There should be some ancient historical bond that connects chocolate with lovers. But the old world was only introduced to chocolate through the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortez, who was granted his first taste by the great Montezuma himself. Both Cortez and Columbus brought this strange delight with them on the long voyage home, where the Spanish court kept their prize a closely-guarded secret for almost 100 years. However, even after the Spaniards lost control of their treasure, chocolate remained a plaything for the well-to-do.
And yet, it wasn’t this element of forbidden luxury that bound chocolate inextricably with romantic love. Chocolate remained marginalized until it was given to U.S. soldiers in World War II to help sustain them through the horrors of battle. And it was these same war-weary men who introduced it to their sweethearts once they finally returned. By the 1970s, 90% of the candy purchased for Valentine’s Day was chocolate.
It certainly isn’t the romantic story one hopes for when one goes scouting. Still, we have enjoyed a long, dramatic affair with chocolate, filled with violence and greed, and a passion that borders on obsession. Chocolate has helped us through some of our darkest, loneliest hours. To ignorant eyes, chocolate reveals none of its riches, but once tasted, it quickens the pulse, stimulates the senses, and surrenders pleasure in its purest form. Perhaps it is an apt metaphor for love after all.
Robyn Dochterman and her long-time partner, Deidre Pope, had often made chocolates for Christmas. Dochterman, a former journalist with the Star Tribune (and before that, Equal Time), knew she wanted to pursue something food-related, but once she took a class with the French Pastry School, artisan chocolates became her passion. Since then, she’s studied under Christophe More and Jean-Marie Auboine, and will soon be applying air brush techniques from Chris Hanmer (Top Chef: Just Desserts).
Even for those who have experienced fine chocolates from around the world, Dochterman offers something entirely unique–exquisite chocolate, inventive flavors and local ingredients, presented with such beauty that opening a box literally takes one’s breath away.
However, when the duo opened up shop at Marine St. Croix in the spring of 2010, many of their neighbors thought they wouldn’t last. Marine is a small town of about 700, and sustaining an artisan chocolate shop year round seemed unlikely. But excellent chocolate has a strange way of being addictive. Dochterman explains, “There will always be someone local who will come in. Even last year when we got 14″ of snow, a local came in and bought chocolate. And I just have such an overwhelming gratitude for people who have made us part of their lives.”
There are flavors that Dochterman doesn’t dare eliminate, because, as she puts it, “There would be hell to pay.” However, the shop introduces seasonal inspirations that take advantage of local ingredients like black raspberries, wild grapes, black walnuts, and even violets. “I had violets blooming in my backyard…so I learned to candy the violets and make violet liqueur and violet extract, and I made a violet chocolate,” she states.
Additionally, Dochterman gets as many ingredients as she can from local, organic sources. Milk and cream come from Crystal Ball Farms in Osceola; their maple syrup hails from Franconia. Even their own wildflower honey makes its way into their chocolate. Chocolate, however, is a tropical product, and so Dochterman selects only the best from single-source, organic and fair trade companies around the world.
Her confections often incorporate a textural element, as in her peanut butter chocolate, which balances a rich peanuty center that straddles the line between creamy and crunchy, with milk chocolate that’s pleasantly assertive. And like many European chocolatiers, Dochterman often incorporates layers of intense flavor that develop as one savors each bite. For this experience, try her pear caramel: homemade sweet pear jelly and luscious caramel, encased in a milk chocolate shell. Pop it in your mouth, roll it around on your tongue, and bite down slowly. Do this while still in her shop, and never mind if Dochterman waits for your reaction. “Watching people eat chocolate…I should make a Youtube video of it because it makes you smile. It makes you happy to make other people happy,” she says.
Dochterman will be making several special products for Valentine’s Day, including new flavors, heart-shaped chocolates and special boxes. Additionally, St. Croix Chocolate Company is working with several local artists to create keepsake boxes and unique molds. For more information or to make a purchase, visit stcroixchocolateco.com, call the shop at 651-433-1400, or swing by 261 Parker Street.
And as for love and chocolate, Dochterman credits both her partner Diedre, and her involvement with the gay community for helping her follow her heart: “There’s a huge amount of pride in the community. I think I’ve always carried that with me no matter what I did. You just go about the business of being yourself, and loving yourself the same way you love whoever you love.”