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Top Pick Of The Week

December 6, 2005

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Woodhouse Chocolate
Made by winemakers in the heart of Napa Valley...and they pair beautifully with wine.

Woodhouse Chocolate:
Napa Valley’s Best

We aim to vary our weekly NIBBLE newsletters to provide a “balanced diet”: sweets one week, savories the next; everyday items one week, fancy foods the next.

But we are reminded: There are only three weeks left until Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus*, or whatever you believe in celebrating at the end of each year. Thus, we’re going to spend our final newsletters of 2005 on foods you might like to give, and certainly might like to get. In fact, instead of leaving open pages of magazines on the counter with items circled, or dropping broad hints in conversations, simply forward this e-mail to potential gift-givers with a note, “Don’t these sound fabulous?” If you end up with five boxes of Woodhouse Chocolate—which are preservative-free and need to be consumed within a week—just remember that five is better than none, and share the wealth by re-gifting to those who appreciate great chocolate. (Or, hold a gourmet chocolate tasting party—click here to read our article on the process.)

*As life imitates art, Festivus, which originated on Seinfeld, has become a real holiday according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Learn about the celebration of Festivus on December 23.

Woodhouse Chocolate is one of those Napa Valley treasures you would easily overlook on a tightly-scheduled wine trip, while trying to juggle the maximum number of vineyard visits and calling everyone imaginable to get a reservation at The French Laundry. If you are planning a trip to wine country, take a break from the grape and head over to the bean.

Stroll down lovely Main Street in St. Helena until you spot the canary yellow shop that is Woodhouse Chocolate. Step inside and you could be in Deauville: canary walls with white moldings, a large hanging tapestry, a marble bust here, a bronze statue there, and griffins holding up the center display table. With lots of space and light, and pretty shopgirls, it is a lovely movie set of a store.  More importantly, there are large glass cases filled with many different Woodhouse bonbons, and beautiful robin’s egg blue “hatboxes” to pack them in. So carry off your prize and forget about where you can and can’t get dinner reservations.

  Click here for Woodhouse shopping information.  Click here for great books about chocolate.

Woodhouse, established in 2004, is the creation of Tracy and John Anderson, who spent twenty years making sparkling wine, cabernet, chardonnay and merlot at S. Anderson Winery, John’s family vineyard. They had the opportunity to sell the vineyard, and got inspiration for their next venture from Lasse Hallström’s film of Joanne Harris’ novel Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp (if you haven’t seen this paean to the powers of chocolate, click here). Wood, Tracy’s maiden name, was adapted to the new business. In India, the elephant, the logo of Woodhouse Chocolate, “the gateway to the divine”—a well-chosen symbol given the high quality of the chocolates.

It has been a long time—if ever—since we nibbled through a box of ganache- and gianduja- filled bonbons with delight. Too often, the result can be sheer tedium, as it was recently when we bought a box from a revered French chocolatier whose extremely expensive chocolates were generating buzz in New York’s haute chocolate circles.  We ate twenty-five pieces: ganache with cherry, ganache with walnut, ganache with cognac.... Each piece had a different flavor, but after the third, every bite was monotonous. We longed for fruit cremes, for jellies, for anything but ganache. 

Ms. Anderson, the chocolatier, proves that an entire collection centered on ganache can be so exciting as to make one wish for more ganache. Her Belgian-style molded chocolates have ganache centers that are tinged with honey, kissed with caramel, infused with mocha, and mixed with passion fruit. They include the familiar—cinnamon, cognac, amaretto, espresso, coconut—plus less frequently found flavors like brown butter ganache. There are pieces filled with “relatives” of ganache—mousses, fresh creams and buttercreams; plus several giandujas (roasted ground nuts mixed with chocolate).

Regarding the latter, some kind of magic occurs in the making. We are known for our broad palate—we like every food on earth except hazelnut praline [gianduja]. We therefore must bestow the highest praise possible on Tracy Anderson:  We liked your three hazelnut gianduja pieces!

Bonbons
At left, Peanut Croquant, peanut gianduja with a crunchy peanut pastry. At right, Fiori di Sicilia, milk chocolate ganache,  orange scented marzipan, and Fiori di Sicilia-infused fresh cream. (Fiori di Sicilia, a traditional flavoring in panettone, has vanilla and citrus notes.)

Woodhouse Chocolate achieves a remarkable equilibrium: The chocolates are sophisticated enough to please the most demanding connoisseur, but they are not overwhelming to people who prefer tastes that are centered rather than cutting edge. The flavors are fresh and invigorating, but not intimidating.  You can see all of the pieces on the website, and you’ll personally get excited by the ones that feature your favorite flavors. But contrary to what Forrest Gump has espoused, it doesn’t matter which chocolate you get—each of them is delicious (op. cit. our experience with the giandujas). That having been said, we must give a shout out to four special flavors:

  • Quatre Épices Bonbon. Milk chocolate spiced ganache, impeccably balanced with black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, covered in dark chocolate, topped with a rectangle of white chocolate.
  • Thai Ginger Bonbon. Dark chocolate ganache infused with coconut and lemongrass, with a crunchy piece of crystallized ginger in the center, covered in dark chocolate.
  • Wild Cherry Bonbon. The new definition of a chocolate cherry, half a wild italian cherry in chocolate ganache, covered in dark chocolate.
  • Fresh Mint Bonbon. A ganache of dark and milk chocolates infused with fresh mint and covered in dark chocolate, that tastes as if a fresh mint leaf is hidden in the ganache (the mint is grown in the Andersons’ garden).

For students of chocolate: Ms. Anderson uses Guittard’s Etienne Guittard couvertures, as well as Callebaut and Lindt. Amazingly for the level of finesse and craftsmanship she has achieved in a very short period of time, she is self-taught, apart from a few classes at Callebaut’s Montreal school. She does have a culinary background—after college she completed a chef’s course at the California Culinary Academy and worked at Napa Valley restaurants. At the winery, she catered special events. However, there are pastry chefs at great restaurants who create masterful desserts, while the chocolates they offer on the petit fours plate are as unremarkable as that aforementioned French collection. They could learn much about making exciting chocolates from Tracy Anderson.

Since the Andersons have a unique background in both wine-making and chocolate-making, we asked John Anderson, who runs the business side of Woodhouse, what wines he would pair with their chocolates. “Champagnes are a ‘no,’” he responded. “Usually the redder the better.  Fortified wines are best.  Actually, one of the best matches is bourbon.”

Usually we do not look forward to the new year: We are always reminded of what we did not accomplish in the year that is ending.  Having enjoyed two boxes of Woodhouse Chocolate—and eyeing the salt caramels and other delights on the website we don’t have time to taste before this year ends—we can’t wait for 2006!

— Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to your chocolate-loving friends and anyone looking for a gift for a chocolate-lover.

WOODHOUSE CHOCOLATE

Assorted Boxed Chocolates

  • 12 Pieces $16.00
    24 Pieces, $30.00
    48 Pieces, $56.00
    96 Pieces, $106.00
  • Assortments can be ordered in mixed
    dark, milk and white (photo at right);
    mostly dark; or mostly white (bottom photo)

To purchase, visit WoodhouseChocolate.com
or telephone 1.800.966.3468.

If you’re in Napa Valley, visit the store at 1367 Main Street in St. Helena, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Shipping additional. Prices are confirmed at publication but are subject to change.

Read our article on pairing chocolate with wine and spirits.

Woodhouse Chocolates
The signature robin’s egg blue packaging is available in
red for the holidays.

Woodhouse white chocolate

Great Books About Chocolate

Rosenblum Bigelow Yockelson
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, by Mort Rosenblum. Embark on exciting adventures with Rosenblum to explore the world of chocolate through a variety of chocolatiers and chocolate companies. Click here for more information.
Pure Chocolate : Divine Desserts and Sweets from the Creator of Fran's Chocolates, by Fran Bigelow and Helene Siegel. With intriguing chocolate combinations, the easy to follow chocolate recipes will deliver guaranteed results. Click here for more information.
Chocolate Chocolate, by Lisa Yockelson. With over 200 recipes, this is a comprehensive chocolate guide to techniques and ingredients that bakers and chocolatiers of all levels will appreciate. Click here for more information.

Entertaining With Chocolate

Wine lovers Tapas Plates chocolate the sweet history
The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook: Recipes And Pairings for the Perfect Glass of Wine, by Mary Cech and Jennie Schacht. Learn to match wines to your favorite chocolate desserts with the helpful guidance of the authors. Click here for more information.
Tapas Plates for Chocolate Tastings. When pairing wine with chocolates, why use these tapas plates for your pairings. The presentation is stunning and they’ll serve many other uses. Click here for more information. To read our article on pairing wine and chocolate, click here.
Chocolate The Sweet History, by Beth Kimmerle. For those just beginning to learn about chocolate, or those with a fundamental knowledge who want to solidify their learning, Kimmerle has put together a terrific primer. A NIBBLE Editors favorite gift book. Click here for more information.

 

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© Copyright 2004-2006 Lifestyle Direct, Inc. All rights reserved. All information contained herein is subject to change at any time without notice. All details must be directly confirmed with manufacturers, service establishments and other third parties. The material in this newsletter may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached, or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Lifestyle Direct, Inc.

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