Monday, September 03, 2007

Pacific Northwest Chocolate: The Trip I Didn't Take

Over the weekend, I started taking driving lessons--again. My instructor this time around is Helen Gerhardt, a fellow grad student, a former soldier, and an astonishingly generous soul with a little red VW bug. A few more rides around the block with Helen and I'll be able to take on Matt Gross, the New York Times' Frugal Traveler who spent the summer driving cross country.

Gross's travelogue came to an end in yesterday's Sunday Times, with the travel writer pulling into Seattle. That Pacific Northwest city was the intended endpoint of my West Coast excursion this summer. But every trip must adjust to its travelers, and Barbara and I chose to stay comfortably within 100 miles of our starting point (and enjoy each other's company) rather than to attempt the (for us, then) impossible feat of traveling eight times that distance across three states.

But if I had made it north from California into Oregon and Washington, these are the chocolate outfits I would have visited, glowing with enthusiasm:

Dagoba, Ashland, OR
Frederick Schilling's all-organic chocolate factory (with roots in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, and Madagascar) turns out couverture, flavored bars, and spiritually-infused elixirs.

Lillie Belle Farms, Jacksonville, OR
An indie businessman and a keeper of organic strawberry fields, owner Jeff Shepherd is one of the nicest guys I've met, and the only one who can make the blue-cheese chocolate truffle work.

Moonstruck Chocolate, Portland, OR
These confectionery classicists are chocolatiers to the Academy Awards.

Sahagún Handmade Chocolates, Portland, OR
Named for Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, the sixteenth-century chronicler of indigenous American society, Elizabeth Montes's fruit and herb (and jalapeno and pumpkin-seed) bon bons are tied to their Aztec heritage.

Emily's Chocolates, Fife, WA
How could I resist?

Fran's Chocolates, Seattle, WA
A Seattle institution, Fran Bigelow is the instigator of the fleur-de-sel caramel craze.

Theo, Seattle, WA
Possibly America's most progressive chocolate maker, one-year-old Theo produces sublime couverture and the "3400 Phinney" collection of flavored bars, including "Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate" and "Bread and Chocolate Dark Chocolate."


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