Chocolate love: Ventura style
A local guide to the heart-shaped box — and beyond
By Nancy Lackey-Shaffer 02/13/2014
Chocolates have been a popular expression of Valentine’s Day devotion since 18th century England. Every year, Godiva, See’s and even good ol’ Russell Stover have raked in the profits from our obsession with the heart-shaped box. But think twice before queuing up at the mall for some nuts and chews: This is Ventura County, and we can do better. The corporate behemoths can’t beat our very own chocolatiers for quality, freshness or flavor. What’s more, local choc shops have a tendency to let their imaginations fly, offering deliciously original combinations (often using locally sourced ingredients) that you simply won’t find in a Whitman’s Sampler. Satisfy your sweetheart’s sweet tooth at one of these local confectioneries — you’ll be supporting local biz while sticking it to the (Candy) Man.
For the traditionalist
607 E. Main St., suite E, Ventura. 648-5870
A downtown favorite since 1996, Trufflehounds is naturally known for delectable truffles in almost any flavor you can imagine. (Raspberry, dark chocolate and Bordeaux are a few of the favorites.) But the caramels, toffee and filled chocolates are equally delicious. Fiery Chocolate — a mix of dark chocolate, chili and cinnamon — takes spicy-sweet to a whole new level (it’s beautifully decorated, too); and a sophisticated version of the peanut butter cup is a must-try. Champagne truffles, heart and teddy bear chocolate pops, and chocolate-dipped strawberries (available only Feb. 13 and 14) will also be available for Valentine’s Day shoppers.
For fruit lovers
Farm-to-table chocolate-dipped strawberries will make for a juicy Valentine’s Day! Berries are picked from the family-owned Oxnard farm in the morning, prepped and hand-dipped in the commercial kitchen and shipped out the same day. Attention from celebrity wedding planner Renee Strauss (of Brides of Beverly Hills fame) helped grow Bobalu’s reputation, and it now does a brisk business shipping its dipped and topped delights nationwide. Local customers can pick up orders at Bobalu’s produce stand on Vineyard Avenue. The gourmet assortment comes in six-, nine- and 12-packs and features strawberries dipped in dark, milk and white chocolate with such toppings as nuts, coconut and chocolate chips.
For the iconoclast
This Oxnard-based e-tailer is run by a mother-daughter team (Rosemarie Caballero and Beth Kilgore) and specializes in custom orders. “We can do whatever you like,” explains Kilgore, referring to the 4,000-plus molds at their disposal. Chocolate-dipped Oreos are among their most popular items for Valentine’s Day, but don’t overlook their heart peanut butter cups and chocolate lollipop hearts. The online-only chocolatier doesn’t have a storefront, but local orders are available for pickup at Missy’s Cupcakes (3900 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard). Fine Guittard chocolate goes into each and every batch.
For the purist
No cane sugar. No dairy. No guilt. Those are the mottoes that have earned Mimi Milne and her Ojai Chocolat cult status in the artsy enclave and beyond. “People do love their chocolate, so I give it to them straight,” says Milne, who makes the chocolate itself from raw ingredients. Specialties include the very popular lavender mint, raspberries with balsamic vinegar, citrus and sweet basil (also called the “Ojai Moment”), Tuscan fig and spicy chili. Goddess Bars are local favorites; Milne recommends the Dragon Bar as a “great gift for a guy.” Many of her chocolates pair well with wine — the perfect end to a romantic meal. Available at the Ojai Farmers Market on Sundays, all Lassens locations, Rainbow Bridge and Made in Ojai.
For the foodie
28888 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills 818-879-0685
“Gourmet” is the name of the game at this Agoura outfit, which serves up inventive combinations like blue cheese and honey ganache, rose and dark chocolate truffles, honey lavender-filled chocolates, organic almond clusters and salted caramels made with local honey. But it’s Tifa’s decadent European-style sipping chocolate that sets it apart. A gift packet, which comes with 67 percent cacao dark chocolate couverture disks, cocoa powder and a bit of cane sugar, includes marshmallows and instructions and makes enough for two. Curl up with your beloved and a couple of steaming mugs and let Cupid do the rest.
For the well-traveled
2955 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 557-0561
This Parisian-style bistro — run by French expats Sabrina and Hugo Barthe — is beloved for its sandwiches, salads and pastries. But Sabrina is also a master chocolate maker, using only organic ingredients to create bonbons and truffles featuring such flavors as lavender, curry, Himalayan salt and chili. Her traditional French macaroons are extremely popular, but the stars of the show on Valentine’s Day will be heart-shaped chocolates filled with passion fruit ganache. Get them while you can because quantities are limited.
For the young at heart
Eastern Ventura County has a gem in this Simi Valley-based confectioner, which offers to-die-for cupcakes and salted caramel pretzel bark (a top seller) as well as a variety of playful hand-poured and hand-dipped chocolates. Cupcakes on a stick, brownie pops, chocolate-dipped marshmallows and Oreos will bring out the kid in anyone. Heart-shaped boxes crafted in milk or white chocolate are masterpieces in miniature.