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Tavernier Chocolates are making sophisticated confections at the Cotton Mill

BRATTLEBORO—The Windham County localvore scene just got chocolaty with the addition of Tavernier Chocolates. The fledgeling confectioner occupied its new commercial kitchen space on Feb. 1 in the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro.

A factory store is set to open in April.

Dar Tavernier-Singer, along with her husband, John Singer, make handmade, small-batch, artisanal chocolates, including bars and confections.

“We’re not currently making bean-to-bar, but we’d like to get there,” Tavernier-Singer says.

The chocolates they make include truffles, tiles, tablets, pavés, and holiday chocolates.

Although cacao beans — the basis of chocolate —€• are indigenous to Central America, and grow in tropical areas within about 20 degrees of the equator, Tavernier Chocolate’s production occurs in Brattleboro, and they use as many locally-sourced ingredients as possible.

Even cheese.

“We used [The Cellars At Jasper Hill in Greensboro’s] Bayley Hazen Blue with our milk chocolate,” reports Tavernier-Singer, for their Bleu Hour dome-shaped filled chocolate, which also features smoked sea salt, and “a sprinkling of edible silver lustre, like a twinkling Vermont dusk sky,” says their website.

Other Vermont dairy products Tavernier Chocolates incorporates into their confections are cream and buttermilk, both from Butterworks Farm in Westfield.

Butterworks Farm’s buttermilk appears in Tavernier Chocolate’s Maple Buttermilk Logs. The exterior is a crisp chocolate shell, made in a candy mold shaped like a tiny log; inside is house-made caramel using maple sugar and maple syrup —€• sourced from Vermont producers — and buttermilk.

“We caramelize the ingredients until the maple sugar separates out, giving it a crunch,” Tavernier-Singer says.

Tavernier-Singer likes Butterworks’s cream the best because “it has a high fat content and it’s tasty.”

They use the cream in their Snowballs, a seasonal truffle made with “organic, fairly-traded powdered cocoa on white chocolate, filled with a blend of Singing Cedars Apiaries [based in Orwell] honey, Spanish saffron, and cream.”

A handful of other locally-produced ingredients appear in Tavernier Chocolates.

Guilford-made Chai Wallah chai makes its way into some of the ganache — a base of cream blended with chocolate, into which other ingredients are sometimes added —€• and once Tavernier Chocolate’s factory store opens, the spiced beverage will be sold by the cup.

When in season, the couple harvests blackberries, rosemary, and basil. They use the latter, and locally-grown mint, to make extracts which they will use year-round to add flavor and depth to such items as their pavés.

“I’ll be foraging acorns and black walnuts this year,” says Tavernier-Singer. “We want to find a mushroom expert, so we can use local mushrooms.”

Some of Tavernier Chocolate’s products feature coffee beans roasted by Singer.

“We roast several different origins [of coffee bean] to pair with our chocolate,” Singer says, noting it’s “very small-batch."

His coffee roaster’s capacity is one pound.

For seven years, Singer roasted coffee for Brattleboro’s Mocha Joe’s, and “I helped Pierre [Capy, co-owner of Mocha Joe’s] source beans world-wide,” he says, adding, “I learned coffee pretty intensely from Pierre."

The Roaster’s Tiles feature the results of Singer’s coffee-related labor.

Tavernier-Singer describes them: “On top of pure chocolate are coffee beans, roasted hazelnuts —€• we roast them ourselves —€• and sea salt. We use some Maine sea salt, some sea salt from Massachusetts on the Cape, and some from Utah. We also use some imported sea salt. The flavor profile is different with each salt.”

Tavernier-Singer reports, “We also make chocolate salamis.”

Singer interrupted her to note, “The salamis are vegetarian! You’d better say that.”

The chocolate salamis are “rich dark-chocolate ganache blended with marsala-marinated figs, dried medjool dates, and rosemary shortbread —€• that I make —€• is crumbled in, and either hazelnuts or pistachios,” Tavernier-Singer says.

They hand-roll the mixture into a sausage shape, and then coat the exterior with organic powdered sugar to replicate the appearance of Penicillium nalgiovense (the white mold found on the exterior of dry-cured salami’s casing), then wrap the salami in butcher paper and tie it up with striped butcher twine.

Tavernier-Singer says that when the chocolate salami is sliced, the chunks of fruit and cookie “look like the fat in salami.”

This item is one of their most popular, and because they are currently sold out, they had none for a recent visitor to sample.

The couple moved here from San Francisco in 1999, and Tavernier-Singer says, “one of the reasons we moved here is the food culture. There are lots of organic farmers, and we liked being able to meet the people who grow your food. Even the big grocery stores, like Hannaford’s, have local food.”

Singer says, of the Brattleboro area, “This is an incredibly fertile valley.”

“Several years ago I started making chocolates for holidays, for friends, as desserts for friends’ weddings, catering, and special events. People kept asking me, ‘Where can I get this?’ Six months ago, we made it an actual business,” Tavernier-Singer says.

“We initially sublet this space, working one day per week,” Singer adds, noting, “we quickly found it wasn’t enough, especially during the holidays. We found we couldn’t keep up doing just one day a week, but that’s what we did.”

What prompted the couple to make the leap to securing a commercial kitchen space was when a new restaurant in Turners Falls, Mass., asked them to supply their dessert menu while the restaurant staff created its own.

Although that restaurant has since installed its own dessert menu, Tavernier-Singer reports some of its patrons now drive to the North End Butcher on Putney Road to purchase Tavernier Chocolates.

In addition, Duo, the Brattleboro restaurant located in the Brooks House, offers Tavernier Chocolate’s Snowball truffles and Roaster’s Tiles on their dessert board along with cheese and port.

Once the season kicks in, the couple plans to sell their chocolates at area farmers’ markets, weather permitting.

The couple will also offer a “CSC,” or Community-Supported Chocolates, based on the CSA model. Singer says, “as the crops start happening again, we’re making fresh chocolates for the CSC using those ingredients.”

Tavernier-Singer’s combination of education, employment, personal interest, and family tradition led her to the world of chocolate.

“I’m self-taught with lots of research, including online research, visiting chocolatiers, reading books, and lots and lots of trial and error,” Tavernier-Singer says. “My family is very food-centric,” she notes, adding, “I worked at Peter Havens, I did catering, when I lived in Europe — in Prague — I worked in the kitchen and up front. I have always loved food.”

In school, Tavernier-Singer studied biology as well as art, and was a chemist for a few years.

“Chocolate is a combination that excited me. My chocolate lab is also an artist’s studio. I like that,” she says.

Singer’s experience working with Mocha Joe’s, as well as his “long history in business management” have prepared him for co-owning Tavernier Chocolate.

Of the former, he says, “There’s a commonality between chocolate and coffee: they’re both a commodity sourced from the developing world.

“Two things are important to us: that the beans are fairly-traded, and the terroir [the flavors specific to a food or beverage’s provenance]. We did a ton of research. We got cacao beans from a ton of origins, to learn ‘What does this taste like? What different fillings and ingredients will pair with it?’

“We bought tons of different chocolates to see their mouth-feel and flavor. Most of our chocolate is single-source origin.”

Tavernier-Singer adds, “We’re not using West African chocolate right now. That’s where most of the slavery is. We’re sticking mostly with Central and South America.”

“We do use some that are certified fair trade, but many that aren’t certified, though they are fairly or equitably traded in practice. Just want to make sure we’re not making false claims, but that using ethically-sourced chocolates is of utmost important to us,” the couple said in a follow-up email.

“For our white chocolate” — which tends to get a bad rap in the high-end food world because of its often cloying sweetness —€• “we use single-source Venezuelan white chocolate from El Rey,” Tavernier-Singer says. “It’s been voted the top white chocolate in the world three years in a row at the International Chocolate Awards,” she notes, adding El Rey’s white chocolate “is undeodorized; it’s less processed and there are more earthy nuances.”

Tavernier Chocolate’s wares, including those made with white chocolate, are far less sweet than many other commercially-available chocolates.

“We don’t add sugar unless it’s part of the flavor profile,” Tavernier-Singer says, noting that, “other than the occasional fairly-traded, organic Turbinado sugar,” Tavernier Chocolates uses mostly maple syrup and honey to sweeten their confections.

They also use chocolate with a higher cocoa content, and the higher the number, the less sugar is used to produce the item. Most of their items use chocolate with 60-70 percent cocoa, allowing chocolate’s inherent fruity, slightly bitter nuances to emerge, which may come as a surprise to those accustomed to Hershey’s bars.

“Some palate education is necessary,” Singer says.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #300 (Wednesday, April 8, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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