The best ingredients make the best chocolates according to Norwalk chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt, and if you’re going to give chocolates for Valentine’s (or any other occasion), you’ll want the best.
Knipschlidt has been creating exotic chocolate confections in Norwalk for over 20 years. Looking like jewels in their elegant boxes, they are colorful or monochrome, square or round, truffles or bonbons — all done up in milk or dark chocolate.
The unexpected flavors are remarkable. There’s rosemary infused caramel, strawberry and lemon thyme, pickled green peppercorn in white chocolate with black lava salt, and lemon-marzipan.
Tangerine and ancho chili is just one example of Knipschildt’s flavor magic. In the first bite, citrusy tangerine washes across your tongue. Just when you think he left out the chili, it sneaks up like a discrete tap on the shoulder. The two flavors mingle but fruity heat dominates the long finish.
More traditional flavors include caramel in 71% Ecuadorian dark chocolate with Hawaiian sea salt – an elegant riff on the classic salted caramel; mint infused white chocolate; dark chocolate ganache in dark chocolate; and hazelnut in milk chocolate.
Knipschildt also produces a selection of chocolate bars ($8-10). The best seller is dark chocolate with burnt caramel and Hawaiian sea salt. I think toffee sea salt pretzel in 72% chocolate is my favorite, but elderberry-lemon peel and fig and honey are in contention.
I asked Knipschildt his preference for milk or dark chocolate. “Dark of course.” What percentage? “70%,” he replied. Since that’s my fave too (I’m good for a couple bars a week), I asked him to recommend one of the popular brands. Instead, he emphasized the quality difference between everyday chocolate and the high-quality product he makes.
“You can’t have excellent chocolate without top-quality ingredients,” he said. He went on to explain that the source of the beans is crucial. Are they shade grown? How are they harvested and roasted? Where are they from? These are some of the factors that make up the best chocolate beans. Knipschildt relies principally on sources in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea.
Beyond the beans he insists on fresh milk and butter and only uses the most natural flavorings. Great ingredients and careful attention to process yields the best flavor and texture.
Knipschildt and his small crew make the chocolates by hand in his Norwalk kitchen. It’s a painstaking process of making the flavored ganache centers, molding the chocolate shapes, and then sealing the bottom.
As a young man in Odense, Denmark Knipschildt trained as a chef in culinary school and then worked in restaurants across Europe. He came to the U.S. to work at the famous Le Chateau in South Salem and then opened his own chocolate business at the turn of the century.
Ken Skovron of Darien Cheese has collaborated with Knipschildt on a series of liquor-based truffles. Knipschildt married The MaCallan 12, Sherry Cask single malt (Skovron’s favorite) with dark chocolate truffle and an Ecuadorian exterior. “Incredibly good,” is Skovran’s assessment. They’ve also collaborated on truffles flavored with Westford Hill Distillers’ pear and kirsch eau-de-vie. “Fritz is super talented — an encyclopedia of flavors,” according to Skovron.
Ask about the truffles next time you’re in the cheese shop. Skovron recommends the Isle of Mull cheddar from Scotland with the McCallan truffles. “The cows are fed spent grain from a nearby distillery which lends the cheese a distinct tang,” he said. “The pear truffles are a great match with English Stilton,” he went on to say. Either matchup would be a distinctive finale to a Valentine’s dinner.
Knipschildt explained that appreciating high quality chocolate is just like tasting fine wine, coffee, or cheese. Consider the color, aroma, texture, and finally flavor. Those factors combine for a satisfying, intriguing, and complex experience with nuance and a long finish. He gave me a sample of a 70% chocolate from a west-coast supplier that was richly dark and creamy on my tongue with a decidedly fruity character and lively, lingering tropical fruit aroma.
“It’s important to match the character of the chocolate with the final product,” he explained. For a dark chocolate truffle, the chocolate should have the most interesting and complex profile. For a flavored truffle, a less assertive chocolate will let the other ingredients shine though.
Knipschildt chocolate truffles and bars are available at local stores including Stewart’s Market in New Canaan, The Village Market in Wilton, Balducci’s, Garelic and Herbs, as well as Harbor Market in East Norwalk. Of course they’re at Darien Cheese, as well as next door at Aux Delices in the Goodwives Shopping Center. Don’t want to go out? Order from the Knipschildt website, chocopologie.com or on the Williams Sonoma website where he has a long-time presence.
A twenty-five piece collection ($60) includes all the standard flavors. Always popular salted caramels come in boxes of six (16) or twelve (25). Bars in a stunning array of flavors are $8 to $10.
For Valentine’s Day classic heart-shaped boxes of assortments come in twenty nine pieces (55) or fourteen (35). Six packs of Salted Burnt Caramel Bonbons or Passionfruit & Ancho Chili Bonbons (20), are all featured on the Knipschildt website.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.