February 21, 2014

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Local Businesses Find Sweet Partnership with Natural History Museum of Utah

By Rachel Madison

February 21, 2014

Salt Lake City — When a traveling chocolate exhibition made its way to the Natural History Museum of Utah a few weeks ago, museum leaders realized it was the perfect time to show off Utah’s budding artisan chocolate scene.

In addition to showcasing Chocolate: The Exhibition, from The Field Museum in Chicago, the NHMU has partnered with several local businesses and chocolate makers to give Utahns an inside look at chocolate making across the state.

Chantelle Bourdeaux, Utah sales director for A Priori Specialty Food Importing and Distribution, helps distribute handcrafted chocolates, among other specialty foods, around the state.

“[Artisan chocolate making] is a very new scene in Utah,” Bourdeaux said. “It’s [grown] over the past few years with the pioneer, Amano Artisan Chocolate out of Utah County. [The owner] set the precedent for single-origin bars, sourcing from amazing plantations around the world and just taking the time and energy into making handcrafted chocolates.”

Scott Querry, owner and chocolate maker at Salt Lake City-based Solstice Chocolate, started his business as a hobby with his family a little less than a year ago, but it quickly grew in popularity—to the tune of making and selling nearly 10,000 chocolate bars. That’s when he realized that Utah is on the “forefront” of the chocolate scene.

“I can’t make chocolate fast enough,” he said. “My batch sizes are around 50 pounds, and each batch takes about three days. It’s single-origin chocolate starting from the cocoa bean, and I do mostly bars. There are only about 30 [artisan chocolate makers] in the country and a lot of them are in Utah. When you break it down, more than 10 percent of them are in Utah.”

Querry said besides Solstice Chocolate, other artisan chocolate making companies in Utah include places like The Chocolate Conspiracy, Millcreek Cacao Roasters and Mezzo.

“I hear of one or two more coming within the year,” he said. “These companies do a nice job of introducing people to what chocolate can and should be. It’s amazing how much better it is.”

Bourdeaux said Utah’s artisan chocolate scene is much like its food scene.

“More and more of our chefs are getting recognition, and they’re trying new things,” she said. “And like the food scene, [the chocolate scene] just keeps getting better and better.”

Bourdeaux said it’s hard to say why Utah is just now entering the artisan chocolate scene.

“Maybe it has to do a little with the Mormon culture of going out into the world and coming back, but it’s hard to say,” she said.

As a complement to the exhibition, the museum is pairing local producers with pastry chefs to create desserts using locally made chocolate. For the month of February, Alexa Norlin, pastry chef at The Rose Establishment in Salt Lake City, created a blueberry macaroon using Solstice Chocolate. Other restaurants to feature pastries in the future include The Farm Restaurant in Park City and Fresco Italian Café in Salt Lake City.

Norlin said working as a pastry chef gives her the opportunity to use nationally recognized chocolate brands in her confections, but she’s also learning that Utah has a lot to offer when it comes to chocolate.

“It’s nice to have people [making chocolate] locally as opposed to using a national or multi-national brand,” she said. “I would love to use local chocolate more, not just at the Rose, but in general.”

The partnership with the museum has been very beneficial overall, Querry said. He’s able to donate some of his chocolate for tastings at the museum, and in return, people get to taste his chocolates, and hopefully, order some of their own.

Patti Carpenter, director of public relations at NHMU, said the exhibition has been extremely popular. About 2,500 people visited the museum on President’s Day, which was a daily tally the museum hadn’t seen since it first opened.

“It’s a subject matter everybody likes,” she said. “We saw this [exhibition] as an incredible opportunity to reach out to the community, knowing that everybody loves chocolate, and do something unique and different from what we’ve done in the past.”

Chocolate: The Exhibition will be at the NHMU until June 1. Chocolate tastings, a chocolate lecture series and weekend events focused on chocolate will take place while the exhibition is in town. For more information, visit http://nhmu.utah.edu/chocolate

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