The Rise Of The Artisan…Beautiful Chocolates…Everywhere I Turn

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.

Artisanal chololates IMG_5788 IMG_5790 IMG_5792 IMG_5794 IMG_5799 IMG_5852


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!


  1. You must be very close to heaven up in the Napa Valley. Assam tea is oneI enjoyed that was tucked into a gift basket. Does anyone offer tea tastings? Diane

    • Napa is so gorgeous right now…the mustard is prolific and people are stopping at the side of roads just to get out and run in the mustard and take photos…regarding tea tastings..I have a couple great spots to recommend…will put together the list for you next week.

  2. I can almost smell the chocolate. Would love to have just one wonderful piece. Something with cherry preferably. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone surprised me for valentines day? Oh well, guess I will need to settle for a cup pf chocolate tea.

    • Will see if that can be arranged…not sure how the chocolates will travel…but you are right…the chocolate tea might be a good substitute for now…you never know what will show up on Valentine’s day though 🙂

  3. Oh my word, those chocolate ganache tarts look as if they would slip down unbelievably well with a cup of tea. Here I am, reading this, with no chocolate to hand – torture! It is great to see the artisan products and I agree that we need both the mass produced and the artisanal, there’s no reason why they can’t coexist happily, in my opinion. Can’t wait for a post about artisan bread!

    • I am looking forward to trying out the different grains I got and coming up with delectable savory scones that prepared with the whole grains. Will share them if they come out well. And Lorna, those chocolate ganache little tarts were sooooo good with the black tea I brought with me from home. (I’ve learned to carrying own tea bags even though Napa has great tea (usually). They were worth the calories and I was on vacation too