During Seattle’s Microsoft and Boeing boom in the 1980’s Pam Montgomery was a real estate maven. The birth of her daughter and approaching arrival of twins caused a reevaluation of her family’s lifestyle. She and her husband, JT, sold their business and purchased an 8,000 tree cherry orchard in Yakima Valley, Washington in order to bring up their children in a small town. After the harvest, Pam noticed that some cherries remained on the trees and on a whim, ate several shriveled cherries one day. As the fruit dried on the trees, the natural sugar intensified, resulting in chewy, super-sweet, delicious fruit. Pam converted window screens to a makeshift fruit dryer and a gourmet fruit and chocolate business was born. Chukar Cherries now has three retail stores in Washington state and an online store.
We picked out one of their holiday assortments so we could try a number of Chukar’s confections. It would be difficult to pick a favorite, because everything in the sampler was oh so yummy. Here’s a quick rundown of the different flavors:
- Dark Chocolate Cabernet Cherries – This combo of tart cherries, smooth dark chocolate and wine essence is a decadent delight. The intense tartness of the cherries is perfectly complemented by the dark chocolate, and the wine essence adds interesting complex notes.
- Milk Chocolate Classic Cherries – We would say classic with a modern twist. These are not your grandmother’s chocolate covered cherries with candied cherries drenched in sugar-laden creme. The intensely sweet dried cherries covered with smooth artisan milk chocolate are irresistible.
- Dark Chocolate Black Forest Cherries – Bing cherries enrobed in bitterweet cocoa equal yum! Enough said.
- Milk Chocolate Truffle Cherries – Sweet cocoa and bing cherries result in a lighter, sweeter bite than the Dark Chocolate Black Forest Cherries, but equally delicious in their own right.
- Milk Chocolate Honey Pecans – Roasted pecan pieces provide a nice crunch with deep honey notes, and Chukar’s smooth milk chocolate covering makes these treats fall squarely in the “betcha can’t eat just one” category!
As if the chocolate cherry combinations were not enough, the Montgomery Family has sweet dessert sauces, savory grilling sauces, cherry and spicy pepper combos, and pie and cobbler fillings to tempt your tastebuds. Check out their website and try not to drool over the delicious choices!
We promise we’re not going to turn foodswelove.com completely into a chocolate blog, but it is the time of year when exceptional chocolate is everywhere and we just have to share it! The latest find came at REI, for goodness sakes, the last place one might expect to see gourmet chocolate. The cashier’s enthusiasm when he saw we had picked up this chocolate bar was an early indication we were onto something good.
The Chuao Chocolatier website’s tagline promises “unusual, unexpected & delicious chocolate”. The “unusual, unexpected” part was evident from the chocolate bar wrapping which identified breadcrumbs as the source of the “crunch”. We only had “delicious” to confirm, and confirm it we did. The 60% cocoa is decadently dark and exquisitely smooth. Had it been only a dark chocolate bar, it would have been completely satisfying. The addition of salted breadcrumbs to the chocolate was candy-making genius. The breadcrumbs are so small and fine they are practically invisible in the chocolate bar, but their delicate crunch is divine. The company logo and cocoa beans embossed into the chocolate make this one beautiful candy bar.
Chuao (chew-WOW) Chocolatier was founded in 2002 by Master Chef Michael Antonorsi and his brother Richard. These Venezuelan brothers’ ancestors grew fine cocoa on their family farm, so chocolate is part of their heritage. Chef Michael loved food and cooking from an early age, but pursued a business degree, then established a successful high-tech firm with Richard. In his mid-30’s, his love for the culinary arts won out over his business career, and he took his family to Paris so he could complete classic French culinary training. After Chef Michael finished his education, he and Richard opened their first chocolate café and boutique in Encinitas, California. With Chef Michael’s creativity and Richard’s business skills, the venture has flourished with additional cafés and a national wholesale business. Their success is rooted in their respect for the family’s history in the cocoa trade and their commitment to using ethically sourced cocoa from their native Venezuela.
Chef Michael has some delectable treats to tempt the adventurous chocolate-lover. The Honeycomb Bar is a combination of caramelized honey bits and dark chocolate. The milk chocolate Maple Bacon Bar has crispy bacon bits with a touch of maple flavor and bonfire smoked sea salt. YUM! There are more selections of chocolate bars, bonbons and hot chocolate to delight friends, family or yourself. You have to check out the stylish design of the website and product packaging, and order some of this delicious chocolate or ask for it at a fine retailer.
Do you start thinking about the holidays as soon as the weather gets cool? As magazines and store displays tempt us with holiday decor and goodies,we start thinking about our own plans. Candy is always part of the plan — a big part. Karen makes her pecan pralines, and I make caramel pecan turtles, but sometimes gift lists run long and time runs short. This year, I’m looking for quality candies to help round out gift bags and for holiday gatherings.
I recently found a bag of Koppers milk and dark chocolate sea salt caramels in a specialty shop, and of course, it called my name. These candies are a real treat. The caramel strikes the perfect balance of creamy chewiness, the sea salt counters the sweetness of the caramel. and yummy, creamy chocolate covers it all. Kudos to Koppers for pleasing both milk chocolate and dark chocolate fans in a single package! The chocolate sea salt caramels would be great for a dessert buffet, in a gourmet gift basket, or as a simple stocking stuffer.
Koppers Chocolate was founded in 1937 in Greenwich Village, New York. Seventy-five years and three generations later, the company is still family owned and operated. They pride themselves on combining the best of old world quality and modern techniques, and are recognized as innovators in the industry. I was very surprised to learn they were the first to manufacture small disks of chocolate covered in colorful candy shells – the predecessors to M&Ms! They started drenching espresso beans in chocolate more than 40 years ago. Their current incredible array of chocolates includes such unusual selections as chocolate covered pink peppercorns and eggnog cordials. Be sure to check out CNN Money’s report on this historic American candy company on Koppers website.
Koppers offers some of their most popular candies on their website, and there is an even wider selection available on Amazon, although many selections are available only in 5 or 10-pound bags. That might not be such a bad thing! Koppers also customizes candies for weddings and other events.
Footnote: As I did a final review of this post, we were watching news reports of Hurricane Sandy moving into the New York area. I started to reschedule the post since Koppers is located in New York City, but decided to publish it as planned. Koppers and many other artisan, specialty and gourmet food producers in the path of the storm could be facing some big challenges just as the busy holiday season begins. Power outages can cause loss of perishable inventories, flooding can damage or destroy facilities and equipment, and employees who face their own personal and family challenges may not be able to focus on their jobs. Food businesses that can resume operations quickly after the storm may face reduced demand from customers in their immediate areas. Please support food artisans in the northeastern seaboard area this holiday season.