By: Julian Rose, master chocolatier, Moonstruck Chocolates Co.

Chocolate often elicits an emotional response. Consumers are passionate about their favorite brands, types and combinations. And consuming chocolate is an experience not to be rushed, but savored and enjoyed fully. As such, chocolate is often thought of as an indulgence or reward, or as a treat to celebrate a special occasion.

Chocolatiers have long recognized this relationship between chocolate and its consumers.  Tried and true recipes are plentiful, providing relatively predictable flavor profiles that are guaranteed to satisfy a craving. Special collections are assembled and wrapped festively to make gift-giving simple and stress-free for the latest holiday or season. Certainly, it’s important to provide consumers with products that can be counted on for consistency and quality. But there is room to do more.

As artisans, chocolatiers should consider how they can disrupt the norm and entice consumers to experience chocolate and use chocolate in new ways. Not only does this approach allow chocolatiers to flex their creative muscle and introduce innovative concepts, but it prompts consumers to make purchases driven by reasons other than gift-giving. It also broadens the market possibilities for confections.

Chocolate can be extremely versatile, but fear of the unknown often keeps chocolatiers and consumers from experimenting. However, consumers are becoming more adventurous about their food and beverage choices. They’re taking time to learn the stories and the origins of what they eat and drink, and they’re exploring new cuisines and new preparations of old favorites.

Artisan chocolatiers can take advantage of this willingness to learn and develop the palate by introducing concepts that surprise and delight consumers while challenging and encouraging them to evolve. As noted, it’s easy to fall back on reliable flavor combinations. But given its versatility, chocolate can pair with a number of unexpected and unusual ingredients to create a taste experience that is complex and extraordinary.

For chocolatiers, discovering new flavor combinations means being open to analyzing flavors virtually anywhere and considering how they may work chocolate in any of its various forms. Beer berries at Moonstruck Chocolate, for instance, were inspired by smelling German malted wheat berries at a local brewpub while enjoying a pint of craft beer. Beer drinkers typically don’t eat the raw ingredients of a wheat beer, but the chocolatier found success in pairing the toasty, crunchy kernels with a dark chocolate. The local market of Portland, Oregon, a mecca for beer lovers, has embraced a new way to experience part of craft brew culture.

Likewise, Moonstruck Chocolate’s new Savory Truffle Collection draws on inspiration from nature and the fresh ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest. The collection introduces a culinary spin on chocolate truffles, formed into whimsical mushrooms, that resonates with an audience tuned into what’s ripe and ready at local farmers markets. Summer flavors of tomato and basil, reminiscent of a caprese salad, are paired with ivory chocolate and roasted hazelnuts, resulting in a surprisingly harmonious blend of tart, fragrant and sweet. Another version blends porcini, chili peppers and bacon into a meaty and woodsy treat, while a fig and hot curry truffle evokes an exotic experience.

Products like the Savory Truffle Collection encourage consumers to see chocolate in a new light, particularly when accompanied by suggestions about which foods and beverages to enjoy with them. Adding pairings brings chocolate to the table for an entirely new purpose. In entertaining, they can be the ideal complement to everything from cocktails and appetizers to the main entrée. Chocolates can also serve to enliven the conversation, particularly when presenting unique designs alongside bold flavors that beg to tell a story.

Whether stumbling upon intriguing flavor medleys or conscientiously creating unusual taste profiles, chocolatiers can capture the attention of consumers and engage their palates in novel and interesting ways. By initiating new conversations about a much-loved ingredient, chocolatiers can set the stage to insert chocolate in scenarios beyond the traditional and potentially expand their market opportunities.

Moonstruck's Savory Truffle Collection

Moonstruck Tomato Basil Savory Truffle

Tomato & Basil Savory Truffle

A wonderful starter in this trio, this truffle is reminiscent of creamy tomato soup or caprese salad. It has the most familiar flavors and is the least spicy of the three truffles. 

Flavor Profile: Ripe tomatoes infused with basil in a classic Italian style with a touch of sweet roasted hazelnut. 

Pairs well with: Olives, cheese, Marcona almonds, bloody marys, and anything with a Mediterranean flavor profile.

Moonstruck Porcini Chili Bacon Savory Truffle

Porcini & Chili Bacon Savory Truffle

This truffle brings a meaty depth of flavor with a forward hit of spice, finishing with smoky overtones. It makes a great “second course” in this collection. 

Flavor Profile: Real porcini mushroom infused with smoky bacon, a hint of chili peppers, and a touch of sweet roasted hazelnut.

Pairs well with: Bacon-wrapped filet, glazed bacon-wrapped dates, or crusty bread and butter.

Moonstruck Fig Hot Curry Savory Truffle

Fig & Hot Curry Savory Truffle

Completing the exotic taste tour is a marvelous fig seed texture with prune notes, finishing with a hot Indian curry. This is the spiciest of the three truffles, the delicious flavors lingering long after that first amazing bite. 

Flavor Profile: Ripe figs and hot Indian curry with a touch of sweet roasted hazelnut.

Pairs well with: Goat cheese, salami, coconut, and olives.