Chocolate Pairings: The Local Maine Businesses We Love to Work with
Chocolate and red wine. Chocolate and coffee. Chocolate and beer! Just like these pairings, small businesses in Maine often pair well together too. That is undoubtedly true in other parts of the country as well, but I can speak personally to the wealth of support we have in our community in Maine, and especially (for us) in the Portland area, with the small start-ups who join forces as a way to help one another.
When we opened our first store in 2008 (at the lowest point of the financial crisis, as you may remember), we were helped tremendously by the then-nascent Buy Local movement. We as small businesses worked together to build a campaign of sorts that, over time, brought in more community-minded customers, leading them away, at least a little bit, from the big national brands and towards our new up-and-coming businesses. The Buy Local movement also gave our group of small retailers an opportunity to economically support one another simply by becoming customers to each other.
Since 2008, our close-knit circle of retail friends has continued to expand. Here are some of the local small businesses we love to work with:
Coffee by Design
We are coffee freaks around here, both in our business and in our personal lives. And what goes better with chocolate than coffee? One of the first truffles we ever made was our coffee truffle which is still made today with Coffee by Design Italian roast, Turkish ground coffee. We blend the coffee right into the chocolate, so there’s a great texture and a really nice hit of caffeine. Other ways in which we collaborate include chocolate-covered espresso beans, the mocha latte chocolate bar, our espresso buttercream, double espresso squares, and our white mocha hot chocolate. And Coffee by Design sells our hot chocolate too, in their four locations. It’s such a big win-win to have neighbors and friends to do business with!
Allagash Brewing Company
Beer is a big deal in our small city. There are dozens of small craft breweries within just a few miles of our two stores. In 2008, this wasn’t the case. Allagash Brewing was one of the first major players in the neighborhood, and it was an easy choice to use their Allagash Black stout (now called “North Sky”) in our chocolate, making for one of our most popular truffles (not surprisingly called “stout.”) This beer/chocolate combo also happens to be non-dairy/vegan. You might not know that beer is a great substitute for cream. You can try it for yourself on your cereal for breakfast if you’d like. Or try a pint of Allagash on the side with your next chocolate. You’ll see how great it pairs.
Cold River Vodka
Another small, local Maine start-up that’s grown tremendously in the past decade, Cold River Vodka realized the magic of using a key Maine crop, potatoes, as the key ingredient for their vodka, revitalizing a sector of Maine’s agriculture economy while also producing a brand-new award-winning spirit. And little did they know, but Cold River Vodka was a big inspiration for one of our best sellers – the Needham – starting back in our early days. You may know that the traditional Maine chocolate called the “Needham” also includes potatoes – the mashed variety – in the recipe. Well, we wanted to riff on that recipe and make our own, more contemporary Needham. The answer: use Cold River potato vodka instead of mashed potatoes to create a more “grown-up” chocolate. So, when people ask if we use the traditional mashed potatoes in our Needham, we say it has the “spirit of potato” in it, which it truly does.
Maine Craft Distilling
When we went looking for a spirit to infuse into our Maine moonshine truffle, we knew we found it when we tried Maine Craft Distilling’s Blueshine. Produced from Maine blueberries, Blueshine is smooth enough to complement the sweetness of the recipe and strong enough to shine through the chocolate in all the right ways. We were (and are) over the moon for it!
Sweetgrass Winery and Distillery
We feel that we grew up with Sweetgrass Winery in the way you might feel if you met a good friend on the first day of school. Just as Portland, Maine was becoming a “Foodie City” back in the mid 2000s, Sweetgrass and we were just starting out. We were both trying to figure out how to grow a successful business while producing the product every day. And while we don’t incorporate any of their wine or spirits in our chocolate, we do collaborate at least once or twice a year, pairing chocolate and wine at Mother’s Day, for example. Or hot chocolate and rum at the holidays. Can you imagine having better people to grow up with?
Sunset Acre Farms
Once upon a time, Dean said he was going to make a goat cheese truffle. I, as a younger, less knowledgeable person than I am now, suggested that was a very bad-sounding idea. What an eye-opener when the truffle quickly became my favorite of all time! Our lemon apricot chevre truffle is made with goat cheese from Sunset Acre Farms, a small farm in Brooksville, Maine. It has the lift of the citrus in the lemon and the tanginess of the mild goat cheese, and, of course, the sweetness of the chocolate. Behind the scenes, we call it our GOAT truffle for obvious reasons, but it can also stand (in my mind) for the “greatest of all time!”
Smiling Hill Farm
What better place to get our cream for all our truffles than at a farm where we can go sledding in winter, visit the cows in spring, eat ice cream in summer, and go hiking in the fall. And it’s a ten-minute drive from our two stores. Smiling Hill Farm is the highest-quality local creamery that also has a friendly cat who will happily accompany you around the barn.
We still get our chocolate from Belgium and our vanilla from Madagascar, but much of our day is spent working with our friends and neighbors right here in Maine. We know the quality of the product and the value of the business through personal interactions, which in turn makes us and the state stronger when we all stick together. Chocolate and rum. Chocolate and cheese. Chocolate and friends. Those are all great pairings.