Years ago, a brilliant friend expressed concern to me about the dumbing down of humankind. Advertising was getting more and more crass, news more sensational versus serious, products mass produced. Retailers became more price focused versus quality focused, primarily because consumers seemed to only care about the price. Well, she was right. Except that in the midst of this mass of mediocrity being spewed at us, the rise of the niche marketer, the niche manufacturer, and the artisan has emerged…and they have emerged strong! Many of them achieving almost rock star status in their field.
The internet and ability to quickly search for whatever it is you desire has been an incredible boon to most of us, (it’s how I’ve discovered much of the tea I prefer.) Where brick and mortar mass merchandisers used to scare me because they offer so little choice in many categories, I am now comforted to know that for most things, I can still find variety via a bit of searching. This week, in Dean & Deluca (fine food, wine, and kitchen store), I came across stunning, artistic chocolates which identify their makers/chocolatier’s names on each tag. Have you heard of Christopher Elbow? How about Chris Kollar? These are two of the handmade, artisanal chocolatier’s products I was so impressed by this week, and since have seen their names and products in other fine stores.
I am thankful for artisanal master crafters of products who have such a passion for what they do. I am grateful that they take a risk and give product development their all. Hurray for the artisan – bread makers, cheese makers, farmers, grist millers, wine makers, single estate tea growers….and on and on. In this global society, we need the mass produced and the handmade artisanal goods to survive and to thrive. In a way, it’s just one huge circle of a production cycle going from big to small, meeting the needs of all.
Tied to the rise of the artisan is the advent of the fresh, local market and shops that are popping up. San Francisco’s Ferry Building inspired many of these markets. The Mix in Costa Mesa, California is one such place (mentioned in last week’s blog). This week, we were told to check out Oxbow Public Market in Napa, Ca. I will post about it soon, they had quality artisan shops featuring Tillerman Teas, artisan coffees, Hog Island Oysters and much much more…all individual “mini” shops featuring single maker, high quality, artisanal items. While internet shopping is a good thing, there is nothing like being there, touching, smelling, experiencing the products. These new shopping experiences actually feel like a “throwback” to the days of old when you walked on Main street to the butcher shop, then to tea shop, then the cheese shop…it’s kind of like going “back to the future.”
This week…in light of Valentine’s Day…the featured artisan category from me is the chocolate maker…check these photos out…the product is even better than they look – I did some quality control checking while scoping out these guys 🙂 and I know from recent experience attempting to learn how to make beautiful chocolates that this is a true art, skill, and craft – with a bit of science involved too.
From the Vintage Inn, Yountville, Napa Valley, California – afternoon tea
Dean & Deluca – fine foods, wines, and kitchen wares – St. Helena, California
We got a tip from a pastry chef we met to check out the fabulous chocolates at Kollar Chocolates, Yountville…Chef and Chocolatier, Chris Kollar and Naomi Pasztor own this gorgeous, tantalizing chocolate shop which boasts a demonstration window.
O.K…. I promise, this is the last post about chocolate for awhile…next I’m taking you to the Bale Grist Mill in St. Helena, Ca…where artisanal organic grains are ground in front of you. I will be trying out some new recipes for quick breads and scones with the grains I purchased…buckwheat, polenta, spelt and more.
In the meantime, I am enjoying a cup of assam tea with one of those little rectangular dark chocolate ganache tarts right now… mmmmm
Happy Valentine’s Day!