Melissa Tarkington, owner of Salt & Thistle, has a dream to provide small, local farmers and producers an outlet for their goods. Besides offering retail space and creating tasty treats, she also makes Salt & Thistle's community kitchen available to local vendors who need a place to prepare their goods. And she offers a variety of classes—pretty much whatever you want to learn—to groups of four or more.
|A list of the chocolates Melissa makes and sells at Salt & Thistle
The birthday of my friend Joan offered the perfect excuse for a chocolate making class. We gathered some friends and set the date. When we arrived the table was set for six, with food as scrumptious as it was beautiful. When we'd had the last bite of salad and hors d'oeuvres that we could fit in, Melissa brought out the bowls of chocolate for a taste test.
|Joan, the Birthday Girl, and our lovely dinner
|"This one was..."
For loving chocolate like I do, I discovered that I'm not too discerning about what I'm eating! I had few words to describe the chocolate pieces and I wasn't even sure which ones I preferred. But Melissa gave us several words to apply to the confection—such as bitter or smooth finish, dark fruit notes, coffee and vanilla bean flavor, and hard snap. which is how top grade chocolate responds when being broken. She also instructed us in the world of chocolate making, such as where cacao beans come from (ten degrees on either side of the Equator); the sad reality that many growers and producers use child labor in their businesses; and what it means when chocolate "blooms." (When the oil separates from the chocolate the top of he bar looks dark, like an oil slick; when the sugar separates it gets powdery. Don't worry, though. The taste of the chocolate is not degraded.)
Then we were ready to make our own bars. Melissa had two pots of chocolate waiting for us, a pot of dark and a pot of milk chocolate. She also had a tray of nuts, berries, coconut, sea salt and other goodies that we could add to our bars.
|Stirring the dark chocolate
Once we chose our ingredients we poured a ladle of chocolate into a mold and added our goodies. Here's Joan pouring hers. Mine was harder to pour because the dark chocolate had begun to harden.
I added "date bacon" to my candy bar. I did NOT want bacon in my chocolate but Melissa assured me that it was actually chopped dates, fried briefly in a pan with olive oil, a bit of maple syrup, and smoked salt. The mold below shows my date bacon bar on the left with two chocolate bars that were tempered by hand on a cold steel table. You have to work fast in this business or things don't turn out too pretty!
A few of the chocolate bars were ready to take home at the end of the evening. Melissa popped them out the molds and wrapped them for us. I took mine home to share it with m family. Not too beautiful, but it tasted just fine!
My friends and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thanks, Melissa, for a great evening. We wish you success in your venture with Salt & Thistle and the many ways you serve the community.