Chocolate is one of the constants of Valentine’s Day, and Whatcom County is home to several chocolatiers who favor substance over style. For this most romantic of holidays, local makers of artisan chocolate embrace the decadent truffle and infuse it with a heavenly array of flavors that tickle the senses.
Though its name recalls an edible fungus prized as a culinary delicacy, the chocolate truffle is a scrumptious one- or two-bite treat, a spoonful of creamy ganache coated in chocolate and often flavored with nuts, fruit, spices or tiny amounts of alcohol.
“Of course, truffles are kind of the pinnacle,” said Kevin Buck, owner of Chocolate Necessities, noting that the confection’s texture and aroma add as much to the experience as does flavor.
“The truffle. People consider that the ultimate thing, said Jerry Hruska at Sweet Art. “You bite into it, it gives you this texture, it’s really quite wonderful.”
Because they contain cream, chocolate truffles don’t keep well and must be eaten within a few days. As if we could even wait that long.
At Chocolate Necessities, award-winning chocolatier Kevin Buck said the focus is on the chocolate, offering a confection that emphasizes flavor without added sugars and oils. He uses chocolate from the famed Belgian maker Callebaut.
For the fleeting Valentine’s Day season, Buck likes to throw a little swagger into the mix.
“We always try to make truffles that are hard to make on a consistent basis,” he said. “We’re trying to show off what we can do.”
For the holiday, Buck’s team is creating mango and pear Williams flavors, some with a white center, and “we’ll throw an extreme coffee in the lineup,” he said. Liqueur flavors will include amaretto poppy seed and some wine flavors — plus a single-malt scotch.
“It’s pretty edgy,” he said.
Chocolate Necessities is also known for its homemade gelato, available at the downtown location that’s open until 10 p.m. weeknights and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We have the late hours now, and the gelato is a big hit,” he said.
Chocolate Necessities4600 Guide Meridian
1426 Cornwall Ave
Evolve Chocolate Truffles
Shannon Fox, co-owner at Evolve Chocolate Truffles, said they’re making two of their standard Valentine’s Day treats, the “Chia Chia Bang Bang” and a smoked sea salt cajeta, giving the traditional Mexican caramel confection a modern culinary twist.
“It takes you on this little Latin fling,” Fox said. “It inspires something different in everyone.”
Evolve doesn’t have a retail location, instead selling its products online, at both Community Food Co-op locations, at Terra organic market and at the Bellingham Farmers Market. All ingredients are organic and locally produced.
Fox said the cajeta uses goat’s milk from Grace Harbor Farms north of Ferndale and the “Chia” uses cream from Twin Brook Creamery outside Lynden — plus toasted chia seed, strawberries, sparkling wine and 85 percent dark chocolate.
“What happens when you bite into it, you’re going to get an instant sense of — Oh! You get a zing from the strawberries, crunch from the chia seeds and the richness of the chocolate. Along the side you’ll feel the alcohol” (although it contains very little), Fox said.
“It’s a multilayered, multidimensional taste.”
For those who’d like to learn more about truffles, Evolve offers occasional demonstrations and tastings:1220 N. Forest
3575 Haynie Road
Evolve Chocolate Truffles
“Right now I’m making truffle hearts,” said owner Jerry Hruska , describing it as a standard truffle in a heart shape with a milk chocolate outside and a dark chocolate ganache center, its flavors accented by the richness of cream and fine cocoa.
This year, fans will find flavors like peanut butter, tiramisu and root beer float with names his wife Vivian gives them such as “King Dome,” “Mad Hatter” and “Cupid’s Kiss,” which Jerry said is not so much a rum ball, “it’s more like a rum bomb.”
“We do a U-fill box that will having them lining out the door. People just pick out what they want,” Jerry said.
Also popular are his house-made brittles and English toffees for those whose palates lean toward the crunchy side. “I’ve got a big following for that.”
1335 Railroad Ave. at Magnolia Street, 360-714-1331
Sweet Art on Facebook.
Forte Artisan Chocolates
“Truffles are beautiful and unique and can be a great gift for both men and women,” said Laura Gayraud at Forte Artisan Chocolates in Fairhaven.
Forte’s chocolatier Karen Neugebauer has won several awards at recent international competitions with flavor combinations that employ organic herbs, honey, spices and other savory elements.
“Definitely the decadence is what’s appealing, and especially with our chocolates (because) there are so many (flavors) that are represented,” Gayraud said.
“Yes we do have specially made heart-shaped truffles and also heart-shaped boxes as you could imagine,” she said. But she thinks the romance of the truffle extends beyond the heart shape, noting that truffles embrace you with their intricate flavors and demand to be savored like fine wine or craft beer.
While women prefer delicate and beautifully decorated truffles, Gayraud said women who are buying candy for men should note that men favor less abstract treats.
“Men like our caramels that are tasty rather than decorative,” she said. “They also like also barks,” a semi-hard candy that is cast in sheets.
Gayraud’s go-to flavor is Forte’s lemon pepper truffle that won the USA Gold medal at the 2014 International Chocolate Awards in London.
“I go though phases, but I do have a special place for the lemon pepper. That’s kind of a nice one to treat people with.”
Forte Artisan Chocolates
1139 11th St. near Mill Avenue, 360-306-3615