Whether or not chocolate is an aphrodisiac is a matter of debate. The Aztecs were the first to suggest a link between the cocoa bean and, well, romantic feelings. Scientists say its chemical components trigger feeling similar to falling in love. The truth, perhaps, lies more in the size and contents of the bow-wrapped box you give your sweetie on Valentine’s Day. Bigger is, of course, always better.
Here in Wine Country, there’s no shortage of great chocolatiers ready to tease your tastebuds. Here are some of our favorites…
Salt Side Down Chocolates: Sweet treats are nice, but any cook will tell you it’s the salt that really makes your taste buds stand up and take notice. Wrapping sweet, salty and a little bit of umami into a truffle-iciously tasty package is chocolatier Julie Herson of Salt Side Down Chocolates.
Using the best stuff she can get her hands on — heirloom cacao, fresh local fruit, cream and wines and artisan sea salts — this Culinary Institute of America grad is putting a new spin on luxe chocolate. The idea: Hand-dipped truffles topped with sea salt crystals meant to be plopped into your mouth salt side down. In fact, each box comes with instructions on how to best enjoy the sweet, savory combo.
Why? Prepping your buds with a quick jolt of salty makes the sweet, well, that much sweeter and more dynamic, according to Herson. For Valentine’s Day, she’s featuring a torrid trio of Truffles: Forbidden Romance with Rhubarb and Balsamic Vinegar; Butterfly Kisses with Butternut Squash and Sri Lanken Cinnamon and Tingling Toes with Toasted Almond. Available at Share Exchange, 531 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 331-6850, $20 or at saltsidedownchocolates.com.
Cutie Cakes Confections: Trishia Davis is a woman obsessed with sugar — which isn’t too surprising considering her profession as cupcake and candy maker. She’s a farm market and food event regular, with treats that are as adorably named (Baby Doll, Love Bunny and SassyFrass) as they are to look at. What you may not know is that her chocolates recently won several awards at the Harvest Fair, including the ultra luxe Devotion, hand-painted dark chocolate hearts filled with balsamic ganache and an Italian cherry (think uptown cherry cordial). Also in her bag of treats: Apres (milk chocolate coffee ganache in dark chocolate), Rustica (cognac infused ganache in bittersweet chocolate) and Coastal Caramels (vanilla caramels draped in bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled with Swan’s Ilsand sea salt.) Available online at cutiecakesbakeshop.com.
Sonoma Chocolatiers: Chocolatier David Gambill of Sonoma Chocolatiers is the guy behind some of the county’s most unusual truffles: Garlic, cheddar white truffle and rosemary goat cheese. In his Sebstopol sweets laboratory, he frets over each hand-made flavor. But rest assured, there are plenty of more approachable combinations including rose, lavender, Chambord, cherry kirsch, coconut almond, jasmine green tee and orange cardamom caramels. Sonoma Chocolatiers, 6988 McKinley Street, Sebastopol, (707) 829-1181.
Wine Country Chocolates: Chocolate with a local flavor, this Sonoma chocolateria fills their truffles with Cabernet, Zinfandel, Port and champagne. Not into wine? How about the Elvis, a peanut butter truffle with banana ganache or a boysenberry gananche with blackberry honey? Tasting rooms at 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 966-1010 and on the Sonoma Plaza, 414 First St. East, Sonoma.
Viva Cocolat: Satisfy your deep, dark chocolate yearnings with truffles, bon bons and desserts from near and far (including Joseph Schmidt, Charles Chocolates, Galaxy Desserts and Michael Cluizel).
110 Petaluma Blvd N., Petaluma, 778-9888.
Gandolf’s Fine Chocolate: Blushingly wonderful and suggestive are Nipples of Venus, chocolate ganache truffles from Forestville chocolatier Guy Daniels. Available online at gandolfsfinechocolate.com or on Saturday mornings at the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market.
Patisserie Angelica: We’ll let you decide whether the creamy, decadent Better Than Sex Hot Fudge Sauce at this Sebastopol bakery actually is. What we can say is that loading it on top of ice cream or eating it right into the jar is a heaping helping of deliciousness. 6821 Laguna Park Way, Sebastopol, 827-7998, open Friday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm.
Sonoma Valley Portworks: The essence of chocolate in a bottle, Deco is an aged port kissed with natural, bittersweet chocolate. Perfect for after-dinner drinking, with dessert or poured on someone special. Available at the SVP Tasting Room, 613 2nd St., Petaluma, 769-5203 Monday, Thursday and Saturday from noon to 5pm.