From N.C., With Love
I have a very, very special place in my heart for Valentine’s Day. For a long time, I kind of sneered at the holiday. I think that largely owed to a the fact that an ex-boyfriend didn’t particularly care for the jour l’amour. When that’s the case, you sort of just learn to not care for it, too. Or, at least, I did.
But then, I met Glenn. For our first Valentine’s Day, he showered me with a gorgeous dress, beautiful jewelry, some locally made “unmentionables”, chocolates, dinner-the works. He’s a generous one, that man of mine, nearly always looking for some reason to festoon Huxley and I with a little something something. Every Valentine’s Day that’s followed has been imbued with love, some with grandiose gestures, but many with simple, subtle means of conveying our love for one another. And then there’s the fact that our little guy came into being (with an official birthdate of October 21st) on the holiday and, well, the deal was pretty much sealed.
I thought it would be fun this year to share a bit of love-centric items being offered for the holiday by North Carolina-based purveyors. The image above shows one of a three-part exclusive pairing available on my girl Jen’s site, Cisthene. Jen has partnered three different herbal blends from Isa’s Restoratives with exceptional, love-focused necklaces from a trio of jewelry designers. I adore them all. Here are the three gift sets:
Long before I became close friends with Jael and Dan Rattigan, the dynamic duo behind Asheville’s beloved French Broad Chocolates, I was an avid (rabid?) consumer. So much so, in fact, that, before they opened a storefront, I ordered and picked-up multiple boxes of their signature salted caramels from their home (at the time, the business’s place of production). Over time, our relationship turned personal, and I’ve been enjoying their company and their wares ever since.
After lunch together recently, we headed with Jael back to her shop, where she very generously gifted us with chocolate bars, truffles, and chocolate dragee nuts. Exquisite. Not only does their business sell chocolates, they use natural and organic ingredients exclusively, run a completely sustainable business (including biodegradable insulated coolers instead of styrofoam for shipping!), have opened a chocolate factory, and own what is arguably the hottest place in town come sunset (there is almost always a line out the door, year-round, once the skies darken).
For Valentine’s, Jael and Dan offer an Aphrodisiac Collection (the middle photo above) that is without rival. Consisting of 6 truffles, the collection pays homage to the goddess Aphrodite’s reputation for imbuing certain foods with love. Trust me, you’ll feel the love with each heavenly bite. The following descriptions are from the tasting notes accompanying the collection:
Cosmic Love Potion: Local herbalist Christa Hebal received the recipe for this elixir in a dream. We add it to milk chocolate, cover with white chocolate, and adorn with a pink rose petal.
Indian Kulfi: Rose is known to encourage feelings of love and romance, especially in women. Cardamom is regarded as an aphrodisiac as well.
Fig & Port: Almost all of the constituents of this truffle are considered aphrodisiacs. 55% Hawaiian chocolate, local figs, and port, coated in extra-dark chocolate and rolled in almonds.
Canela Picante: Chiles are known to heat things up, as capsaicin releases endorphins, stimulates nerve endings, and increases heart rate. In dark chocolate.
Cabernet & Anise: Red wine lowers inhibitions and relaxes. According to Greek lore, star anise stimulates libido.
Theros, Orange & Fennel: Featuring exquisite Theros olive oil, from a generations-old olive grove in Messinia, Greece. Topped with a sugared fennel, considered aphrodisiac since Egyptian times.
French Broad is also now a bean-to-bar purveyor. As a consumer of great quantities of a wide range of chocolate bars in my lifetime, I assure you-their chocolate bars are top tier. They’re now carrying six offerings, with a flavor for every palate. I’m particularly smitten with the Tumbes Lapsang Souchong & Sea Salt (using tea from local teahouse Dobra) and the Riverbend Malted Milk (with malted barley from Asheville’s own Riverbend Malt House).
Videri Chocolate Factory is another N.C. bean-to-bar purveyor. Located across the state, in our capital city, Raleigh, Videri offers fair-trade, organic chocolate bars and confections made straight from the bean. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Michelle, the partner of one of Videri’s co-owners, Chris. Michelle is a small measure reader (yay!), and is on the path to sustainable homesteading herself.
She introduced Videri to me and asked if I’d be interested in test-driving a few of their products. Yes, please! A generous package of products arrived a few days later, stuffed to the gills with chocolate bars, confections, sipping chocolate, and Videri’s own 90% baking chocolate (my type of chocolate-the darker, the better, in my estimation). Glenn and I had so much fun getting to know Videri. Everything was delicious, with tried-and-true standbys alongside unexpected flavors (I’m looking at your, Pink Peppercorn-amazing!). Here’s a breakdown of the bars they offer, with notes taken from Videri’s website:
Classic Dark Chocolate: A 70% cocoa percentage blend of Central and South American cocoa, tempered to a smooth finish. This is the type of bar I like to always have on hand. Perfect for a little post-dinner nibble, with a glass of Syrah.
Dark Milk Chocolate: A mixture of 50% dark chocolate with hearty whole milk. I’m not typically a milk chocolate fan, but I loved this bar. A perfect marriage of sweet and robust cocoa flavors.
Pink Peppercorn: Freshly ground pink peppercorns are sprinkled onto a 60% dark chocolate bar. This bar is so much fun. Unexpected, and yet flawless. A bit of heat, but more in a ginger kind of way, and less of a cayenne one. Lovely.
Peppermint Chocolate: 60% dark chocolate sprinkled with crushed organic candy cane. I love that this one features organic candy canes, with natural coloring (beet juice!) used to create the red swirl.
Sea Salt Chocolate: 60% dark chocolate with a sprinkle of sea salt, marrying the two tasty worlds of salty and sweet. A popular flavor combo, for good reason. The salt expertly tempers the chocolate’s sweetness, resulting in a bar that satisfies the entire palate.
Michelle also included a sampling of confections Videri has recently begun offering. So, so delicious, and all the better knowing they contain only organic and natural ingredients and none of the preservatives, fillers, and artificial ingredients typically hidden inside a number of well known samplers. For Valentine’s Day, Videri is running a sweet little 4-pack collection containing: 1 honey caramel, 1 salty caramel, 1 red raspberry ganache, and 1 dark chocolate ganache. Also, free shipping is now available on orders over $50, when ‘LOVE’ is entered at the checkout page.
Jessica, owner of Lucky Girl Bakery (a small measure sponsor-Yay!!!), contacted me recently about a Valentine’s special she was running. Partnering up with Burnsville, N.C. ceramicist, Sarah House, Lucky Girl is offering a mug of Sarah’s alongside a 48 ounce pouch of their “Some Like It Hot” homemade hot cocoa and a half-dozen double vanilla marshmallows. Mugs are limited, so hop on over there and pick out a beautiful, handcrafted vessel from an N.C. artisan and get ready to sip, savor, and sigh in contentment over Jessica’s hot chocolate treat.
As it turns out, in this supremely small world of ours, I was already familiar with Sarah House. When one of my sisters was visiting a few years ago, she discovered Sarah’s pottery at a local craft fair. She purchased one of her pieces, and then, knowing she loved Sarah’s work, I later gifted her with a piece for her birthday. And now, Jessica has partnered up with her. I had no clue the two were even acquainted. Small world, indeed.
Jessica has a number of tasty Valentine’s Day treats available, so do stop by her site. From sandwich cookies to brownies, apple cider caramels to seasonally-flavored sweetie pies, there’s a little something for everyone you love (and for your own sweet teeth, too!).