Love is in the air. So is the thick, heavenly aroma of fresh chocolate at Eclat. For the past three years, Chris Curtin has been handcrafting scrumptious chocolates and selling them from at his intimate shop in the heart of West Chester.
A native of Madison, Wis., Curtin began his career as a pastry chef then traveled to France where he worked alongside some of the best journeymen in the profession. Later he was tutored at the world's premier chocolate houses throughout Belgium, Switzerland, France, and Japan. Curtin received his certification as a master chocolatier in Cologne, Germany.
When Curtin launched Eclat on High Street his goal was simple: To share his art and passion for this sweetest and most seductive of foods.
'I'm obsessed with using only the best chocolate available,' said the descendant of Andrew Gregg Curtin, Pennsylvania's governor during the Civil War.
He sources his chocolate from Europe's top producers searching for single-origin chocolate.
'The raw beans are procured from single source cacao plantations in South America and Indonesia,' he related. 'Chocolate, in its purest form, there's little room for error. That's the challenge, to create a richly unique and deluxe product.'
Much like fine wines, gourmet coffees and teas, Eclat's chocolates are meant to be tasted and savored, not summarily snarfed down. A taste of Curtin's chocolate, and surely you will agree.
Walking into Eclat's production room, Curtin has the restrained look of a mild-mannered investigator. Dressed in a starched, white chef's coat, the 39-year-old artisan imparts details of his craft's mechanics: Talking of enrobers, depositors and cooling tunnels. Off to the side a carrier is stacked with trays crowded with elegant truffles.
So how large is the gourmet chocolate market'
Industry experts report the sales of premium chocolates grew 14.5 percent in 2006 and are projected to expand an additional 13.7 percent this year. That contrasts with sales at major companies like Hershey and Mars ($15.8 billion in sales) which have plateaued the last two years.
Take a bite out of this: On average, each American consumes 12 pounds of chocolate per year.
Curtin's artistry with chocolate is all about depth and the smooth concentration of flavors. Among his current collection of new confection flavors are ginger, lavender, single-malt whiskey, giandua, caramel truffle and champagne.
His latest innovation was a minimalist take on the mendiant ' thin pure chocolate wafers that are devoured at the traditional Provencal holiday celebrations. Mendiants are delicate single-origin chocolates, available in nine varieties, stacked in small cylinders.
How's this for salesmanship' Curtin calls them 'the modern chocolate bar.'
Dark and snappingly crisp, mendiants melt in your mouth, extracting maximum flavor. Each variety's distinct pattern and texture subtly change the sensory experience of tasting the chocolates.
The varieties include Ecuador (39 percent cacao) a milky-sweet chocolate; Tanzania (75 percent cacao) a dark version, and Alto El Sol (65 percent cacao), derived from a tiny estate in the Amazon.
Others mendiants blend the chocolates and spices creating flavors as nuanced and complex as fine wines. The Aleppo Pink Peppercorn (60 percent cacao), lights up your mouth with the fiery bite of pepper.
Innovative and often surprising flavors are not the only striking characteristic of Eclat chocolates. Before you even taste one of the delicate squares tucked into the company's stylish boxes, you'll notice the whimsical designs gracing the top of each chocolate.
Some of his recent creations include: a full-scale 'aquarium' complete with coral, seaweed and school of fish, and a pair of hearts embellished with 24-karat gold leaf and encased by a larger latticed chocolate heart.
It's all part of the chocolatier gig.
And like most chocolatiers, Curtin is ready to work his magic for Valentine's Day.