This year, ingredients like dried meat or chili (not the spice, but the actual meal) are just a few examples of the many new chocolate pairing trends happening right now. And, with our nation's upcoming holiday celebration of love right around the corner, there is possibly no better time to go out and splurge on some chocolate-flavored fun.
One of the most intriguing lines of specialty gourmet chocolate bars is Wild Ophelia. Among the brand's most popular products is the first -- and currently only -- beef jerky flavored milk chocolate bar. If that's too much for you, there's also Southern Hibiscus & Peach in milk chocolate, Peanut Butter & Banana, BBQ Potato Chip, or New Orleans Chili in dark chocolate.
Wild Ophelia founder Katrina Markoff's dreams have been drenched in chocolate since the age of six, when she became obsessed with chocolate pancakes plus maple syrup and bacon -- for her the ultimate combination of salty, sweet and savory.
Food took center stage again when she opted to train at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and mentored under the direction of Ferran and Alberto Adria at their famed El Bulli restaurant in Spain. Later, she learned to draw inspiration from her experiences studying the indigenous cuisines of France, Italy, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, China, Australia and Hawaii.
Markoff's taste for the unique and specialty urged her to begin designing a collection of chocolates that "would take people on taste trip around the world," starting with her company, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a high-end gourmet chocolate company founded in 1998.
At the time, Markoff was being hailed for her innovative ideas in chocolate, combining ingredients like bacon in products she helped to create including Mo's Bacon Bar, and the Crush Collection, eight truffles that use ingredients like oyster, champagne and Chinese star anise. The idea wasn't well-received, at first, but it opened the door to new ways of thinking about chocolate, she said.
That approach is seen most readily with Wild Ophelia, Markoff's newest product line that launched last May, a brand designed to "explore the beauty of America's heritage ingredients within chocolate," she offers a taste trip across the US from the deep South, all the way to Hawaii. The ingredients are most important, sourced from small, artisanal producers, their stories inscribed on the back of every bar.
"[When I decided to create Wild Ophelia] I had just traveled the world studying food...and I couldn¹t find any quality or interesting chocolate in the US market," Markoff told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview. "So I began by selecting my favorite American foods, with a focus on American food artisans, to make a line a chocolates that bridge the gap between grocer and gourmet."
Take one of the line's most popular candy bars, the peanut butter and banana, made with a rare Hawaiian banana -- the Williams varietal -- which is hand-cut and dried by Uncle Mikey's Hawaiian Foods, a small, family-run farm in Kauai. Or the Mount Sequoia Granola, made with handmade granola by chef Carol Watson, owner of Chicago's Milk & Honey Café.
Our favorite: the beef jerky in 44 percent milk chocolate. Made with fruit and pepper-smoked beef sourced from small Piedmontese and Angus cattle ranchers in Idaho, it's the perfect balance of the salty-sweet dried meat with milk chocolate. Brilliant!
Wild Ophelia is available at South Florida retailers including To The Moon Marketplace in Fort Lauderdale and Fresh Market in Wellington, as well as select Cost Plus World Market and Whole Foods locations. For more information, visit the Wild Ophelia website and Facebook page.