One word. CHOCOLATE!
It's apropos that I would have chocolate on my mind today. Just as I give myself permission to drink as much champagne as I want on New Year's Eve (who am I kidding, any given day of the year), I give myself permission to eat as much chocolate as I like on this day of celebrating LOVE. So, where did the idea of giving chocolate for Valentine's Day originate? For a comprehensive look at the connection, read this great piece by Amy Henderson in Smithsonian Magazine.
My indulgence runs the gamut, but I prefer my chocolate dark and artisanal. Fortunately for me, there are two excellent chocolatiers nearby. One in my own backyard, and the other over the Delaware River and through the woods. . .
Right here in Bucks County is Pierre's, a wonderful little shop filled with traditional and small batch chocolates. Owners Tom Zaslow and Justin Block's confiserie features single origin cacao sourced from small family farms and rare South American varietals. The ornamentation is exquisite. One of the grooviest, a limited edition called PEACE.LOVE. BACON., features gloriously repeating Rastafarian red, yellow, and green peace signs and is filled with rendered bacon, Guajillo pepper, and Triumph Brewery Baltic Porter. Another personal favorite of mine is the single origin Peru, made from 62% solid dark chocolate.
Across the bridge in New Jersey is another wonderful source of chocolates being handcrafted by SciaScia Confections. "Chocolate Babies"his petite version of chocolate-covered pretzels are, hands-down, you're ever going to find. Crisp, crunchy pretzels, perfectly coated in silky dark chocolate, with a sprinkle of sea salt. Tom sells his masterful truffles, bars, macarons, and bark at The Stockton Farmer's Market, an emporium of fine artisanal vendors and a requisite part of my weekly food shopping.
Simran Sethi, whose book Bread, Wine, Chocolate is on my reading bucket list has an awesome podcast about all things cacao, called "Slow Melt" which delves into the heart of the $100 billion dollar chocolate industry. She has curated a fascinating body of knowledge around cacao, from it's history and culture, to the threat of the disappearing cacao bean.
Here's the only good reason you need to consume the best chocolate you can find. According to Sethi, "Chocolate is currently dominated by a small group of multinational companies, including Mars Incorporated and Mondelēz International. They buy most of the world’s cacao and, as a result, dictate what’s grown and define the parameters of what chocolate tastes like. Every bite of chocolate consumed within—or outside—of those set parameters has the power to either perpetuate or transform what we eat. I don’t eat expensive chocolate to be fancy or waste money; I eat it because I want to support the chocolate makers and farmers dedicated to sustaining diverse and delicious chocolate. I eat it because the best versions of this are like nothing else. And I eat it because I don’t want my joy to come at the expense of someone else’s misery."
Artisinal chocolate. It does a body good. And in the process you may be doing your part to help support local farmers and sustain the diversity of this storied and delicious bean.