Black Mountain Chocolates: The problem with being among the nation's first makers of a highly specialized, artisanal product is finding the machinery with which to make it.
There aren't yet any Internet clearinghouses or mail-order catalogs catering to the small-batch chocolate trade. But David Mason persevered, cobbling together a roasting facility that opened late last year in Swannanoa. "It was difficult to obtain the equipment," says Mason, who procured an adapted roaster from a coffee supplier in Oklahoma and ordered custom-designed tools from Scotland.
His Black Mountain Chocolates is now one of only 15 companies nationwide making chocolate from the bean.
"The biggest challenge we face is educating people about the difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier," Mason reports. He definitely falls into the former camp, although his release of "tasting drop" tins might muddle the distinction. Mason's primary focus is chocolate processing: He leaves the creation of confections to other kitchen pros.
Mason imports his beans from Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, working with co-ops to ensure growers receive direct payment for their crop. According to Mason, the traditional domination of the chocolate trade by major corporations has hindered the American small-batch scene.
"More than 70 percent of cacao comes from the coast of Africa, and they go ahead and roast it there," he says.
Although trained as an agronomist, Mason was a bit fuzzy on cacao anatomy when a Oaxacan co-worker at a Kiawah Island golf course started sharing her family's chocolate with him. "I didn't even know chocolate came from a bean," he says. But, his interest piqued, he soon tracked down cacao beans online and taught himself to roast them. He relocated to Black Mountain in 2008 to open his factory.
"People who like dark chocolate are surprised by the complexity of flavors," Mason says of the reaction to his chocolate, which is sold in Minnesota, Raleigh, New York and — closer to home — at downtown Asheville's French Broad Chocolate Lounge. "I've heard hints of fig and raisin. They're taken aback by the flavors and smoothness."
Next up for Mason is a crunchy "nibby drop," featuring chocolate nibs rolled in Black Mountain chocolate. "They're addicting," he says.
Black Mountain Chocolate, 131 South Ave., is open every Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Mason can often be found there throughout the week. To learn more about where to buy his products, call 686-5511 or visit www.blackmountainchocolate.com.
Earth Fare: Earth Fare is willing to pay a pretty price for tomatoes — so long as they're in costume.
Throughout the month of July, Earth Fare is encouraging its customers to enter its "Take Our Tomato" contest by submitting a photo of an Earth Fare tomato in a silly pose. "Anything goes — be outrageous, hilarious or pose it on a mountain," a release explains. "Dress it up as a condiment or in a tuxedo!"
Five prizes will be awarded in the contest, with the top finisher winning a $250 gift card.
To enter, send a jpg of your shot to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a link to your blog or Flickr page to the same address (making sure to tag the image "Earth Fare tomato contest." Winners will be notified by Aug. 19.
Green Sage: Downtown Asheville's Green Sage Coffeehouse and Café, notable for providing one of the great wired workplaces downtown, has extended its hours to include dinner service. The restaurant is now open Mon.-Thurs., 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sun., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. For more information, call 252-4451.