A Taste of the Finer Things
"Next, we’re going to try something that has been giving me a hard time for a few years, but now I’m very happy with it,” Frederic Loraschi said as I bit into a delicate, delectable chocolate. “I will tell you what it is. It’s rum raisin, and after that, I will tell you a story about it.”
The only chocolate story in my repertory is the one about purging the freezer to stash a year’s supply of Girl Scout Thin Mints. When it comes to chocolate, I’m thoroughly American. There are chocolate bars, and there are, well, entire worlds of chocolate beyond our borders.
So, can a decidedly American palate learn to appreciate the nuances of specialty chocolates? To tease out the distinct essences of Mexican cocoa beans or recognize the quality of genuine caramel? Adventure Chick went sleuthing to find out.
Lower Paxton Township is home to award-winning, artisanal chocolatier, Frederic Loraschi. Loraschi is friendly, engaging and articulate about his art and passionate about excellence. The native of France started studying pastries at age 14, “back in the day when an apprenticeship was four years.”
“I spent four years scraping sheet pans, making pastry cream, mopping the floor and, in the process of doing that, being allowed to watch and sometimes being allowed to even touch a little bit of chocolate,” he told me.
In 2015, Loraschi moved his business from his basement to a pristine showroom and production facility just off Jonestown Road in Harrisburg. He provides specialty chocolates locally and for such distinguished clientele as 55 hotels nationwide (fredericloraschichocolate.com).
Loraschi and two aides, Krystina Cornell and Eduardo Torres, comprise the whole team making confections here. Cornell, a Keystone Technical Institute graduate with hopes of having her own bake shop or truck someday, was making chocolate molds. Torres came from Mexico to learn from Loraschi. He was making lustrous, luscious fruit jellies in such delightful flavor combinations as pear and poppy flower and strawberry-rhubarb.
Forrest Gump once said in a movie, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Loraschi says that great chocolate creations are like movies. Who’s the starring actor in each piece? Who’s supporting? He’s the director, nudging award-winning performances from each. A rich single-origin chocolate might get the star treatment, but in a coffee-chocolate pairing where coffee predominates, the chocolate “becomes the best supporting actor.”
“I’m trying to think of a good supporting actress,” he said.
Tilda Swinton, I suggested. He seemed to like that.
“Some chocolates are not Julia Roberts, but they’re still good chocolate,” he said. “It’s just they don’t have that character.”
The chocolatier’s job isn’t making the chocolate but choosing those products grown, fermented and roasted with the greatest expertise, Loraschi said. This time, his analogy is great paintings.
“When you buy a Van Gogh, do you really care what type of paint he used?” he asked. “The value is in the painting. When you buy these chocolates, you don’t buy a brand. You buy me. You buy the know-how. You buy the experience. I’m not here to tell you what chocolate is better. I let you decide.”
Loraschi set out a tray lined with delicacies. This will be much more fun than deciding between, say, broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
We started with a “very, very unique” bite crafted from the cocoa of a single Mexican plantation, certified-organic by strict European standards. This is a Julia Roberts chocolate, decidedly a star and strong but not bitter.
The feel was smooth, the flavor washing over the tongue.
“Yum,” I said. This would turn out to be the most eloquent thing I could find to say all day.
In one sample, the chocolate took a supporting role to the ganache – that’s the creamy filling – and its heavenly taste of Tahitian vanilla. Finally, a way to actually eat vanilla. Who wouldn’t want to eat vanilla?
“It’s sweet but not extremely sweet,” Loraschi said. “If it were extremely sweet, you wouldn’t taste the vanilla anymore.”
I’m starting to get this. Exaggerated sweetness overpowers the magnificent ingredients that travel the globe before arriving in Lower Paxton Township. The chocolate made with black tea and a hint of bergamot orange steps lightly, unlike the wham-bam orange-chocolate combos that come to your home as holiday hostess gifts.
It’s like makeup, Loraschi said. “Less is more. We just want to put in enough so it’s good, and you don’t want to overdo it.”
Another choice featured caramelized peanuts and sugar, ground into a paste “so the oil of the nut comes out and commingles with the caramel. Imagine a sweetened peanut butter. The ganache on top will be milk-chocolate ganache made with peanut butter from Valencia peanuts with a bit of sea salt.”
This one earned more than a yum. “Mmm,” I said. “Oh, my gosh, it tastes like peanuts. Awesome.” I think I licked my fingers.
We worked our way through chocolates flavored with cardamom, Turkish coffee-style and with lavender honey from France, because most local honey is wildflower-flavored. My favorite was the tangy chocolate made with yuzu, a Japanese citrus. Seems that one was a favorite of Loraschi, too. Score! My American palate can be redeemed!
Do I like sushi? Loraschi prodded me to guess the ingredient in one sample. Seemed familiar, but I just couldn’t give it a name. It was ginger. Of course! I love it with Ahi tuna. Never imagined I’d be eating it at a chocolate shop.
“This one here is really French,” he said while introducing another piece. “This is cassis and then something else. I’ll let you try it, and then tell you what it is.”
Oh, good. No more guessing. This mystery ingredient’s flavor blossomed over the tongue – appropriate, because the flavor was violets grown in France and turned into flower water in Grasse, the world capital of perfume.
“It’s very light,” said Loraschi. “If you put in a lot, then it becomes very soapy. You don’t want something soapy.”
Absolutely not. Too many memories of my mom washing out smart mouths with soap.
That rum raisin with a story behind it spoke of five years of effort, attempts that fell short and the relentless search for excellence. The rum flavor was distinct but, as always, not overpowering. Loraschi’s first versions sought that taste through liberal use of rum, but the heat of the alcohol dominated. Loraschi consulted a Spanish friend, a molecular gastronomy expert, who asked, “Have you thought about how your rum is made?”
Loraschi acquired a piece of French oak from the Puerto Rican maker’s rum barrels. He shaved the oak and infused it, with natural tobacco leaves, into the liquid for the ganache. The tobacco provides “that earthy tone,” and the rum flavor emerged from those tiny shavings.
“It took us five years to figure it out, and now, it’s right there,” he said. “You start somewhere, and you never stop revisiting.”
Maybe that’s the trick behind expanding a limited palate. Try. Revisit. Try again. Let each flavor, chocolate or pairing, have its moment in the spotlight. I’ll just have to keep on tasting.