Kate Joy Seversen (center rear) talks strategy. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

“Everyone take a small nibble,” we are told as our pairing of chocolate truffles and wine begins. “Don’t eat the whole thing!”

Geena Bouché’s orders to not eat everything right away proved to be the overriding advice during Twenty-Four Blackbirds‘ first-ever chocolate bar decorating class inside the bean-to-bar manufacturer’s East Haley Street factory last Friday. From the homemade marshmallows and butterscotch chips that we could use as toppings, to the melty dark chocolate dolloped into our molds, to those togarashi-spiked and espresso-laced truffles of the pairing session, restraint was required for every decision during this hands-on affair.  

For many years, as co-founder of the wine education company Wine Cult, Bouché has led classes that match wines with truffles crafted by Twenty-Four Blackbirds founder Mike Orlando. (If you don’t know where Orlando’s company sits in the whole world of bean-to-bar chocolates, read my cover story from 2018.)

Their collaboration went into overdrive during the virtual tasting days of the pandemic, leading to seasonal flavor release pairing parties. Now the two are hosting this 75-minute class every Friday ($65) as well as a factory tour/pairing every Thursday ($60). There’s also a range of tours without wine now offered on various days of the week, priced as low as $15.

Our class began with a splash of sparkling, and then Twenty-Four Blackbirds’ employee Kate Joy Seversen asked us to eat the coin of Honduran chocolate in front of us, the base we’d be using for our bars. As those melted on our tongues, she told us about strategies for decorating our two bars, explaining the concepts of congruent and contrasting flavors. Seversen suggested trying a bit of each, maybe peppercorns with something sweet like the marshmallow to emphasize differences, or the dried strawberry and pineapple to amplify similarities.

Once we hit the toppings table, my strategy strayed more scattershot, and I even doubled-up toppings in the same small cups. We each had four to fill, but I had at least 10 different toppings by the time I got back to my station. That included all of the aforementioned ingredients (including the butterscotch, which I couldn’t help but eat right away), but also various salts, dried flowers and fruits, rock sugars, cocoa nibs, fennel seeds, and so on.

Then we lined up to get our liquefied dark chocolate from the Wonka-like dispenser, which settles in the molds with a magic shake, and were turned loose on decorating the bars while the toppings would still stick to the melted goo. My wife showed culinary direction and proper restraint in her selections — apricot and marshmallow was a solid combo — but my son and I went a little wackier, dumping loads of colorful elements onto our slowly solidifying bars.

The apricot and marshmallow combo | Credit: Matt Kettmann

The truffle-wine pairing came as we waited for the bars to chill in the cooler. That put Bouché back in charge, and she explained that the Mary Taylor Wine selections of white Bordeaux and red Buzet from France were made in a négociant style, as Taylor works directly with producers to bottle their wine for import. With the togarashi caramel truffle — always one of my faves — we sipped on the sauvignon blanc–based white, then shifted to a merlot-based red for the espresso ganache truffle.

Individually, each chocolate and wine was excellent. Together, they were, well, interesting and thought-provoking, although I didn’t find that the pairing made any component more delicious. And that’s the fun of pairings, exploring what works and what doesn’t, with no right or wrong answers whatsoever. That Bouché and Orlando are boldly doing so with the notoriously hard-to-pair base of dark chocolate is alone worthy of applause.

As we wrapped up the pairing, and accepted a few more splashes of wine, our bars emerged from the back, sprinkled in our own selected glories. As most people packed theirs away in the branded wrappers that we were provided, I couldn’t wait. It turns out that, while slightly confusing to the palate, peppercorn, calendula, hibiscus, cocoa nib, sea salt, and fennel taste pretty good together on a chocolate bar. And, you’ll be proud to learn, I haven’t yet eaten the whole thing.

See twentyfourblackbirds.com for tour times and tickets.

Credit: Courtesy

Meet Me in Hollywood

I’ll be headed down to Los Angeles on July 18 to run a couple of panels during the “STARS of Pinot Noir” event that’s happening at Tesse Restaurant in West Hollywood. More than 30 wineries will be pouring for the main event, which starts at 6 p.m., and I’ll be talking to winemakers at both 11 a.m. (for the trade) and 6 p.m. for paying attendees. I’ll write a bit more about the details in a forthcoming Full Belly File, but you can now get $10 off by using the discount code MATTK at this STARS of Pinot ticket link.

Indy Hops Is On!!!

Starting on July 1, seven breweries and brewpubs at 10 locations across Santa Barbara County are toasting the summer by participating in our annual Indy Hops promotion, a monthlong celebration of suds where you can collect stamps to win more beer. For a full report on who’s pouring and what they recommend, check out these listings that I compiled.

Credit: Courtesy

First Look at BibiJi’s New Digs

We were invited to check out BibJi’s new digs in the old McDonald’s on State Street across from The Granada Theater over the weekend and very quickly obliged. Compared to the dark, brooding hued tones of the original spot lower on State, this location is all about brightness and cheer, with soft pink-washed walls picking up the ample sunlight that streams in through the windows that rise toward the high ceilings.

At the moment, the new location, which has a way bigger kitchen and much more airy space, is the primary news, as the menu is staying mostly the same. And that’s fine, because everything we ordered — and we did order everything on the evening’s limited menu — was just as deftly spiced and comfortingly satisfying as usual.

The wines are still extremely funky and obscure in style, at least compared to what most people, including myself, are accustomed to. But they do seem to pair with Indian cuisine, whose complex flavors can be tough for matching wines.

Expect a longer article to come.

Credit: Courtesy

S.L.O. Coasting Up to Paso

As you read this, I’m just getting back from a reporting mission up through the Santa Maria Valley, the S.L.O. Coast, and Paso Robles, where I visited CambriaOutwardChronic CellarsNenow Family, Linne Calodo, and Lopai in the span of about 36 hours, culminating in a dinner at the ever wondrous Inn Paradiso.

More on those visits later, but the biggest news from that stretch of the Central Coast in recent weeks was the purchase of Bassi Vineyard by Mikey and Gina Giugni, who own the brands Scar of the Sea and Lady of the Sunshine, from Mike Sinor, owner of Sinor-LaVallee.

All three have been friends of mine for years now — I even went to Mikey and Gina’s wedding — and I’ve been arguably the loudest promoter of the S.L.O. Coast on a national and regional scale for years. I was the first to write about the idea of the appellation, the first to write about its approval, and even just recently did this piece, involving Mikey, Gina, and Mike, about pairing S.L.O. Coast wines with regional seafood.  

So it’s no wonder that I learned about the sale way back in April, and I thought I’d get the chance to break the news. But that honor went to Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle, who, as usual, wrote a basically perfect piece about the transaction.

It’s a bit of a relief that I don’t have to do the story myself, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised and a bit bummed that it wasn’t me. Aside from my tiny violin, all signs suggest that this is a great development for the future of the SLO Coast, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

From Our Table

Jonesy’s Fried Chicken is now open in Goleta | Credit: Silas Fallstich

Here are some of my stories you may have missed:

  • Fried chicken lovers are lining up in Old Town Goleta for a taste of Jonesy’s Fried Chicken, which longtime chef-caterer and Goleta native Kyle Jones just opened. I’ve been twice now, and can’t wait for number three. They even have fried cauliflower this week for veggie lovers. Take a bite of my reporting here.

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