by Dave Straub, Cordata Produce
Chocolate Necessities makes high-quality chocolate bars, truffles, and charming chocolate figurines in its Bellingham facility.
Photos by Wyeth Stiles and Habiba Sial
Inside the Chocolate Factory
In a drab business park out the Guide Meridian, among all the sheet metal siding, one unassuming door reads, Chocolate Necessities. I passed through this door and, as if by Narnian portal, found myself in a European-style chocolaterie shop, the air inside dominated by the aroma of chocolate.
Kevin Buck, the owner, led me to the source of the smell. We navigated a maze of racks stacked with thousands of truffles and emerged in his workshop where four large machines churned vats of melted chocolate.
the brisk snap gave way to a silky texture after a few chews
This process of tempering controls the crystallization of cocoa butter, he explained, resulting in a firm glossy chocolate that snaps when bitten and melts near body temperature. I had previously eaten a Chocolate Necessities dark chocolate bar and delighted in how the brisk snap gave way to a silky texture after a few chews. These machines and a little science are the reason.
Meet Kevin Buck
Buck, who has a white goatee and the look of someone perpetually busy but content, talks about his journey into the chocolate business like an international adventure story.
He first tasted couverture chocolate in Canada and immediately realized it to be superior to commercially produced candy bars in the United States.
Chocolate as Culinary Art
This discovery led him to Belgium where the Callebaut factory produces some of the finest couverture chocolate in the world. They also buy only sustainably grown cocoa beans and work directly with co-ops in West Africa to ensure farmers receive a livable wage. Here Buck learned firsthand how to work with chocolate as a medium of culinary art. This knowledge, combined with passion, sealed Buck’s fate.
“He came home to Bellingham and began what has now been a 34-year career “driving after the ultimate in taste experience,” as Buck puts it.
Passion to Create a Unique Flavor Experience
He scours the world for unique chocolates and flavors to pair them with. A recent creation by chocolatier Nicole Robillard combined the delicate Japanese flavor of yuzu citrus with ganache and dark chocolate.
These flavor experiences have created a cult following.
Dedicated patrons return every week to see what’s new. Years ago, Buck combined a Cuban chocolate with Tahitian vanilla and people still talk about it to this day.
The dark chocolate espresso bar might be my favorite. The aroma of hazelnuts in
the filling lifted the flavors of chocolate and coffee in a way I’d never experienced before.
Buck loves his job. “It’s the perfect mix of creativity, hard work, and a little snobbery,” he said. “I like nice things.”
Chocolate Hearts for Valentine's Day
Chocolatier Nicole Robillard works behind-the-scenes at Chocolate Necessities making chocolate hearts for Valentine’s Day. Nicole and owner Kevin Buck said Christmas is the busiest season in the chocolate biz, but if they could extend Valentine’s Day to run for two weeks, like the winter holidays, it would easily eclipse Christmas.
Chocolate Appreciation 101
Bellingham prides itself on appreciating the nuances of flavor. Words like IBU, terroir, and mouthfeel get tossed around in the seemingly endless number of microbreweries, espresso bars, and wine shops that have sprung up to provide unique taste experiences.
But what about chocolate?
Cacao in its many forms possesses just as many nuances when sourced and prepared thoughtfully.
Chocolate Necessities provides this service for those who are in the know, but Buck is the first to admit he flounders at marketing.
A chocolate lover must seek out or stumble upon his chocolate creations at one of his shops or in the aisles of the Co-op, which is where I found their bars, subtly but elegantly wrapped among all the other chocolate we sell. In a way, I find this adds to the excitement of feeling like you’ve discovered something unique.
Discover your Favorite Creation
One Chocolate Necessities creation I found at the Co-op was filled with port-infused ganache. After the chocolate began to fade, fruity notes danced around my tongue and the oaky smell of a port lingered in my nose.
Cacao is in the plant genus Theobroma, which comes from the Greek words for “food of the gods.” Culinary artists like Buck begin with something divine and make it better.
Learn more at the Chocolate Necessities website or take a tour! Chocolate Necessities owner, Kevin Buck, enjoys welcoming the public to his tasting room at 4600 Guide Meridian (at Horton Street). He gladly chats with folks about chocolate, his production process, and shares a tasting experience so visitors can learn what makes his chocolates so divine.