Love is in the airAnd so is the seductive aroma of chocolate
Ahh, Valentine’s Day — a day when everyone’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.
Think about what goes together with love — whispers of sweet nothings, hearts, flowers and, of course, chocolate.
Chocolate has been revered for centuries, going back to the Aztec emperor Montezuma, who believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac.
We can thank Christopher Columbus for discovering chocolate in the new world and bringing it back to Queen Isabella in Spain. It was a luxurious treasure, almost like gold. Soon, chocolate’s fame began to spread throughout Europe.
But, in fact, St. Valentine’s Day preceded Columbus’ trip to the new world. Chaucer’s notation of Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday can be found in 1382.
By the time of 18th-century England, Valentine’s Day had become an occasion for lovers to express their love by giving flowers, confectionaries, and hand-written notes or cards, known as “valentines.”
How did a romantic holiday and the giving of chocolate — get together? It was Richard Cadbury, of England’s chocolate making Cadbury Brothers, who forever linked chocolate with Valentine’s Day. Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day in 1861. The rest is history.
Chocolate comes from the nibs of the Theobroma cacao tree, which translates to “food for the Gods.” The craving for chocolate can be scientifically linked to the presence of the chemical phenylethylamine in chocolate, which produces feelings of happiness, pleasure and even attraction. Let’s hear it for those endorphins.
Western North Carolina is home to several fine chocolate shops, but the most-well-known is French Broad Chocolates in Asheville — and it makes its own artisan chocolate.
Jael and Dan Rattigan, co-owners/founders of French Broad Chocolates, are happy to share their passion for fine chocolate.
Jael points to the reasons chocolate has become synonymous with Valentine’s Day.
“Science supports the fact that anandamide — ‘the bliss chemical’ in cacao — triggers happy thoughts,” Jael said. “It makes you feel like you’re falling in love.”
And, she said that tradition plays a big role in the popularity of chocolate as a Valentine’s Day gift.
“Chocolate has its place as a food associated with the giving of gifts to share love,” Jael said.
French Broad Chocolates is offering plenty of Valentine’s goodness. To start, there is the Aphrodisiac Collection, because the Rattigans feel that “chocolate is the most love-inducing food.”
The selections in the Aphrodisiac Collection contain a Cosmic Love Potion truffle, made with an elixir of love designed by local herbalist Christa. Other selections in this special collection include a Honey Wine Caramel, Pomegranate Ginger truffle, Rose Cardamom + Pistachio truffle, Cherry Cordial and Strawberries and Bubbly truffle. All of the ingredients were selected to make people feel “happy, good and loved.”
The Rattigan’s passion for luscious food is reflected in the staff creations at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge on Pack Square and the chocolate factory on Buxton Avenue.
“They have the freedom to play and fully participate in the creative process,” Jael said.
French Broad Chocolates pastry chef Shannon Ginn has cooked up some mouth-watering specials for Valentine’s Day. From Feb. 10 through Feb. 14, the lounge will be offering specials including a chocolate-dipped shortbread and peanut brittle; roulade and éclair; and a beeramisu made with Asheville Brewing’s Love Ninja Porter (like tiramisu but with a beer reduction). The Chocolate + Milk boutique next to the Lounge will offer heart-shaped cinnamon buns and a bouquet of roses from Flora, while supplies last.
The community is invited to stop by the lounge on Valentine’s Day for a “low stress” celebration.
“It’s something you can do with a friend for a ‘not stressful’ Valentine’s Day,” said Ginn.
“You don’t have to dress up to stop in the lounge — it will be so Asheville,” said Katrina Ohstrom, French Broad Chocolates marketing manager. “People strolling in downtown Asheville on Valentine’s Day are invited to stop at the Lounge for special desserts, including the wildly popular Quintessential Chocolate Cake.”
French Broad Chocolates is teaming up with three other Asheville business for special Valentine’s treats. There will be a Valentine’s Day beer, cheese and chocolate pairing experience at Catawba Brewing South Slope, featuring head chocolate maker Crawford Rizor, with French Broad Chocolates creations — chocolate roulade with strawberry cream cheese; eclair with rose honey pastry cream topped with a with a chocolate heart; peanut brittle with sea salt; and a beeramisu — and four Looking Glass Creamery artisan cheeses, paired with four Catawba Brewing craft beers.
In addition, for Valentine's Day, Highland Brewing will offer ‘flights and bites’ featuring French Broad Chocolates creations and Sovereign Remedies will feature some of French Broad Chocolates desserts paired with special cocktails.
French Broad Chocolates chocolate maker Evan Ackerman will give two special factory tours, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, guiding attendees through the bean-to-bar process and chocolate tastings, including the new spicy Scorpion Pepper 72 percent bar and the seasonal Aphrodisiac Collection. Tours are $10. Reserve a spot by calling 828-505-4996 or emailing email@example.com.
The Rattigans celebrated the 10th anniversary of French Broad Chocolates in January, with a party for chocolate lovers attended by more than 200 people.
“The Dan and Jael love story is special,” said Ohstrom. “So they wanted a really special French Broad Chocolates 10th anniversary celebration.”
And what is Jael giving Dan for Valentine’s Day?
“I give him the world of chocolate,” Jael said.
With so much love in the air, it seems fitting to point out that the French Broad Chocolate Lounge pastry team makes luscious wedding cakes. For information, call 828-252-4181 or visit www.frenchbroadchocolates.com.