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Alma Chocolates Built from Latin Roots and Love of Food
By Amanda Hoelzeman
Portland-based confections company Alma Chocolates was named after founder Sarah Hart’s grandmother, Alma Hart, who taught Sarah how to bake pies and to nourish others through a love of good food. In Spanish, Alma means “soul” and “to nurture.” Pair that with the Latin root for chocolate, which translates to “food of the Gods,” and you’ve got a solid name for a company whose top priority is to stir and nourish the souls of its consumers through blissfully decadent treats.
Hart began dabbling in chocolate making in 2004, as she sought an alternative to chocolate bunnies, many of which were waxy, tacky and often unpalatable.
With the help of Chef Ian Titteron, the original Moonstruck chocolatier, Hart learned all the ins and outs of chocolate making. She began creating molded chocolate “icons,” sculptures of religious and cultural figures that were hand-gilded with 23-karat gold leaf. She paired her newly learned chocolate skills with her existing business savvy, and in 2005, Alma Chocolates was born.
After selling her chocolate icons at a local Farmers Market (where she still has a Saturday booth), Hart opened the chocolate shop in 2006 and has since hired additional talented chocolatiers to develop new recipes and to keep up with the growing demand for the company’s sweet, sometimes salty and savory treats.
Alma Chocolates currently produces about 12-15 types of chocolate bon bons a year, plus toffees, bars, mini-bars, candied nuts, baked goods, caramel sauces and, of course, the company’s signature gilded icons. Alma has been recognized in a number of publications, including Sunset magazine, Bon Appetit, USA Today, Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, The Oregonian and more, and has been named the rising star in the “Next Generation Chocolatier” awards. This year they’re up for a Good Foods award as well.
Read more about Alma Chocolates’ soul-stirring treats in an exclusive interview below.
TREATSIE: What were you doing before you plunged into the confections business?
ALMA CHOCOLATES: Previously I was a mom, writer, literature/writing instructor, and I worked in restaurants – often all of them simultaneously!
T: Tell us more about the ingredients you use.
AC: Our ingredients are the best and we have an incredibly sensitive and well-balanced palate. We source locally as much as possible (Jacobsens’s sea salt, Sundance lavender, Freddie Guy’s hazelnuts, plus local dairy, honey and seasonal fruit).
T: What are your most popular flavors?
AC: Our Salted Lavender Caramel is number one; the Habanero Caramel, Thai Peanut Butter Cup and Salted Peanut Butter Cup vie for second place.
T: How did you get the idea for the Thai Peanut Butter Cup and the Lavender Sea Salt Caramels that are in this month’s Treatsie box?
AC: The Thai Peanut Butter cups were born from a challenge for a national chocolate competition that profiled salted chocolates. I was thinking about a Thai saté sauce and how beautifully the salty, spicy, sweet flavors of coconut, chile, salt and lime would go with chocolate. I thought that if you took out the garlic/onion and went sweet, it would be amazing. And it was! That flavor was picked by The Oregonian for the years’ “best bite.”
The lavender caramel just “made sense.” Lavender, when used with balance, actually compliments the caramel and makes it taste more caramel-ey. And salt intensifies everything. We were on the early end of the salted caramel trend, so it seemed cutting-edge at the time! Now it is our bestseller because it is just perfect.