happy valentine’s day, local pickins lovers!

We hope your day is off to a great start and you’re prepping for an evening of fun, filled with chocolate and love. We’d like to give you a little Valentine’s Day present that will last you the month of February: a behind the scenes look at Boston’s finest chocolatiers. Today, we’re starting off with a conversation with Valerie Conyngham of vianne chocolat. Be sure to check back in every couple of days, as we post interviews with the up-and-coming Perfect Fuel Chocolate, Somerville’s Taza Chocolate, and more!

Based in Jamaica Plain, vianne chocolate is the brain child of Valerie Conyngham, a Cambridge Culinary School graduate who draws inspiration from local ingredients and unique flavor combinations. Conyngham offers happiness in the form of chocolate at her online store and at many stores in the Boston area, like City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain and Kitchen Wares in Boston’s Back Bay. Find a full list of locations here, and read on to learn why Conyngham’s chocolates are well worth your time and taste buds.

How did you become interested in making chocolate? 

After graduating from culinary school in 2000, I had the good fortune to shadow a pastry chef at Chez Henri in Cambridge. She taught me how to make chocolates and I fell in love with the meditative aspect of it.

Describe the process of chocolate making in five simple steps. 

Step 1 – Decide what flavors you’d like to incorporate into your chocolates like liqueurs, fruits or spices.

Step 2 – If you’re working with herbs, dried flowers, or whole spices, the first step is to infuse your cream. If you’re working with fruit purees, jams, or liqueurs you wait to add flavor until after you’ve made your base ganache.

Step 3 – Make your ganache, adding your flavor(s) as determined above.

Step 4 – Let your ganache set. Depending on batch size, air temperature, and humidity your ganache could take anywhere from an hour to five hours to set.

Step 5 – Roll or cut your ganache and dip in tempered chocolate. When you melt chocolate above 90 degrees, its crystalline structure goes out of alignment, causing grayish or brownish streaks to appear on the chocolate once it’s cooled. In order to get the crystals back into alignment, you need to temper your chocolate. For a how-to guide, visit my website.

Where do you get your ingredients and what percentage of cacao do you use in your chocolates? 

I try to source local whenever possible. My cream comes from Shaw Farm in Dracut, my butter comes from Maine, and my jams and fruits (when in season) come from farmer’s markets in New England. When I can’t buy local ingredients, I try to support a local business in my purchase, like by buying spices from Christina’s Spices in Cambridge. I lean toward cacao percentages in the 60 – 66% range so that the other flavors in the ganache centers can shine through. The majority of my chocolate comes from TCHO, a small chocolate maker in San Francisco.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What is the best part of making chocolate? 

Chocolate makes (almost) everybody happy. It’s wonderful to have a creative outlet and to be able to work in a field that’s constantly evolving with new flavor combinations.

Tell me about your seasonal chocolates. What’s new this season? What do you recommend?

For Valentine’s Day, I started making a cinnamon ganache. While not unique in the world of chocolates, it’s wonderfully evocative of those little cinnamon hearts we all had as children. My Aviation chocolate is also new this season, and it’s my take on the classic cocktail replete with a brandied cherry.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of running an online business? 

The advantages are having greater reach and lower overhead. The disadvantage is not getting as much face time with clients as at a brick and mortar.

What sets your chocolates apart from your competitors? 

My chocolates are incredibly tasty, made with lots of local goodness, and presented artfully. We also focus on sustainability during production. The only waste products from our production are gloves and butter wrappers. Everything else we use is either recycled or composted!

-Esther Howe

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