerce businesses fueled by growing interest in fine chocolate- an easy and accessible indulgence- and stay-at-home purchasing. Today’s artisan chocolatiers may include pastry chefs who worked for restaurants before striking out on their own or who were laid off from their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Others came to chocolate making as a life and career change. All bring to the business exuberant passion and curiosity for their craft.
Here are a few we’ve found for this issue:
Borough Chocolates, Brooklyn, NY
Borough Chocolates’ specialties include its molded bonbons in a variety of flavors and its ‘bee’s knees’ honeycomb-shaped bars, as well as solid dark chocolate bars, caramels, and dark hot chocolate. Vegan and non-dairy options are available.
Back Story: Pastry Chef Jessica Minghi started Borough Chocolates in her Brooklyn studio in August 2020 after being laid off from her job working at Restaurant Daniel at the onset of the pandemic shutdown. In 2021, she outgrew her home-based, e-commerce business and secured a retail space in Greenpoint.
Mini Melanie, Brooklyn, NY
Cake and chocolate make a great combo, so why not combine them into a pop-in-your-mouth truffle? Mini Melanie has built a business around its chocolate cake truffles, cake pops (see featured photo), layer cakes, and cookie cakes and has been featured in the Michelin Guide.
Back story: Sisters Melanie and Diana Moss established Mini Melanie in 2015. Melanie had worked in pastry kitchens at Babbo and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the latter as Head Baker and Pastry Sous Chef. In February 2018 she won first place in an all-dessert, chocolate-themed episode of Food Network’s “Chopped!” Diana is a human rights lawyer turned entrepreneur who oversaw sales and operations at travel company, onefinestay.
Milène Jardine, Queens NY
Milène Jardine’s namesake artisan chocolates are inspired by her world travels, drawing on exotic fruits, spices, nuts, and more. Jardine uses fair trade, preservative-free ingredients including Valrhona for her truffles and Republica del Cacao (a new subdivision of Valrhona) for bars.
Back story: After college, Jardine grew her love of making desserts into a side project by making chocolate favors, platters, and centerpieces for weddings, parties, and art exhibitions. At the same time, her business skills were developed through her extensive international travel and intense training at Macy’s renowned Private Label Design House before striking out on her own.
Wm Poole Confections, Somersworth, NH
Confectioner and Pastry Chef William Poole collects and uses antique chocolate molds for his creations. Flavors are complex and layered. An example is his Livorno Truffle which draws on the origins of Sambuca with flavors of anise, cinnamon, vanilla, orange, juniper, and Morello Cherries in a dark chocolate ganache.
Back story: Poole has worked in the culinary arts for more than 15 years, including a stint as run a Chef Patisserie aboard the Private Luxury Train, American Orient Express, and Chef/Co-owner of Maison de Macarty, a luxury B&B in New Orleans.
Chocolat Moderne®, New York City
Art meets chocolate with visually stunning truffles and bonbons made with Valrhona chocolate using exotic ingredients such as essential oils, teas, spices, citrus juices and zests, and premium liqueurs. One example is the Kimono Collection, dark chocolate bonbons inspired by Japanese cherry blossoms and vintage kimonos filled with savory and sweet Japanese ingredients. Vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free options are available.
Back story: Founder and Chocolatier, Joan Coukos, worked in international banking. During a business trip to Brussels in 2000, she was mesmerized by the old world, hand-made chocolates she tasted. She purchased two antique molds for inspiration and started creating recipes in her Manhattan kitchen. Chocolat Moderne® has received top honors in the specialty food industry by winning multiple sofi™ Gold and Finalist Awards.
Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, New York
Roni-Sue’s year-round top sellers include the Cocktail Collection Truffle assortment, Buttercrunch Toffee, Beer Caramel Pretzel Nuggets, and BaCorn (Bacon Caramel Popcorn). Valentine’s Day offerings include an Aphrodisiac Collection, Roni’s Roses Truffles, Razzle Dazzle Bark, and bespoke truffles for restaurants and bars. Roni-Sue is also a co-founder of Belize-based MOHO Chocolate Company where its 60% dark chocolate is made by local artisans using Mayan cacao.
Back Story: Following in the entrepreneurial footsteps of her mother, Rhonda Kave opened Roni-Sue’s in 2007, claiming her namesake sign from the clothing store her mother owned to carry on the legacy in a new way. Prior, Kave worked for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Fruition Chocolates, Shokan, NY
Fruition’s founders travel to cocoa-producing countries within twenty degrees north and south of the equator (the cocoa zone) to source cocoa beans to make their hand-crafted chocolates. Fruition has collected seventy awards for its products
Back Story: Founder Bryan Graham is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and credits Chef-Instructor Peter Grewling for teaching him the bean-to-bar approach to making artisan chocolate. Graham and his wife Dahlia traveled the world to seek inspiration and opened Fruition Chocolate works in 2011.
Twenty Degrees, Charlotte NC
Handmade chocolates and confections using Valrhona couverture chocolate star at this North Carolina shop named for the equatorial region within the twentieth parallel where some of the finest fruit from the cacao tree is sourced.
Back story: After a long career in business development and fundraising, Founder Casey Hickey move to Paris, obtain her Diplôme de Patisserie from Le Cordon Bleu, and discovered her affinity for working with chocolate. She worked in several San Francisco Bay area kitchens before returning to her home state to open a wine and confection shop with her husband. She opened her Parisian-inspired jewel-box chocolate boutique in 2019.
Christopher Elbow Chocolates, Kansas City
Hand-crafted chocolates, bonbons, and confections have put Christopher Elbow Chocolates on the national radar. Elbow sources from around the world and offers a selection of single-origin craft chocolate bars from Haiti, Madagascar, Vietnam, and more.
Back story: Pastry Chef Christopher Elbow worked at Emeril’s Delmonico Steakhouse and Jean Joho’s Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas and the American Restaurant in Kansas City before opening his confection business in 2003.
Mutari Craft Chocolate- Santa Cruz
Mutari takes a “bean to bar” hands-on approach to making its chocolates. The couple sources from around a dozen farms. Beans are hand-ground to produce on average one hundred pounds of 70 percent chocolate each week. One can find baked goods, seasonal truffles, hot chocolate, and even craft chocolate marshmallows here. Baking ingredients are also available.
Back Story: Owners Katy Oursler and Stephen Beaumier worked in the food and beverage industry prior to taking over Mutari, Oursler was a founding event producer for Outstanding in the Field; Beaumier worked as a pastry chef at Michelin-rated restaurants, Cyrus and Quince.
Vosges Haut Chocolates, Chicago
Chocolatier Katrina Markoff is a culinary alchemist who takes a spiritual approach to make her creative confections. Carefully sourced ingredients may include exotic spices, adaptogens, and liqueurs. The chocolates are all infused with a special high-frequency vibration that is said to help improve circulation, activity, digestion and sleep quality when consumed mindfully.
Back Story: Katrina Markoff began her chocolatier apprenticeship in Spain under the direction of Ferran and Albert Adrià of the famed El Bulli, where she began to understand that food was a medium for transformative, visceral experiences. With encouragement from Ferran Adria, she set out on a global journey to find her path which led to establishing Vosges Haut Chocolates in 1998.
Three terms to know for when purchasing chocolates
Fairtrade cacao beans are sourced from farmers who are paid a fair price for their crop rather than lower market prices. Under fair trade standards, farms and manufacturers ban unfair and illegal labor practices and encourage sustainable, environmental farming.
Bean to bar
Chocolate is made straight from the cocoa bean, hand-sorted, ground, and roasted, rather than purchased in bulk to meltdown.
Chocolate is sourced from one variety of cacao harvested in one region to make the chocolate rather than blending it. The reference is much like that in wine, offering more terroir-driven elements to the chocolate.
More information: www.finechocolateindustry.org/fi