Truffles Save

Legacy Chocolates, the newest of the St. Paul chocolatiers, proposes that great taste can heal us all

Try out the health benefits on yourself with a quick stop by Roberts's brand-new Marshall Avenue store in St. Paul. It's his second shop; the first was in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which is where he transforms chocolate he buys from the Venezuelan company El Rey into his own line, Legacy Chocolates, and hopes to launch his own one-man revolution, cementing the environmental stability and economic vitality of one perennial crop at a time. First, chocolate and shade-grown, fair-trade coffee, next, beef, later, with your help, the world.

Rarely do green dreams go down so pleasurably. Walk into the new store and you'll see the dream in a single refrigerator case. Inside is what looks like a thousand two-ounce lidded take-out cups. Inside each is a single chocolate truffle. Each cup bears a computer-generated label: 85 percent espresso, 73.5 percent classic Champagne, 41 percent pistachio, and so forth. These percentages each refer to the amount of cocoa mass, the part that isn't butter, cream, or sugar, in the chocolate shell of the truffle.

The 85 percent chocolates, then, are nearly devoid of cream and butter and are sharp and clear, bearing the deep, midnight wine resonance of a bat's cry in the dark. The 41 percent are Legacy Chocolates' version of milk chocolate, and taste light with lactic acid, the way sour cream tastes light. The 73 percent are winelike and focused, but have enough sugar that you can distinguish different notes of, say, mustard and tea tannin. The 58.5 percent ones taste like high-class candy. You can learn everything you want to know about what these percentages mean by lining up a row of ascending chocolates. Which are your favorites? Which ones do your friends prefer? Who's right? Fight it out with knives. More natural endorphins!

But seriously, this percentage chocolate thing is very much the wave of the future. Pretty much all of the coming wave of upscale chocolate things will have these percentages on them. (There's even a British chocolate-fan website called seventypercent.com.) Me, I've even tried little dry wafers of almost 100 percent chocolate, which reminded me, in taste, of something a Renaissance painter would grind with linseed oil to use when portraying mahogany shadows.

At Legacy Chocolates you can get the chocolates in two forms. There are medallions, which are little pucks of pure chocolate or, of course, in the case of things such as pistachio, pure chocolate with the nut in question, which is not me. While these medallions are wonderful for scientific inquiry, the really glorious taste sensation is to be had in the chocolate truffles. The truffles are also sold in the various percentages, but in their case the percentages refer to the chocolate shell around a silky chocolate filling made with real organic local butter and cream from the Hope Creamery folks (cementing another good little economy, you know).

This filling is about 60 percent pure chocolate, and tastes like some kind of elegant nighttime heaven, rolling across the tongue in dizzying crescendos of deep and deeper. The truffles labeled "classic" are those covered, on the very outside, with cocoa powder, the most traditional way of making a chocolate truffle, and the way that makes the morsel most resemble a real truffle, dug from the ground.

If you get a classic 85 percent then, let it come to room temperature, and when you eat it you will really be off on a roller coaster of sensation. First, the bitter powder of the cocoa covering, then the Sangiovese-like chocolate with its tea, raspberry, coffee, sour cherry, and tannic notes. Then the explosive deep silk of the truffle center melting on your tongue. And then the long, long, half-hour finish of the chocolate, which leaves you feeling like you just consumed a whole world, and not a mere 16 grams of chocolate.

Legacy Chocolates also sells a few, a very few, other things: They have a marvelous packaged cocoa, which they blend with organic evaporated cane juice sugar, which gives it a richer, broader taste than refined sugar. It's spicy and deep in just the right way. They also sell the coffee beans that they roast in Menomonie in 10-pound batches. There are only a few bags on hand at any time, and they remove any coffee after it's three days old, because Roberts is adamant about the horrible quality drop-off that happens when coffee goes stale. Personally, I don't know of anywhere in town more adamant about fresh coffee beans.

They also sell a wonderful product made from cold-brewing their fresh-roasted coffees: Take this coffee concentrate or mocha concentrate and add it to hot water, for coffee, or milk and ice, for iced things, and it's pure, mellow, and thrilling. Any iced-coffee fanatic is ordered to get over there as soon as the first tank top of spring is spotted.

Finally, they sell a chocolate sauce that is essentially that wildly lilting truffle filling let loose. Roberts says that Kowalski's may start carrying this stuff, which on the one hand I think might be the most exciting thing to happen to home desserts this year, and on the other hand I think may lead to more and more Minnesotans skipping their dinner entrées altogether and simply progressing from salad to bowls of chocolate sauce.

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