Chocolate-making is a growing trend in the South. For years the notion of true chocolate-making south of the Mason-Dixon Line would have been met with a skeptical raised eyebrow. You see, chocolate is finicky. It hates moisture and craves controlled temperatures. That’s just the tip of the cacao iceberg and why, traditionally speaking, high-quality chocolate has been made in the cooler temperatures the northern hemisphere can provide.
But the past decade or so has changed all that, and pure chocolate makers are popping up from the Texas hills to the Carolina beaches. We couldn’t mention all the brilliant culinary minds behind the Southern chocolate surge, so we chose a handful of our favorites. These Southern chocolate makers are taking the bean-to-bar concept and making it all their own, sweetening life just a bit more (or savoring the bitterness) one bite at a time.
- French Broad Chocolates—Asheville, North Carolina Dan and Jael Rattigan of French Broad Chocolates left behind their restaurant Bread and Chocolate in Costa Rica and made their way north to share their love of cacao with fellow chocolate lovers in Asheville, North Carolina (photo courtesy of French Broad Chocolates)
Our list starts with French Broad Chocolates for so many reasons. If you haven’t heard of French Broad Chocolates yet, you will. North Carolina is quickly becoming a mecca for chocolate makers, and Dan and Jael Rattigan have set the bar high.The Rattigan’s love affair with chocolate began in Costa Rica, where the couple bought an abandoned cacao farm and opened a café called Bread and Chocolate. Selling the café roughly a year later, the chocolate enthusiasts packed up their lives and dreams into a converted school bus and made their way north. Much to our delight, they settled in Asheville. Asheville’s bean-to-bar experience starts at French Broad Chocolate Lounge, where patrons can sip a “liquid truffle” or sample one of the many chocolate creations made daily (photo courtesy of French Broad Chocolates)
In 2008, they opened French Broad Chocolate Lounge, a place where chocolate lovers unite over a bourbon pecan truffle or perhaps sipping the Lounge’s signature “liquid truffle.” Think hot chocolate for grown-up palates. A few short years later, the French Broad Chocolate Factory and Tasting Room opened. Here the bean-to-bar concept is open to the public as they can see and taste the process and just what goes into some of the South’s finest chocolate.
- Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Co.—Nashville, Tennessee In 2007 former pastry chef Scott Witherow opened Olive and Sinclair, becoming Nashville’s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker (photo courtesy of Olive and Sinclair)
If chocolate-making is an art form (and it most certainly is), then Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Co. is somewhat of a Southern Rembrandt.Chef Scott Witherow founded Olive and Sinclair in 2007, introducing bean-to-bar chocolate-making in the heart of Music City. Patience and attention to detail are on former pastry chef Witherow’s side as he takes chocolate to a new level. While Olive and Sinclair sticks to using traditional methods of slow-roasting and stone-grinding the beans, don’t be fooled. This isn’t your grandmother’s chocolate.Witherow’s pairing of traditional methods and nontraditional ingredients makes for a chocolate experience you won’t soon forget (photo courtesy of Olive and Sinclair
Olive and Sinclair takes ordinary ingredients and pairs them up to make something extraordinary. Take the Bourbon Nib Brittle for instance. The cacao beans are aged in Southern bourbon barrels and then paired with the buttery goodness of a traditional brittle. The same concept goes into their other makings—a salt-and-pepper buttermilk white chocolate or a Mexican Style Cinnamon Chili Chocolate. Much of what Olive and Sinclair has done embodies so much of what the South is about, keeping tradition alive while welcoming the new.
- Charm School Chocolate—Baltimore, Maryland Founder of Charm School Chocolate Josh Rosen made his claim to fame when he wowed the judges and won Food Network’s Sweet Genius (photo courtesy of Charm School Chocolate)
If the name Josh Rosen rings a bell, it’s probably because he wowed and won Food Network’s Sweet Genius in 2012. And sweet genius perfectly describes Rosen and what he has created at Charm School Chocolate.Charm School Chocolate is based on the idea that everybody deserves a chocolate (we couldn’t agree more). Which is why they have dedicated themselves to creating dairy-free, certified vegan bean-to-bar chocolate that anyone wants to devour. Seriously. There’s no sacrifice to flavor or texture in these indulgent bars that use coconut for the creaminess in their milk chocolate bar without making coconut the main player. Not to mention they offer a white chocolate bar that rivals their dairy-filled counterparts. No easy task in the vegan world.To take it a step further, most of Charm School’s handcrafted offerings are soy-free and all are free of refined sugar. Why, you ask? Because as they say at Charm School, “it’s rude to exclude.”Charm School Chocolate creations go by their own rule of “it’s rude to exclude.” These bean-to-bar creations are certified vegan and dairy-free, making use of ingredients such as coconut to satisfy taste without sacrificing texture. (photo courtesy of Charm School Chocolate)
- Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co.—Atlanta, Georgia In 2004 Kristin Hard opened Cacao Atlanta, which quickly became a destination for chocolate lovers throughout the South (photo courtesy of Cacao Atlanta)
Atlanta is a food-lover’s paradise, and the sweets (and not so sweet) at Cacao Atlanta do not disappoint. Owner Kristen Hard opened her first location in 2004, bringing her creativity and love of a good dark cacao to the good people of Atlanta.Since she first opened doors just over a decade ago, two more locations (and one in the works) have been added, and Hard has drawn plenty of foodie attention. Not surprising when one of your house specialties is Salame di Cioccolato. Yep, chocolate salami. But don’t judge just yet. It’s actually Cacao Atlanta’s signature sixty-percent bean-to-bar chocolate rolled with shortbread and amaretti cookies. We told you not to judge.It’s creations like this that have made Hard’s chocolate haven not just a local favorite but a destination for chocolate lovers throughout the South (and some of those Northerners too). To truly taste as the locals do, take a sip. Cacao Atlanta’s sipping chocolate is kicked up a notch with the Aztec Aphrodisiac blend of secret chiles and spices. Don’t ask what’s in it: they won’t tell.Cacao Atlanta’s bean-to-bar café has since expanded to two additional locations and one soon to open, thanks to some right combinations in their amazing chocolate creations (photo courtesy of Cacao Atlanta)
- Izard Chocolate—Little Rock, ArkansasUp-and-coming chocolate maker Nathaniel Izard has introduced the bean-to-bar experience to Central Arkansas as Little Rock’s first pure chocolate maker (photo courtesy of Izard Chocolate)
While most of the aforementioned chocolate makers have already made a name for themselves in the chocolate-making world, our list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning at least one of the many up-and-coming Southern chocolate makers. So make sure to keep your eye on this guy who is bringing the world of bean-to-bar chocolate to Arkansas’s capital city. The owner of Izard Chocolate, Nathaniel Izard, started his cacao journey in February 2014. Later that year, he was selling his dark chocolate creations at a local farmers’ market. Little Rock chocolate connoisseurs were hooked. Shortly after that, Izard opened a small batch chocolate factory, and Izard Chocolate bars hit store shelves one year following the launch of his dream. In a few short months the business quickly expanded throughout the state and into New York and the first retail store was in the works. It had been a whirlwind year but one of sweet success. Izard Chocolate creations are handcrafted and hand-wrapped in sustainable paper shipped straight from Italy, the United Kingdom, and California (photo courtesy of Izard Chocolate)Izard’s dark cacao creations highlight what most of us don’t fully understand about our favorite bars. It all goes back to the bean. True dark chocolate lovers are challenged to note the differences between a seventy-percent cacao from Belize versus the seventy-percent from the Dominican Republic (or perhaps the difference of one of his other sources, Madagascar or Tanzania). While the offerings are limited, what he does is done right.The attention to detail doesn’t stop with the bar itself. Each Izard Chocolate bar is hand wrapped in gold foil and then in sustainable handmade paper from Italy, the United Kingdom, and California, and almost too beautiful to open. Almost. Just another way Little Rock’s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker is pushing the confectionery envelope to prove the South can do chocolate.
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