Robyn Dochterman’s chocolate career began with a bag of Tidy Cat.
Sort of. She remembers being drawn to graphics like the one on the Tidy Cat bag ever since she was a kid and had an “art shop” in the basement.
“It didn’t really work out because nobody needed any art and they weren’t coming to our basement to get any.”
Still, she copied that kitty litter design of a black cat on a red rug over and over again.
She eventually went into a journalism career, working for a time as a gardening blogger for the Star Tribune, but art always beckoned. Then the recession came, followed by a layoff, which was just the thing to get her out from behind the computer and into the world of food, where she truly wanted to be.
She tinkered. Baking meant too many ungodly hours, cheesemaking meant too much science, but chocolate was just the thing. Finally, she could return to an artist's life.
“The most important step in chocolate is every step,” a mentor once told her. She’s found it to be true. Some makers skimp on ingredient quality, others on design, but that mantra always stayed with her, and the adherence to it has made she and her partner Deidre Pope’s St. Croix Chocolate Company one of the most revered makers of fine chocolate in Minnesota.
St. Croix Chocolate Company
Their small shop on the St. Croix puts out some of the most colossal chocolate, at least where it comes to impact and lasting impressions.
Yes, they use the best possible ingredients including pure maple syrup from a local family that has been tapping maple trees for generations, and chemical-free honey from a nearby apiary. Dochterman has even recently developed a bar that pairs peanut butter with puree from grapes that she foraged herself.
But she’s never relinquished her draw to graphic design, calling herself a “compulsive doodler,” with no formal training.
Lately, she’s producing some pieces that she has to explain to customers are edible, they’re so reminiscent of, well, art.
In the fall, there was a pumpkin with a lid, the kind of thing a person could hide earrings in, or paperclips, or, naturally, chocolate. Mine sat on my bookshelf for weeks before I told my boyfriend it was chocolate and he promptly picked it up and ate it. They had to do the same back at the shop — break pieces off to prove its edible qualities. A better use than storing earrings and paperclips?
“We tell people to fill it with caramel sauce and dip their apples in it and people go 'Aw, yeah!'”
There is also an eight-piece, completely edible chocolate Nativity set. Now you don’t have to settle for that dry church wafer when you want a holy bite. Dochterman has even made some foot-tall crocodiles that make for a fun table centerpiece that is -- all together now -- completely edible. "You could leave it on the shelf for a year and still eat it. As long as you’re a good duster.”
For Easter, Dochterman has made edible chocolate nests, where she takes a piping bag filled with chocolate and runs ribbons of it over a slab of frozen granite. When it’s barely set, she slips a blade beneath it, and then, “There’s this magical moment with chocolate where it’s flexible for like 10 seconds." In that 10 seconds, she sculpts it while it’s still pliable, and voila, a nest, for little edible birds to sit their chocolatey behinds within and lay chocolatey eggs.
St. Croix Chocolate Company
Those eggs are hand-painted, and the insides taste like heaven. A favorite involves lush peanut butter cream, interspersed with a layer of fleutine, which Dochterman describes as a French crepe-like substance. “Think about corn flakes, and if you pushed them down and made them really delicate on the scale.” She says it's a struggle not to just eat it by the handful.
In a beautiful showroom and tasting room on the St. Croix river that looks straight out of Europe and reads, “Chocolate and Wine” on the facade, the partners also happen to serve handmade wood-fired pizza (because evidently they are in the business of giving us a pleasure trifecta to make us weak in the knees).
At the moment, Dochterman is meditating on the word “balance.” She likes to make art, but she wants there to be a market for her art, too. All the same, she doesn’t want too much of a market.
“People come in all the time and ask us if we have fudge. I don’t make fudge,” she says. She doesn’t make nut clusters or chocolate drops that get pushed off a spoon, either.
When I suggest she go back and make that kitty litter bag into a chocolate confection, she laughs. “I’m pretty sure I could make that litter taste good,” she says.
I’m pretty sure she could too, and make it beautiful to boot.
St. Croix Chocolate is located on Marine on St. Croix, and they also take online orders. On Saturdays and Sundays they serve pizza made in their woodfired pizza oven out back, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
11 Judd St.
Marine on Saint Croix, MN 55047