Portland, Oregon is full of artisan food makers who passionately love what they do. But the town’s chocolatiers are a special breed, thrilling in making a product that delights people of all ages. While some of the city’s confectioners like Alma, JaCiva and Moonstruck already have solid places on the chocolate map –– smaller, lesser known companies are stirring up innovative chocolate. The following chocolatiers run tiny operations, selling online, at events and farmer’s markets and with limited distribution in select stores, but they’re definitely worth checking out.
The way Charlie Wheelock, owner of Woodblock Chocolate, explains it, there’s a big difference between a chocolatier and a chocolate maker. “Makers look at origin and beans like a wine grower looks at grapes,” he said.
Wheelock and his wife Jessica started Woodblock three years ago. They buy raw cacao beans from Peru, Trinidad, Venezuela, Ecuador and Madagascar and process them into bars. They sort and roast the beans, then crack them open to separate the nib from the hull. Nibs get refined, aged, tempered and eventually eaten. Hulls become mulch. Woodblock uses only two ingredients: cacao and sugar. Order these dark chocolate bars online, or buy them at select stores in 15 states. Woodblock even has one outlet in Tokyo.
Kristina Pescatore moved to Portland last year from Austin, Texas, where she studied chocolate making from ChocoSutra. Now she’s selling her creative chocolates online, at local events and occasional open houses. Kilikina’s Chocolat specializes in treats made from raw, organic Ecuadorian cacao and flavored with therapeutic-grade doTerra essential oils.
Wildflower honey is Pescatore’s sweetener of choice. Current offerings include dark chocolate lavender bon bons with dried rose petals, rosemary lemon truffles and fudge made with roasted almond butter and ghee.
In addition to top-notch ingredients, Pescatore believes that customers can taste the passion that goes into making excellent chocolates. “People have responded so highly toward my chocolates because they feel I’m putting in more than ingredients,” she said. “I’m putting in love and positive, healing intentions.”
In the next couple of years, Pescatore hopes to visit South America and make personal connections with cacao farmers. Since Mayans prized chocolate as the food of the gods, South America is high on her list. “I’d really love to tap into some of the ancient wisdom there.”
A lifelong chocolate lover, Rochelle Koivunen unhappily adopted a restrictive diet to manage her candida, a fungal infection. The ban on sugar took most chocolate off the list.
So Koivunen and partner River Darensbourg began experimenting with making their own. Eventually they hit on a formula combining cacao, vanilla, coconut, sea salt and xylitol (also known as birch sugar). Their friends liked the chocolate so much, Koivunen and Darensbourg started selling Rox Chox chocolate bars in 2011.
Their chocolate fits into many restricted diets: it’s vegan, raw, and, with a glycemic index of 7 and only 2 grams of sugar per serving, so it’s safe for some diabetics. Rox Chox is available online and in 46 stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Illinois, New York and Colorado.
Koivunen, a former co-op manager, believes strongly in sustainable business ethics. Not only is all Rox Chox packaging compostable, but you can buy Rox Chox in bulk in co-ops. A new flavor, Dibs on Nibs, combines heirloom strain Ecuadorian cacao nibs with a bed of Peruvian cacao. Koivunen is a big believer in the benefits of raw foods. “Way more nutrients, enzymes, and antioxidants,” Koivunen said. “Raw is super powerful. It’s the future!”
Ana Trevino always liked to cook and bake. When she got interested in chocolate, she enrolled in a chocolatier course at Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver, British Columbia. She started Exotic Chocolates in 2011 and specializes in flavored dark chocolate disks. Her creations promptly won prizes at the annual Oregon Chocolate Festival in Ashland. One year she won for her banana habanero dark chocolate, another for lemon habanero.
Trevino prefers to sell her chocolates online and especially in person rather than in stores. “I like talking to people,” she said. “And I’m glad they get to try it first, see what they like.”
Rose City Sweets
Rose City Sweets makes handmade, small-batch confections, including two blue ribbon winners at last year’s Oregon State Fair. Crowd pleasers include smoked almond butter toffee, fleu de sel brown sugar caramels and dark chocolate espresso bonbons.
Owner Shanda Kimber has been making candy for a decade, but went pro two years ago. “I love sweets,” she said. “And I love the reaction when people try my candies. It’s a fun job. You make candy!”
Rose City Sweets sells one of the most beautiful boxes of candies ever: a rainbow-hued row of chocolate-covered caramels smothered in edible glitter.
Stirs the Soul
Owner Daren Hayes planned to be a coffee roaster. But while experimenting with European style drinking chocolates, he became fascinated with making chocolate.
He founded Stir the Souls seven years ago. Now he makes 14 signature chocolate bars and more than 50 chocolate products.
Most of his products are raw and vegan. All are free from soy, dairy, gluten and nuts. Hayes’ choice of four different sweeteners – dates, honey, agave and coconut palm sugar – satisfies people with allergies or who follow special diets.
Some of his biggest sellers include agave-sweetened dark chocolate bars and raw hemp cups, which are like a peanut butter cup for folks avoiding peanuts. Stirs the Soul sells online and is available at select stores in a dozen states. Hayes stresses the nutritional value and pleasure of chocolate. “I’m here to help folks,” he said. “You don’t have to give up all the good to be healthy.” — Story and photos by Teresa Bergen, RFT Vegan/Vegetarian Editor