by Elliot Acosta
Stepping inside Escazu Artisan Chocolates is an adventure for the senses-the inescapable smell of chocolate, the aesthetic display of colorful truffles, the sound of the antique stone grinder turning cocoa beans into chocolate, and finally in the end, the taste of hand-crafted chocolates that are produced in small batches to ensure top quality flavor. After handcrafting chocolates for two years in the beach city of Beufort, N.C., Hallot Parson moved his production to the City of Oaks in 2008. Making camp in downtown Raleigh, Escazu became the first bean-to-bar chocolate makers in North Carolina. The intricate process starts when Escazu hand-sorts their imported cocoa beans then places them inside of their 1920's Spanish roaster. The roasted cocoa beans are then cracked from the shell and placed inside of their antique grinder. Once the chocolatiers allow the chocolate to age for a certain period of time, it is then ready to become part of Escazu's tasty confections.
The Beaufort bar highlights Escazu's collection of gourmet chocolate bars. Receiving its name from the town of Escazu, this sea salt dark chocolate bar takes 67% cocoa and combines it with salt to make for a heavenly contrast of sweet and salty. Beyond the bars is the chocolate shop's assortment of artisan chocolate truffles. More like miniature paintings, these truffles are laced with ingredients that are unique and bold. The bacon, sea salt, and rosemary truffle holds true to this idea as it combines smoky and salty with the deep flavor of the herb.
Escazu is completed by its hot chocolate bar that goes far beyond ripping open a packet of Swiss Miss. Hot chocolate selections include the "1549 Spain," based off of the first published chocolate recipe from 1644 that pays homage to chocolate's origins while still being delicious in the present. 936 N. Blount St., Raleigh; 919.832.3433; www.escazuchocolates.com.
It's not Willy Wonka's chocolate factory but with its large brick warehouse and viewing windows allowing you to glare inside the chocolatiers' kitchen, Videri Chocolate Factory is its own sweet wonderland. Establishing itself in 2011, Videri stemmed from the passion of co-owner Sam Ratto whose fair trade and sustainability ideals led him, Starr Sink, and Chris Heavner to become the second "bean-to-bar" chocolate makers in Raleigh.
The flagship products for these chocolatiers are their collection of gourmet chocolate bars. Like the Fantastic Four, Videri's collection of four gourmet chocolate bars has its own characteristics and flavors but each bar can save the day when it comes to satisfying a sweet tooth. The chocolatiers' dark chocolate bar contains 70% cocoa for no nonsense, smooth, bittersweet, chocolate indulgence. For those who are in need for a milder bar, there is the dark milk chocolate bar, which contains approximately 50% cocoa. Salt and sweet combine to create Videri's sea salt dark chocolate bar that consist of 60% cocoa. For a different taste to chocolate, made with 60% cocoa, the pink peppercorn chocolate bar offers a creamy and lush chocolate but then a kick to the palate from pepper.
Located in the warehouse district of Raleigh's downtown, Videri transformed the hectic energy of a former nightclub into a relaxed chocolate lovers' paradise. Open spaces and natural light beam into the factory inviting you to lounge. The chocolate factory opens their tables and sofas for you to sit back and bring in a bottle of wine while enjoying their handmade chocolates. To take the flavors of wine and chocolate to new heights, Videri offers wine rimmed chocolate glasses that you get to take home after you're finished with the glass. 327 W. Davie St., Raleigh; 919.755.5053; www.viderichocolatefactory.com.