the curious case of artisinal chocolate

If you’d asked me two years ago what sprang to mind when I heard the words “Iowa artisan,” I would have (somewhat shamefacedly) admitted corn husk dolls. Because I had one! Not because I stereotype! Or perhaps . . . pie baking. Hog fattening.

Maybe I had a couple stereotypes.

Basically, I didn’t know anything about Iowa, or what I was getting myself into.

As it turns out, I have encountered zero corn husk dolls or “fattest pig” state fair competitions since moving here, and most of the pies have come out of my oven. What I have encountered is gourmet roasted Amana coffee, in flavors ranging from the traditional French Vanilla or Hazelnut to the wackier Blueberry Cinnamon Crumble and Vermont Maple Nut Crunch. A reminder: those are all coffee flavors. I have also encountered fruit wine. Yes, I know all wine is made from grapes, and that grapes are a fruit, but I mean cranberry wine. Apricot wine. Peach, apple, rhubarb wines. I believe it is what you would call “interesting” (as in “iiiinteresting…”) and let’s just say there’s a reason wine is made of grapes and not plums.

The best discovery of all, though, has been the local chocolate-makers. There’s the Chocolate Haus in Amana, whose four-pack of truffles almost always proves an irresistible pick-me-up. And then there’s Bochner Chocolates, with a single store off the Coralville Strip (and a tiny factory near the grocery store!) that churns out the most gorgeous, creatively flavored special occasion chocolates I’ve been lucky enough to taste. They have blue-speckled truffles filled with sea salted caramel and purple-dusted ones filled with lavender. There’s a whole line of alcohol-filled squares, from Bailey’s to Mojito (!), and an equally large group of fruit-fillings. They even cater to choco-purists with truffles made of cocoa nibs or Ghanaian beans. I would never (truly, never) have expected to find a place like Bochner Chocolates in Iowa — but oh, how wrong I was. I just finished my Valentine’s box (I know – discipline!) and our high-top table looks suddenly quite sad without all those snazzy, rich flavor possibilities.

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