Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chocolate Visions

The holiday shopping season has officially begun, and when in doubt, I choose the gift of chocolate. I know what I want - something local, handmade and incredibly delicious. But sometimes we get swayed by glitzy packaging and marketing claims, ignoring what is right in front of our eyes. Chocolate Visions has been making chocolate in the Santa Cruz Mountains long before the artisan chocolate craze hit the Bay Area. They may not have the slickest packaging, but their truffles and bars are sure to please anyone on your holiday list.

Lloyd and Lindy Martin create all of their chocolate by hand in their Scotts Valley kitchen. They are not afraid to experiment with bold flavors, and always use the finest ingredients. For instance, they spent over 6 months perfecting the flavor of their Rose truffle, finally selecting Turkish Rose Otto oil to enhance each bite. Their lavender truffle incorporates lavender and olive oil from Valencia Street Farm in nearby Aptos. For chocolate, the Martins primarily use e. Guittard. Although Lloyd attended chocolatier school 5 years ago, he taught himself how to make edible ink, cocoa butter and natural food coloring - all key elements to the intricate designs on each chocolate piece.

Our Chocolate Tours have been loving the new Chocolate Visions 3 oz bars, which debuted over the summer ($6.95 each). It's difficult to combine chocolate with lemon, but we think their Luscious Lemon, with applewood smoked almonds and candied meyer lemon, is a winner. Another tempting bar option is the Chocolate Visions Oh My Goodness Bar, a gourmet version of the classic Mr. Goodbar, with toasted coconut and honey roasted peanuts. Try them side by side and we're pretty sure you'll never go back to sugary, waxy candy bars again.

For those who still question the desire to combine chocolate with wine, Lindy Martin says "Just try it!" Chocolate Visions has worked directly with over 75 different California wineries to blend their wine with chocolate, and imprint each chocolate with the winery's logo. They prefer working with full bodied reds, like the Burrell School merlot and the Bartolo "super tuscan" - both available in their Winery Collection box ($21.95 for 12 pieces). We often sample these on our Chocolate & Wine Tours. They taste divine, and have the added bonus of lasting at least a month longer than the average truffle because of the wine.

If you're looking for something with a holiday theme, Chocolate Visions has just unveiled their Christmas Collection, with wintery flavors like meyer lemon olive oil, hazelnut and tangerine ($46.95 for 24 pieces). If you're close enough to Scotts Valley to make the trip, Chocolate Visions will be holding a Holiday Open House on December 12th from 1-5pm. Combine it with a trip to Richard Donnelly in Santa Cruz and you'll be done with chocolate holiday shopping well before the final hour!