It's no secret that the Bay Area has a bounty of food artisans and purveyors. But did you know that we also have no shortage of innovative premium chocolatiers? From small shops like Sôcôla, Chocolatier Blue and Coco Delice to larger and more established San Francisco companies like Recchiuti and Charles Chocolates; the Bay Area abounds with locally-made, hand-crafted truffles and chocolates for every taste and preference.
It's not surprising that our home-grown chocolate shops all seem to use the highest quality ingredients, with many utilizing organic local creams and butters alongside fruits and nuts purchased from nearby farmers. And, as all truffles should be, these confections are also made with trained and sure hands, often artistically sculpted or topped with elegant etchings. Overall, the chocolates and truffles produced locally use the finest ingredients, are superbly made and are lovely to look at.
So if you're shopping for a little chocolate indulgence this holiday season, keep it local. You won't be disappointed.
Following are my top-ten picks for local holiday chocolates.
And if you're in the mood for some familial holiday warmth this season, Sôcôla offers a hearty dose. Susan and Wendy Lieu are two charismatic local sisters who live and breath chocolate. And just to keep their product really local, these sisters purposely use other Bay Area family-owned products to make each handmade truffle, including organic Strauss Family Creamery products and E. Guittard chocolate.
This holiday season Sôcôla is showcasing four special treats in their By the Fireside Holiday 2010 collection:
- Chai Baba Chai -- an exotic blend of Assam tea with cardamom, cloves, black peppercorn and cinnamon
- Hazelnut Praline -- sort of a refined Nutella
- Hot in Hia -- a delicate champagne truffle made in honor of the Lieu sisters' grandmother Hia
- Pumpkin Burnt Caramel -- a blend of holiday pumpkin pie spices, burnt caramel, Hawaiian sea salt and a splash of brandy
Coco Délice Fine Chocolates
If you're in the mood for a truly French-style traditional truffle -– chocolate filled with ganache that is hand-rolled and finished with cocoa powder -– you'll want to seek out Coco Délice. In addition to making extraordinary chocolate, this Emeryville company also works to find a balance between business and environmental conservation. Dedicated to using local ingredients, Coco Délice uses fruit and nuts from Bay Area farmers in their ganaches, cream from Berkeley Farms, and wine from the Sonoma Valley in their Wine & Spirits collection.
I spoke with Chef Dennis, who says his favorite holiday treats this year are:
- Bittersweet Cognac and Bourbon Pecan Truffles
- Peppermint Bark -- made with dark and white chocolate, peppermint oil, candy and cocoa (which is sold exclusively at Andronico's Market)
- The Holiday Cube assorted gift box that contains hand-rolled truffles, caramelized chocolate covered almonds, and set of dark chocolate disks with cocoa nubs
TCHO is making its own batch of high-quality chocolates this year. Always fair trade and always first-rate, TCHO offers various holiday gifts for the obsessive chocolate lover and/or baker in your life. A few holiday offerings are:
- Holiday gift boxes wrapped in designs by Dutch graphic artist Max Kisman
- Hot and Cold Drinking Chocolate -- which is made to be prepared as a thick and luscious European-style drink
- TCHO-a-Day -- a no-nonsense container filled with lovely little chocolate bars
TCHO is available for purchase online, at their factory store in San Francisco (where you can also take a tour), and at various Bay Area locations including: Berkeley Bowl, Bi-Rite Market, various Whole Foods and Real Foods.
One of my longtime favorite chocolate companies, I have always relied on Recchiuti during the holiday season. The elegant etchings and drawings on their truffles are the first clue to how exquisite these confections really are. Yet as often happens with a favorite restaurant, I think I've gotten stuck in a rut with their truffle menu. So instead of getting my tried and true Fleur de Sel Caramels or Peanut Butter Pucks this year, I think I'll try some of their seasonal selections:
- Caramels to the Third Power -- salted caramel, butterscotch salted caramel, and chocolate caramel
- Peppermint Thins -- a spin-off of Junior Mints, these peppermint thins are made with organic peppermint leaves from the Willamette valley and peppermint oil
- Pairing Boxes (four types of chocolates created specifically to pair with with whiskey, wine, beer and spirits for your holiday celebrations
Recchiuti is available for purchase online, at their Ferry Building store, and at various Bay Area locations including:
Andronico's, Draeger's, Bi-Rite Market, Rainbow Grocery, and Village Market in Oakland.
Trained in the intricacies of French chocolate making, Chris Blue is dedicated to making French-inspired chocolate truffles at a local level. With an emphasis on classical truffle-making, Chocolatier Blue uses Domori and Amedei chocolate, Five-Star organic butter, and seasonal fruits from the Berkeley Farmer's Market.
Chris Blue has come up with a few holiday flavors this year using various flavors, including gingerbread; sugar cookie; eggnog; rum-soaked currents; and holiday spices.
Michael Mischer Chocolates
I have a soft spot in my heart for Michael Mischer Chocolates as my family and I like to walk there on hot summer nights for cups of Mr. Mischer's creamy gelato. My husband also usually places a few truffles from this Oakland store in my stocking each Christmas (and I end up eating at least one as part of my holiday breakfast). Made with single-origin chocolate of Grand Cru quality from Venezuela or Ecuador, these truffles have an elegant chocolate taste that if full of nuance. Each is also hand sculpted so they are quite pretty.
In addition to its full range of truffles, Michael Mischer Chocolates is also offering three holiday flavors:
- Gingerbread Caramel -- made with a spice blend that tastes like a gingerbread cookie
- Advocaat -- made with a Dutch egg liqueur
- Mint Marshmallow -- filled with a homemade marshmallow flavored with mint oil
You can purchase Michael Mischer Chocolates at Mr. Mischer's store on Grand Avenue in Oakland, at Cocoa Bella, Fog City News, or Bi-Rite Market. You can also purchase directly through emailing the company (through their web site) or calling the store directly.
A long-time local favorite, Chuck (Charles) Siegel has been making local truffles in San Francisco since 1987. Beautifully crafted, with both sculpted shapes and etched drawings, Charles Chocolates offers various assortments and selections that are perfect for a holiday gift.
This year Charles Chocolates is offering a:
- Winter Collection Collection -- Fleur de Sel Caramels with images of snowflakes and raindrops decorating the top of each
- Holiday Collection Edible Chocolate Box -- an assortment of their most popular confections set in an edible chocolate box
The Xocolate Bar
Located in North Berkeley, Xocolate Bar creates both classic and vegan artisanal chocolates amd truffles using organic, seasonal and local ingredients whenever possible. With new flavors presented weekly, they make sure that at least half their selection is vegan.
Some holiday flavors include:
- Gingerbread Truffle -- made with black currents
- The Salted Chile Makeout Truffle -- made with chai and maca root (an aphrodisiac)
- The Tamarind Mango Agave -– their most popular vegan option
The Xocolate Bar is also offering a Community Supported Chocolate program where can sign up to pick up a monthly box of handmade chocolates at a designated neighborhood location. Each box will contain handmade chocolates made with seasonal, sustainable and/or organic ingredients.
You can purchase Xocolate Bar confections at their store in North Berkeley, or on their site through Foodoro.
Peter Bryden started making chocolates after tasting the dried cherry of his dreams from Smit Ranch. He imagined the moist plump fruit encased in chocolate and it was so good, he started Barolovento Chocolates to sell them. Barolovento now sells many different types of chocolates using single-source Venezuelan chocolate at Bay Area farmers' markets. This holiday season Peter has a few specialty items available in addition to his normal selection of shaped chocolates and truffles.
- Chocolate-covered Almonds (from EGB farms, these are panned in chocolate for even coating and sold in tubes)
- Holiday truffles (flavors include gingerbread, Fresh Mint (made by infusing cream with fresh spearmint)
- Meyer Lemon Zest truffles (which are created using fresh local Meyer lemons); and Kirsch Liqueur truffles.
Barolovento Chocolates accepts email and phone orders by calling (510) 238-8787. You can also purchase their chocolates at the following farmers' markets: Marin Civic Center, Grand Lake in Oakland, and Palo Alto. The Pasta Shop in Rockridge and Berkeley also sells their fleur de sel caramels and small logo bars with sea salt.
Because Christmas falls on a Saturday this year, Barolovento Chocolates is opening their kitchen for sales December 20 - 24 from 9am-4pm. Stop by at 638 2nd street Oakland to pick up some holiday treats.
Located in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, Alegio makes classic French truffles and chocolates. Panos Panagos, a very charming Frenchman, and Robbin Everson, the talented chef, work together to bring hand-crafted truffles made on site to their little neck of the Bay Area. Alegio also sells truffles by Enric Rovira's and Claudio Corallo. Vegan and organic confections are available and all chocolate used is fair trade.
A few truffles worth checking out for the holiday season are the:
- Sea Salt Caramel Truffle -- a consistent best seller
- Habanera -- which has won a few awards
- Grapefruit Caramel
Alegio chocolates can be purchased online or at their store at 1511 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley