My goal as a gourmet chocolate truffle maker is to create unique and superior chocolate taste experiences. Toward accomplishing this goal, I follow two rules I adopted when I founded Chocolate Truffles by Azurelise in 2002: “Don’t copy or imitate other chocolate truffle makers” and “Make chocolate truffles other chocolate truffle makers can’t copy or imitate”. I have abided by these two rules in creating each new Azurelise chocolate truffle flavor on my menu. They all are based on recipes I composed without referring to other chocolate makers’ recipes or relying on their instruction. Following my two rules provides me with half an an answer to the question “What makes your chocolate truffles special?” The other half of the answer can only be given after people put Azurelise chocolate truffles in their mouths.
What follows are answers to questions customers often ask me about the origin of the name “Azurelise”, when and how I got into the chocolate truffle making business, why I don’t make pretty chocolate truffles etc.
Reginald O. Savage
Origin Of “Azurelise”
Hi! My name is Azure Elise. I just wanted to tell you about my self and how my dad and I make chocolate. First I’m 10 years old and I live in Seattle, Washington. One of the first times my dad and I made chocolate was when I was in 1st grade. We made caramel chocolate. The next day I brought it to school and everyone loved it! It’s really fun to make chocolate with my dad!
The “Azurelise” in “Chocolate Truffles by Azurelise”, as you probably have guessed, is derived from “Azure Elise”.
Why I Started Azurelise
In July 2002 Azure relocated with her mother from Raleigh, North Carolina to Seattle, Washington. At the time, I was a tenured associate professor of philosophy at North Carolina State University and needed more money to make regular visits to Seattle. Preparing my lectures for the first day of fall 2002 classes, I nodded off and dreamed I was explaining that need to Azure. Azure, who could not speak “in reality” at the time, responded matter of factly, “Daddy, you’re a philosopher, make chocolate.”
I taught my first day classes then went to visit my friend Sylvio Sisteste who owned and operated Sylvia’s Pizza Restaurant on Hillsborough Street across the street from my office. Sylvio asked me how my classes had gone. I informed him they went very well. Then I told him about Azure recommending that I make chocolate.
Sylvio, an Italian by birth who had immigrated to the States from Argentina, responded “Reginaldo, your bambina is very smart to tell you to make chocolate. My uncle started a chocolate company in Argentina knowing nothing about making chocolate and made a big fortune. He is the richest person in my family. You should listen to your daughter.”
Sylvio’s advice made sense to me. For some time there had appeared to me to be an unmet demand for high quality “old fashioned” gourmet chocolate truffles. Sylvio’s story about his uncle’s chocolate business persuaded me the fact I knew virtually nothing about making chocolate truffles was unimportant.
How And When I Started Azurelise
I started by typing “how to make chocolate truffles” into my internet browser. That led me to buying a chocolate tempering machine, custom chocolate molds, driving to South Carolina to buy some very high quality couverture chocolate and buying some other natural or organic ingredients for a filling at my local Whole Foods Store.
I taught myself how to temper chocolate, how to make chocolate truffle casings and how to make a chocolate filling. After several months of working on my chocolate truffle filling recipe, I called Ms. Joyce Fowler manager of the candy department of A Southern Season in Chapel Hill. I asked her if she would taste test my chocolate truffles and give me her honest opinion of them. She made an appointment for me to meet with her the following week.
I met with Joyce and handed her a bag of 10 dark chocolate truffles wrapped in gold foil. She unwrapped one of the truffles and ate it very slowly with her eyes closed. When she opened her eyes she looked at me and said “These are very, very nice. Not too sweet. Where’s your price list?” I presented Joyce with a price list a year and a half later in April, 2004 and began selling Azurelise chocolate truffles at A Southern Season in May 2004.
Making Chocolate Truffles
Many people who read “About Azurelise” take it to be a story about a man with a burning passion for making chocolate who, driven by that passion, left a tenured, but boring or unfulfilling, professorship to follow his dream. That take on what I wrote is simply not true, even though similar such stories seem to be true of nearly everyone who goes into the business of making chocolates these days.
I think the fact that a dream played a role in my taking the actions that I did and the ambiguity of the word “dream” are the source of the mistake. There are dreams as aspirations and there are dreams as states of affairs and events that are imagined while asleep. My “chocolate dream” was of the latter type but some people want to construe it as one of the former type. Being a chocolate maker is in no way the realization of an aspiration for me.
Aspiring to be a chocolate maker would have been superfluous. I recognized almost immediately after beginning to think about making chocolate truffles that making them was something I already knew how to do. That is why my daughter directed me in the dream not to become a chocolate maker, but simply to make chocolate. Even though everything went wrong all the time when I first started making chocolate truffles, I always had an idea of how it was supposed to go right and I have Mrs. Ethel Hartman to thank for inculcating those ideas.
Mrs. Hartman. with her husband Ray, owned and operated Ray’s Fruit Baskets on 16th and West Walnut in Milwaukee. The Hartmans, German immigrants, lived in the flat above their shop and rented the house behind it to my family. Mrs. Hartman made chocolate truffles for Ray’s and would share them with me whenever – it seemed – she saw me.
Sometimes Mrs. Hartman would ask me “Reginald, whose chocolate truffles are your favorite chocolate truffles above all others?” She never asked me what the “best” chocolate truffles were, only what my favorite chocolate truffles were. I would tell her the truth: “Yours are, Mrs. Hartman.” My proof for this was that, from time to time, Mrs. Hartman would offer me other chocolate truffles. In some way or another, they always disappointed me and I would never finish eating them. By doing this Mrs. Hartman instilled in my uncorrupted palate a very clear idea of what chocolate truffles ought to taste like for me. That’s all I really needed to know about making Azurelise chocolate truffles.
When I decided to start a chocolate truffle company in 2002, my very vivid memories of Mrs. Hartman and The Golden Rule guided me to a simple core resolution: “I will not put a chocolate truffle on the market unless I can honestly say it is my favorite above all others.” I was confident that if I were serious enough I could make a chocolate truffle that not only was my favorite but also the favorite of enough other people to make my chocolate truffle business a success.
Bourbon, Beer and Sea Salt
Audrey Parnell: First buyer of Azurelise Sea Salt Caramel Truffles at A Southern Season
In early March 2010, State authorities ordered me to quit selling my two top selling chocolate truffles, the Azurelise Genius truffle and the Azurelise Chocolate Julep because I used Guinness Extra Stout to make the former and Woodford Reserve bourbon to make the latter. It was not clear to me how I could make up the lost revenue. I decided not to think about it and to just keep making and selling the Azurelise chocolate truffles that were not illegal. An article by Barry Saunders published in the News and Observer about my situation justified my decision. It generated an interest in Azurelise chocolate truffles that helped push sales beyond pre-prohibition levels. Even if it had not, maybe things would have worked out anyway.
More than a year and a half ago, Jay Sanders, one of the sales staff in A Southern Season’s candy department, pressed me to make and sell sea salt caramel chocolate truffles, a very popular item in the candy department. I resisted the pressure because I believed sea salt caramel chocolate truffles were trendy and obvious. From time to time Jay would repeat his suggestion and others in the store, including Tim Manale, a store vice-president, joined him in the harassment. I steadfastly rebuffed them.
In mid-May 2010, Caroline Nichols, manager of the candy department confronted me in her usual oblique way: “Reginald, why in the hell aren’t you making a sea salt caramel chocolate truffle?” I responded “Because they’re uninteresting.” Caroline had set me up. “Well” she said smugly, “You’re supposed to be Mr. Flavor. Make some sea salt caramel chocolate truffles that are interesting.” Thus cornered and challenged, I set out to design a sea salt caramel chocolate truffle that I would feel comfortable adding to the menu of Azurelise chocolate truffles already sold at A Southern Season.
First, I tasted a number of sea salts. When I found one I really liked – a fleur de sel – I started to imagine various caramel flavors I thought needed to be completed or complemented by that sea salt in particular. With the right flavor in mind, I composed a recipe for it. The recipe was a radical departure from the recipe I used to make the caramel for my Chocolate Caramel Creams. But I knew the Chocolate Caramel Cream caramel would not work with the sea salt in an interesting way.I made the caramel and with the sea salt made my first batch of dark chocolate Sea Salt Caramel chocolate truffles on July 1, 2010.
On July 2, 2010 I sold the first box of dark chocolate Sea Salt Caramel chocolate truffles to Audrey Parnell and on July 13, 2010, I sold the first box of milk chocolate Sea Salt Caramel chocolate truffles to Alice Ball.
Azurelise Sea Salt Caramel chocolate truffles today are by far my best selling chocolate truffles but the Genius and Chocolate Julep, recently returned from exile with the blessing of State authorities, are gaining.
The moral of all of what I have just written is that It always pays to have a business plan.
I was sampling chocolates at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC when a group of 8 or so women approached me. One of them asked, “What you got there?” I was sampling my dark chocolate Julep and answered her question by giving her and the other members of the group a piece from a box I borrowed from the store. “Here, try this,” I told them. Usually when I offer people a chocolate truffle sample they will eat it right away so they can give me their opinion of the sample. These women, however, took the chocolates and ran. I don’t like getting “sampled”, but I was not bothered at all when the women left without saying anything. In fact I had a general good feeling about the encounter.
That good feeling was justified, I thought, about half an hour later when two of the women returned to buy a few boxes of the Julep and a couple of boxes of other of my chocolates. The one who asked me “What you got there?” told me how much she liked the Julep chocolate truffle and then asked “Would you be willing to demonstrate how you make these chocolate truffles on one of our Food Network shows?” I knew about the Food Network, but had never watched it. “That would be fun,” I answered.
The taping of my segment of an episode of Road Tasted With The Neely’s was scheduled for June 17, 2008. The night before the taping, I worked until about 4am preparing a large chocolate truffle order for Alexia’s Bridal Boutique. I didn’t go to bed after I completed the order. Instead, as was my habit, I dropped into my recliner and napped until roused by the sounding of my door bell.
Standing at the door were a man who introduced himself as “Andre” and a woman he introduced as “Elizabeth”. I led them to the kitchen. They sized it up and right away began discussing how to re-arrange things. I had cleaned, but not straightened up before I napped. I looked around to determine where to start but Elizabeth put her hand on my shoulder, “Get dressed for shoot, honey,” she instructed me, “We’ll get the kitchen ready.”
When I returned to the kitchen, they had not only straightened it up, they had completely reorganized it to facilitate the shoot. More people had arrived. One of them was an African American woman. “Hello Gina,” I greeted her. “Hello, nice to meet you, “she answered, “but I’m Sandra. Gina and Pat will be here soon.”
Gina and Pat were the stars of Road Tasted With The Neelys. Gina bounced into the kitchen shortly thereafter, looking nothing like Sandra, dashing the excuse I thought I might have for mis-greeting Sandra. “Hello, Dr. Savage!” Gina approached me smiling widely, “I’m Gina” “I know, Gina. I’m Reginald.” We shook hands before one of the crew pulled her to the side to explain to her how they had set things up, and why.
The shoot started shortly after Pat arrived. It went smoothly except for Pat and Gina preferring milk to the dark chocolate I had prepared. The producers of the had insisted I make the dark chocolate Julep.
The airing of my Road Tasted With The Neely’s segment netted a lot of exposure for Azurelise Chocolate, enough so that in March 2010 I received a call from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture one of whose employees, Chris, had viewed a friend’s taping of the segment. Chris told me he had greatly enjoyed the show and also that I would have to cease any sales any to the public of the chocolate Julep and any other chocolate candies I made using alcohol. Such sales, he informed me, were in violation of a North Carolina law prohibiting the sale of confections that were made using alcoholic beverages.
Pretty Chocolate Truffles
My culinary art consists in filling chocolate molded into a shell with various confections of my own invention. I call this pairing of chocolate with confection a “chocolate truffle”.
All of the shells of the chocolate truffles I make look alike except some are light brown (milk chocolate) and others are dark brown (dark chocolate). They are about 1.25 inches square and .5 inches in height.
Some of the chocolate truffle confections I make are visually indistinguishable others are are not However, once I cover the confection, I cannot tell what confection is in a truffle unless I bite into it and taste it. That is why I carefully label the trays I use to make chocolate truffles.
The visual aspects of a chocolate truffle are unrelated to its gustatory quality. If there is such a thing as biting a piece of chocolate with the eyes, that bite is completely tasteless. There is no way to discover how a chocolate truffle tastes by looking at it. A piece of chocolate molded into the shape of a pink rabbit is going to taste just like the same chocolate molded into the shape of a green kitten. It is going to taste the same no matter how it is shaped and decorated. Boxes and ribbons also do not determine a taste experience.
People are all the time advising me to change my chocolate truffle packaging (plain white boxes) and to make my chocolate truffles more visually interesting, “appetizing” or appealing. The pressure has been applied from the time I first sold gold foil wrapped chocolate truffles in small brown craft bags. “Packaging sells”, “Presentation is everything” people have admonished me over and over. But I cannot imagine myself tying ribbons on boxes or painting innocent little pieces of chocolate. They deserve better. Chocolate just was not meant to be decorated. Decorated pieces of chocolate look to me as weird and silly as poodles wearing tutus and sunglasses.
Azure disagrees. Not only does she dress up her dog Teddy in tutus and sunglasses, she put me on notice about three years ago to expect major changes in the look of Azurelise chocolate truffles and their packaging when she takes over.
After visiting Oh, Chocolate!, a Seattle chocolate shop on Madison Street a few blocks from her house Azure asked me rhetorically “Did you see how pretty their candies and boxes are? The colors and the ribbons and all the cute shapes?”
“Yes I did.” I answered, “They were really pretty.”
“Well” she continued, “When I am in charge of the chocolate business, that’s how my chocolate candies and boxes are going to look. But prettier, more colorful.”
“More colorful?” I asked
“Yes, they could use more blue and orange.” She answered.
“Azure, I do not know how to make chocolates pretty or how to wrap boxes and tie ribbons on them.” I admitted plaintively.
“You won’t have to. My friends and I will do that. You’ll cook the chocolate.” She explained.
Barefoot in the kitchen, I thought
“Anyway” she continued, “That’s not why you don’t make pretty chocolate candies and boxes. You don’t make pretty chocolate candies and boxes because you’re a boy and boys don’t like to make things pretty. Girls like to make things pretty.”
So, to those of you who have been pestering me about the presentation of Azurelise chocolates: Be patient. A girl is on the way.
If asked how I come up my chocolate truffle flavors, I have to confess I really don’t “come up” with them at all. All of the ideas of my chocolate truffle flavors have occurred to me spontaneously and only after customers suggested that I make a certain kind of truffle. Once I have the idea of the flavor in mind, I have to figure out its ingredients, their proportions and how to cook them: I have to compose a recipe. However, without the idea of the flavor, which drops into my head like an apple might fall on it, I would have to resort to recipe books. Even the ideas of my first chocolate truffle flavors, the Classic and Caramel Cream, came to me out of nowhere when I was reminiscing about Mrs. Hartman and how her kitchen smelled.
Left to my own ambitions, I still would have a menu of three chocolate truffles: Dark Chocolate Classic, Dark Chocolate Classic With Pecan and Dark Chocolate Chocolate Caramel Cream. I made the first addition to my chocolate truffle offerings after David Belton approached me at A Southern Season in November 2006 and complained about my not offering any milk chocolate truffles. I responded to the complaint by adding Milk Chocolate Classic, Milk Chocolate Classic With Pecan and Milk Chocolate Chocolate Caramel Cream truffles to the menu of chocolate truffles I sold at A Southern Season. Devin Gaskell, then custom.er service manager at A Southern Season, asked me not long after I placated David Belton to make a bourbon chocolate truffle, using Woodford Reserve Bourbon, and a Guinness Extra Stout chocolate truffle. Devin steered a lot of customers to me and claimed he could steer even more if I were to grant his request. Capitalist that I am, I accepted Devin’s bribe. Devin gave the Guinness chocolate truffle its name, “Genius”, and Ann Klinefelter graced the bourbon chocolate truffle with its name “Chocolate Julep” even though a close friend of hers, Rene Lorenz , claimed for a long time the name was his idea Rene did ask me to make a banana rum chocolate truffle, and I did. A number of people asked for Hazelnut, Raspberry, Apple Cinnamon and Orange chocolate truffles and Gene Roberson requested I make a Scotch truffle and Gene’s wife Sandy requested a Vodka Espresso. Jay Sanders was the original moving force behind the Sea Salt Caramel chocolate truffle.
Every chocolate truffle I have made at the behest of customers has been a success except two. One of the failures was made for Ann Kelles, a banana mango chocolate truffle, and the other for Gene Roberson, a goat cheese chocolate truffle.
I had to have used at least 150 pounds of mangos and 100 pounds of bananas trying to make Ann’s brain child, that I dubbed “Banana Mango Tango”, work. I made adjustment after adjustment. It remained a culinary disaster. I called Ann to let her know the project was, for the time being, a failure. I was not going to spend any more money on it until I figured out what was going wrong.
After Gene Roberson discovered he was allergic to cow’s milk, he asked me if I could make a chocolate truffle without cow’s milk. It was something I had been thinking about doing because lots of people are allergic to cows milk. I told him I would do it. Then Gene, being Gene, upped the demand. He asked me if I could make a goat cheese truffle.
Gene steers as much business to me as Devin used to, so I agreed to make the goat cheese truffle, evidently without revealing the doubts I harbored about the idea in my facial expression because Gene smiled triumphantly when I did I later mentioned to Martha Tardieu, a candy department associate, that I was planning to make the goat cheese chocolate truffle. Martha looked at me like I was crazy as she often does and remarked “Reginald, are you serious?” I told her I was and she shook her head. “I just can’t imagine goat cheese and chocolate going together,” she said. “I like goat cheese and I like chocolate. But the two together? No. Definitely not.”
True to her names, Martha was right but too late because I had already decided to make the goat cheese chocolate truffle. It was more a disaster, in its own way, than the Banana Mango Tango chocolate truffle. I gave Gene a box of them and he looked more confused after eating one than he probably has ever looked in his life. As a consolation, he offered to pay for the ingredients. I refused the payment. Then as an encouragement he said, handing the box back to me, “Reg, you have got to give it another try. You can make it work”
Here is how I made it work, I replaced all cow’s milk products in my Banana Mango Tango filling recipe with goat’s milk products. Then I made the goat cheese filling recipe. I combined the two and let the concoction sit for two hours. Then I did some other stuff, and pretty randomly. I made eighteen dark chocolate truffles with the filling and took them to A Southern Season’s candy department.
I sampled out fourteen of the chocolate truffles over the course of three hours. The people who tried them almost all wanted to buy a box, boxes I did not have in stock. Then I went to A Southern Season’s bakery department and gave Leslie Winslow one of the chocolate truffles. Leslie is a food snob of high order with a very orthodox palate. He said to me after eating the chocolate truffle, “Reg, you’re going to sell a lot of these. They’re exquisite. What are they? I can’t tell.”
“I have no idea,” I answered. That, no doubt, is why I have not been able to repeat the performance.
An Assorted Box of Chocolates is, Like, Life
I was surprised the first time someone asked me whether I included a map in assorted boxes of Azurelise chocolate truffles.
“A map of what?” Chicago?
“A map of the chocolates.” She answered.
I did not want to repeat what she said as a question, so I said nothing until it occurred to me what she meant.
“You mean a map of the trays. Something that tells you where the different chocolate truffle flavors are in the tray.”
“Yes,” she responded, “A map of the chocolates.”
“No. I don’t put a map of any kind in the box. I just put chocolates in the box, a tray, candy pad and a layer board if the box is two layered.”
“How am I going to know what chocolate I’m getting when I want to eat, for example, a raspberry and not something with orange in it without a map?”
Why, I wondered, would she want to eat raspberry chocolate truffles and not chocolate truffles with orange in them?
“I don’t like orange with chocolate.” She continued.
I admitted there might be a problem with my boxes not having a map to guide people to what chocolate truffles they wanted and away from what they did not want.
Upper hand in hand, she admonished me, “You need to fix that.”
She was right, of course, I now include a map in the chocolate truffle assortment boxes, but how could I fix her not liking orange with chocolate?
Why Single Origin, Small Batch Chocolate is Expensive
Chocolate makers, long ago, recognized they could blend different varieties of cacao bean to create new cacao tastes, just as coffee makers blend different varieties of coffee bean to create new coffee tastes. The effective blending of cacao beans, again like the blending of coffee beans, was (and still is) regarded as an high art; and no one thought a cacao blend, simply by virtue of its being a blend, was inferior to unblended cacao. To the contrary, the very point of blending cacao beans was to create a cacao blend whose quality surpassed that of any of its constituent cacao beans.
It was generally agreed that chocolate made with a fine blend of cacao would be, in most cases, superior to a chocolate made from a single variety of cacao bean, unless the single variety cacao was truly special and exceptional. Hence, no chocolate maker would brag that his chocolate was “single variety” unless that single variety was regarded as special, exceptional and superior to any blended cacao on the market. Chocolate makers who made single variety chocolates did so, not out of choice, but because they did not enjoy the wherewithal to procure more than one variety of cacao bean. Single variety chocolate makers, generally, were poor chocolate makers.
A certain high end cache attaches to term “single origin” as in “single origin, small batch chocolate”. “Single origin” sounds like “single malt” as in “single malt scotch” and everyone knows that single malt scotches are superior to, and worth more than, their compromised counterparts, “blended malt scotches”. If single malt scotches cost more than blended scotches, single origin chocolates should cost more than blended chocolates, especially if they also have the attribute “small batch”. Shouldn’t they?
Most American, small batch chocolate makers cannot afford to purchase cacao beans from a wide range of sources or “origins”. This limits their ability to blend varieties of cacao bean, as traditional “large batch” chocolate makers do. Fortunately, for the small batch chocolate maker, some marketing person discerned a way to make lemonade out of their limitation. Taking advantage of the high-end cache of “single origin”, and also its not very subtle connotations of purity and rarity, that marketing person coined the now ubiquitous buzz phrase “single origin, small batch chocolate”. “Small batch” reinforces the connotation of rarity.
Based on the suggestiveness of the phrase, enough consumers drew the conclusion, as the marketing person expected they would, that “single origin small batch chocolate” is more pure and rare than more common blended chocolate, just as single malt scotch is superior to more common blended scotch. For that reason, some people are willing to pay purveyors of single origin, small batch chocolates the higher prices they demand for their product.
I’ve asked several people today to describe for me the taste of four flavors, orange, cinnamon, raspberry and maple. Not one of them could provide the requested descriptions. I followed the request up with the assertion that I make a filling with all of the indescribable flavors. Each responded “What does it taste like?”
None of the people I have let “try” the filling made with the four, among other, flavors has been able to identify any of them. Not surprisingly, they never, in particular, say that it tastes “like” orange, raspberry, cinnamon or maple. Who tastes sodium or chloride in table salt? However, once I mention to them any one of the flavors they, always, on hind taste, recognize the flavor in the chocolate: “That is what that was!” What about the others?
This past weekend, Nate, one of my longtime customers, ordered a 9 piece box of sea salt caramel truffles for his wife, Bibis, for her birthday. While making her chocolates, I decided to add a 9 piece tray of a “new chocolate”.
When Nate came by to pick up Bibis’s chocolates, I informed him he would be gifting her with an 18 piece, not a 9 piece box of chocolates. I also informed him that the sea salt caramels were in the top tray and that a chocolate neither he nor Bibis had tasted before was in the bottom tray. Nate asked me what it was. I didn’t tell him.
I received, on Monday October 26, this text message from Nate:
“The mystery ones are a hit! Is it a butter cream?? They are richer than the normal ones. Really good.”
I waited until today, October 27, to respond:
“Hey Nate:. An easy way to make new flavors i to combine existing ones. Maple Butter Cream Sea Salt Caramel. Am glad you all liked the combination.”
“Maple! That’s what we missed. Really good. Hope you are well.”
Nate did not miss the maple. It was and it wasn’t there.