Chocolate on Them Thar Plains
There’s gold in them thar hills….
Well, actually, more like chocolate on them thar plains.
The plains of Minnesota, that is. (Who knew Minnesotans could make chocolate? Juuust kidding. Some of my best friends are Minnesotans. Really.)
Brian self-describes as “just a kid from the Plains” who was a “born foodie.” Hailing from Northfield, Minnesota, he practically grew up in his grandmother’s farm kitchen, which came complete with a potager just steps away from the back door. Says Brian:
“The farm was in southern Minnesota – Lake Crystal to be exact – which is close to Mankato and New Ulm. They ran 80 acres, raised poultry, hogs, and sheep for wool. They grew soybeans and corn. But … [there was] 2 acres of garden, and picking eggs every morning was what got me started on real food from about age 5 until I was a teen. I visited many weekends and spent at least two weeks there in the summer. They raised decorative gourds and what is now called festive corn that they gave us to sell in my hometown of Northfield.“
In pursuit of this passion, he got his educated from the California Culinary Academy (CCA), where he was introduced to European confectionery by Master Patissier/Confisier Denis Martig and was instructed in European pastry and chocolate handling techniques. After CCA, he spent 18 years as a chef at hotels, country clubs and a five star restaurant or two in both Minnesota and California; examples include Nicollet Island Inn and Interlachen Country Club. It was during these years that Brian realized his true passion and obsession: the re-invention of classic dishes through the art of flavor harmonization. (Note: The B.T. McElrath Chocolatier kitchens are housed in the original General Mills/Betty Crocker R & D lab space.) The rest is history: he is now the Founder and Chocolatier of B.T. McElrath Chocolatier, Inc., a venture which he started in 1996 with business partner Rick Shaeffer and his wife and business partner Christine, who’s the Visual Designer and Chief Taster, (the story of how Brian and Christine met involves peas, carrots and ice cubes). They incorporated the biz in June of 1997; Brian’s been working 16-hour days ever since (well, at least often). For passionate obsessions will do that to you, dear hedonists.
His product line consists of truffles and the ever-popular 3 oz. bars (which currently retail for $4.95 at Metro Market). The Salty Dog bar – consisting of 70% dark chocolate, butter toffee, and sea salt – has taken on a life of its own and has become the cornerstone of Brian’s product line. Other interesting bar flavors include the Prairie Dog (40% milk chocolate, butter toffee, toasted almond, and sea salt), the Passion Fruit and Tangerine Bar (passion fruit and tangerine infusions into a blend of white and dark chocolate), and the Chile Limón Bar (chilies and lime infusions into a blend of white and dark chocolate). The bars are swirled and not thoroughly mixed, for an attractive marbled effect.
After a few complimentary samples, I determined my fav is his seasonal truffle line, which come in boxes containing five pieces: I had to pick up a box of his spring and summer seasonal Lemon Blossoms, which are gorgeous (and tasty) flower-shaped truffles made of a center of lemon buttercream (that’s made with actual lemons) enveloped with a marbled dark chocolate and yellow-colored cocoa butter ribbons ($9.95 at Metro Market, or $10.95 online) and I’ve since returned for a couple of boxes of his seasonal Peanut Butter Pavé, which consists of 70% cacao dark chocolate wrapping up a blend of peanut butter and white chocolate ($9.95 at Metro Market, or $10.95 online). The peanut butter is rich, nutty, and creamy, but not overly sweet. Although a few of his ingredients – colors, oils, etc. – might seem artificial and unnecessary, he’s truly an innovator who supports the local food suppliers. In other words, his end creations just might justify the means….
Brian is also working on his fall and winter holiday seasonal products, which include a Sweet Potato Pavé made up of white chocolate ganache, sweet potato, and spices and a carmelized Cranberry Pavé consisting of a tart, cranberry ganache complete with a layer of cranberry meltaway. Both of these anticipated tasties will arrive enrobed in 70% dark chocolate. He is also planning a new look to his 9-piece assorted boxed truffles, both all-dark and all-milk chocolate offerings ($15.00 at metro Market, or $18.95 online). (Note: all of his packaging is produced from Sustainable Forestry Initiative materials.)
So go satisfy your sweet tooth with this golden chocolate … while leaving a lighter footprint on the planet, to boot.