I had hoped to write this week about Jeremy N. Smith's new book, Growing a Garden City, but it's already been covered by the Independent and loyal readers could probably guess the tone of my review. So instead of gushing about Smith and his subjects at Garden City Harvest (you can find that at alternet.org), I've turned to the ongoing changes at one of Missoula's most beloved businesses: Posh Chocolat. The award-winning local establishment recently announced a new business venture that has some chocoholics fearful of its closing. To clear up the confusion—and get the low-down on the future Higgins Avenue storefront—I spoke with the uglier half of the husband and wife team that opened Posh in early 2005.
Flash: Is there any truth to the rumor that Posh Chocolat is going out of business?
Jason Willenbrock: Posh Chocolat is alive and well and thriving. In each of the years we've been in business we've turned a bigger profit than the year before. But it's gotten to the point where our chocolates are getting so successful that the café is distracting us from focusing on developing our brand. So we decided to focus on making and marketing our award-winning chocolates.
Flash: What's going to replace the Posh Chocolat storefront on Higgins?
Willenbrock: We're partnering with Curtis Strohl and Nate Jerell, who will take over our lease and open the Mercantile Deli and Chocolate Bar. They're going to have a small, deli-style menu, but mostly focus on to-go dishes and specialty items, like the kind of stuff you see at fancy import stores, but it's going to be mostly local. They're going to cure their own meats, like prosciutto, and sell our full line of chocolates, and fresh roasted coffee from Black Coffee, and freshly made pastas and confit, that kind of thing.
Flash: So people will be able to wander in and get their rosemary truffle or one of Ana's obscene confectionaries, like the mocha mousse in the edible chocolate cup?
Willenbrock: Oh yeah. Our full line will be available at the Mercantile, including our hot chocolate and Chai chocolate drinks.
Flash: Have you developed any new flavors lately?
Willenbrock: Our latest creation is a Flathead cherry and anise milk chocolate bar, with dried organic cherries from Fat Robin orchard on Finley Point. It's totally amazing.
Flash: Why milk chocolate?
Willenbrock: I'll be honest with you, Ari, I've made my peace with milk chocolate. I've been able to discover through my own trial and error that there's a way to make milk chocolate interesting and sophisticated. And all the negative things that people perceive about milk chocolate—that it has fewer cocoa solids, fewer of the health benefits associated with chocolate, more sugar, more additives, not vegan... I've been able to keep those negatives out of my final product. Except for the unvegan part, of course.
Another bar we have, a smoked almond Tipus Chai milk chocolate bar, remains one of our most popular products. It helps that the local chai mix made by Tipu's is amazing. Milk and chai go great together and the smoked almonds give it that smoky, nutty flavor. What can I say? Nowadays, you cut me and I bleed milk chocolate.
Flash: You're into white chocolate these days, too.
Willenbrock: Yeah, I've made my peace with white chocolate, too. I used to assume that darker was always better. But as I've grown older and wiser I've become able to appreciate the possibilities of white chocolate. All of our white chocolate truffles are covered by a layer of dark, single-origin Ecuadorian chocolate. One of my favorite truffles for years has been white chocolate with truffle oil. It seems like a crazy combination—mushroom oil and chocolate—but it's really interesting and it really works. Our matcha green tea white chocolate truffle, garnished with sesame seeds, is fantastic as well.
But my new favorite white chocolate truffle is a saffron rosewater truffle with golden raisin garnish. White chocolate is very sweet, which the saffron balances with an earthy flavor, and gives the ganache a nice orange color. The rosewater adds to the saffron's floralness, and the overall balance is dead balls-on. We actually use rose oil, not water, but rose water just sounds better. For a batch of 100 truffles I use three drops of rose oil.
Flash: You and Ana have been getting some national recognition for your chocolates, haven't you?
Willenbrock: Yeah, we've been winning a lot of awards at shows all over the country. San Francisco, Seattle, most recently in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Chocolate Salon, where we got a bunch of silvers, including Best in Salon and Most Gifted Chocolatier. So you can see with the kind of interest we're getting with the confections it makes sense for us to put all of our energy there. We've got a busy season of holiday orders coming up. And Ana's going to be taking the next six months to focus on developing some designer cakes. She's going to be testing out different batter and frosting combinations and selling them as "Cupcake of the Day" offerings at the Mercantile, and hopefully get some good feedback.
Ask Ari: Gone gluten-free
Q: Dear Flash,
I'm one of those "gluten intolerant" types and find it hard to expand my cooking repertoire outside of a few staples. Can you point me in the direction of some resources that might help broaden my gluten-free cooking options?
A: Since I had Jason Willenbrock cornered I asked him if he had any gluten-free suggestions. Here's what he said:
"Gluten-free is tough. And a lot of people are doing it—even those who don't have celiac's disease are doing it for their own piece of mind. Our most popular dish on the lunch menu, which you can still get for the next week or so before we change over, is the curry pork over rice.
"First brown some cubed pork shoulder, then remove it from the pan and saute onions, garlic, bell peppers, potatoes and ginger in the grease. When they're cooked, add back the pork chunks and some rice flour to thicken it. Then add some fresh or canned tomatoes, chicken stock and coconut milk, bring to a simmer and then braise for an hour at 300 degrees. Then add chopped carrots, celery, onion, curry paste and peanut butter, and braise another hour."
Jason declined to be more specific with his quantities, but if you desire more ideas and perhaps more hand-holding, check out this new cookbook: Cookin' Up Good Vibrations: Deliciously healthy gluten-free and dairy-free dishes in harmony with the season from Inspired Wisdom Press. It's written by the faculty and students of the Jwalan Muktika School for Illumination (JMSI) in Whitefish, which is connected to the local vegan and glutton-free café, The Green Tea House, and JMSI Staff Nutritionist Miriam Katz. The book is beautifully put together, with over 300 pages of recipes, organized by season, and includes discussions on various subjects related to the gluten-free lifestyle.
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