This is Marie contributing an article about chocolates from two Asheville establishments: Chocolate Fetish and French Broad Chocolate Lounge.
Readers of our blog have encountered Chocolate Fetish before, as I’ve gushed about how wonderful they are for years now. They are a family-run business whose owners, Sue and Bill Foley, have been winning prizes for their chocolate for years. The business had been around since the 80s but the Foleys purchased it in 2002. Their focus is on making their blend of chocolate (from six sources) into truffles and candies that range from chocolate covered marshmallows (a weakness of mine) through sea salt caramels (another weakness) to their much-esteemed line of truffles. We have been going there for years and love their products. In strawberry season you absolutely MUST get one of their chocolate covered strawberries.
This time we stepped into French Broad Chocolates. Due to the crazy crowd in town that was also reflected in the shop itself, I had a half hour wait to get to the counter for my order. I bought three chocolate bars – two from the French Broad factory, and one a staff pick from another source – and a box of truffles. There was no time to do anything but look longingly at the glass cases full of cakes, pudding, and other delicacies, since the family were waiting at the library for me to join them and there was nowhere to sit anyway in that crowd. French Broad is also a family-owned business, run by Dan and Jael Rattigan. They started working with chocolate in Costa Rica, running a restaurant there called Bread & Chocolate, and moved to Asheville where they started selling chocolates out of their home kitchen. The business has been growing ever since. Their focus is different from Chocolate Fetish’s, as they work with single-bean sourcing; they’ve even bought a cocoa farm and hope to start importing beans of their own production soon!
I have been thinking of chocolate lately with a literature metaphor. For instance, Hershey’s Kisses are like the Sunday comics – not much to them but fun enough to come back to when they’re convenient, while Godiva is like New York Times bestsellers – generally good quality and easily available but designed for maximum appeal. Chocolate Fetish’s products remind me of Jane Austen – smooth and a little sweet on the surface, but with enough depth that I never get tired of coming back again and again. French Broad chocolates, on the other hand, remind me of Dostoyevsky – dense, complex, idiosyncratic, and more than a little bitter.
The chocolates in my self-chosen assorted box: lavender and honey, raspberry, strawberry balsamic (vegan), vanilla bourbon, sea salt caramel, and white jasmine. I asked what the most popular flavors are, to make sure I picked one, and the caramel is on the list. Chocolate bars: house milk chocolate (45%) with malt from Riverbend Malt House; dark chocolate 66% with only two ingredients: cocoa and sugar. I also got a Staff Pick from the bars on sale from other manufacturers: Fresco 215, a 74% dark chocolate with cocoa butter that caught my eye. But that one will not be in the review.
(Note: The photos above are from French Broad. The two below are display cabinets at The Chocolate Fetish.)
The French Broad milk chocolate bar is as intense and assertive as many dark chocolates. The cocoa butter content makes it very soft, melting almost instantly on the tongue, so it starts very intense and softens with time; the flavor has been growing on me with every bite. I will miss this one when it’s done. Grant didn’t like it much at all. He would hate the dark chocolate. It’s very strong indeed. It really needs to be chopped up and put into some cookies, or melted into a cup of cocoa. There will be experimentation on those themes.
Here are my thoughts on the truffles:
White jasmine is smooth with just a faint hint of bitterness. It has a really nice creamy feel. Overall, my favorite. I could eat a whole box of just these. Well, not at once – that would lead to chocolate coma.
Raspberry smells strongly of the fruit because of the coating but the flavor in the ganache isn’t overpowering. Good strong chocolate flavor and again, that lovely creamy texture.
Vanilla Bourbon was too strong for me (real liquor in it) and didn’t have enough vanilla flavor. Grant liked it better than I did.
Lavender Honey didn’t really work for either of us. It was too strongly flavored by the herb and the honey didn’t really come through much.
Balsamic strawberry was ok-ish. Didn’t really work for me and Grant didn’t like it. I thought the center was nice but the crumbly exterior (mainly nibs) was not to either of our tastes.
The caramel we put up as a head to head against Chocolate Fetish’s much beloved sea salt caramels, and I’m afraid Chocolate Fetish were the winner in three out of four categories for me – texture and flavor of the caramel, and salt selection; they tied for the chocolate in my scoring. Grant gave the win to Chocolate Fetish in all four categories. Chocolate Fetish has a strong advantage in that their caramels include many flavors of salt, however, and we only had one example from French Broad. So there may need to be an additional head-to-head challenge. One can never be too careful in these sorts of things. You, our reader, may also want to weigh on in this, so if you are anywhere around Asheville and able to pick something up from both places, please let us know what you think!
Overall, using the earlier metaphor I prefer Austen (Chocolate Fetish) to Dostoyevsky (French Broad Chocolates). But I will definitely be back for the white jasmine truffle and the malted milk bar.
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