Owner: Marguerite Swoboda
6 Chase St., South Portland, ME 04106
In business since: 2006
Chocolate philosophy: Bottom line, it’s all about the ingredients you use. We are constantly seeking to find better ingredients to include in our chocolates and it’s one area we won’t compromise on. I also think the use of salt is key. It amazes me how many chefs don’t realize how critical salt is in their dishes or confections.
Inspiration: I was looking for a career that would allow me to be more creative, while using my business skills and earning a living. I especially wanted to do something that made people happy. Working in the finance industry was stressful and I was tired of dealing with unhappy clients and unhappy co-workers. People smile at me a lot these days.
Training: I have a culinary arts degree but studied chocolate at Ecole Chocolat and took CIA’s Artisanal Chocolate course in Hyde Park.
Business profile: Our original business model has us selling retail only online and wholesaling throughout the country, primarily to small, boutique type shops. We are now looking at opening a retail/production space of our own in Portland, Maine in 2011. We make small-batch, handmade artisanal chocolates that are well-balanced in flavor and texture. We use very specific, single-origin chocolates, cream from a local farm, French-style butters, and the best all-natural ingredients we can find. Our packaging was designed specifically with gift-giving in mind. From the beginning, we wanted to produce a high-end product for the specialty market.
Pricing: All of our products are sold by the piece. We produce 5-, 12-, and 24-piece packages or sell the chocolates individually in bulk. Our suggested retail is $1.75 per piece and from $8 to $38 for the various box sizes.
Varieties: We have eleven chocolates in production currently. Six are considered part of our “classic” series and the other five are part of our “umami” series. Our one seasonal product is a salted crème caramel daisy that we sell throughout the spring. The daisies are individually wrapped in spring-colored foils and are produced from March through Mother’s Day. In addition, during the Valentine season, we change the ribbon on our boxes from blue to pink for several wholesale accounts. Our Classic series includes: Fleur de Sel Caramel, Strawberry Balsamic, Cashew Square, Café au Lait, Chile Star and Force Noir. The Umami series includes: Malted Bacon, Plum Sake, Sweet Potato Caramel, Sesame Square and Green Tea and Ginger.
Chocolate brands: Our dark chocolate is Cacao Barry Tanzanie. We use the Caoba and Icoa from El Rey for our milk and white chocolate.
Signature chocolate: Our signature chocolate is our Fleur de Sel Caramel. It is the first recipe I developed and has been the biggest seller from the beginning. It is a macadamia-nut caramel, enrobed in either dark or milk chocolate, then topped with a bit of Maine sea salt. We keep the caramel fairly soft and cook it to the edge of being burnt to deepen the flavor.
Most unique piece: Most of the chocolates in the Umami series are unique. The series includes a Malted Bacon chocolate that uses bacon fat for its flavor and is topped with bacon powder and smoked sea salt. My favorite in the series is the Sweet Potato Caramel which is a molded chocolate filled with a sweet potato and garam masala infused caramel. We add a bit of Panko to give the caramel some texture.
Personal favorite: My favorite will always be the Fleur de Sel chocolate. I developed it originally for my husband and myself, based on a salted macadamia turtle we once had. I generally don’t like very sweet treats and have always enjoyed salty-sweet things. I rarely use unsalted butter in baking — salt brings out flavor.
Shipping: Our products are shipped primarily through Periship. The company began by shipping lobsters and specializes in handling perishable items. All of their shipments are made through FedEx, but Periship monitors the shipments the entire way, rerouting and keeping us informed as necessary. In addition, we continue to look for the most economical, but best way, to package our chocolates and have them arrive in perfect condition.
How does your shop differ from others? Our goal is to continue our small, artisanal approach to our chocolates while operating and growing as a successful business. I grew up in a retail background and was in business and finance for 15 years. I believe I can continue to produce an uncompromising product while being successful financially.
Motto: Our tag line is “Our passions is making and sharing the finest handmade chocolates,” and that pretty much sums up how I feel.
True story: A couple of years ago, Isaac Mizrahi featured us on one of his web-i-sodes for Mother’s Day. My daughter was totally appalled when we were described as a family business from a small “farm” in Maine. My daughter in not particularly the outdoorsy type and although we are a family business, we live in an urban area and we do have indoor plumbing! We are lucky to be part of the Portland, Maine community which has more than one James Beard award winner and an insanely good food and restaurant scene.