“Of course I love chocolates,” says SPAGnVOLA’s co-owner and head chocolatier, Crisoire Reid, as she brings some heavy cream to a boil.
She has just begun making a batch of her signature rosemary-olive-oil truffles in the kitchen downstairs from the booming bonbon boutique that she and her husband, co-owner Eric Reid, opened last year in Gaithersburg.
Racks of finished treats line one side of SPAGnVOLA (pronounced “spang-vola”), cacao-pod outlines are painted on the floor, and the rich scent of chocolate fills the air. Over the course of an average week, this hardworking Montgomery County confectioner might make 6,000-7,000 truffles, though she cranked out almost 60,000 last December in order to keep up with holiday demand.
Adding a sprig of fresh rosemary to the bubbling pot, Crisoire begins stirring slowly to help the flavor evenly infuse the cream.
“One day, I was at the grocery store and I smelled the rosemary,” she explains. “I immediately thought, ‘Oh, my god, maybe I can work this flavor into a chocolate,’ though you don’t expect to find that flavor in something sweet.”
A few minutes later, she strains out the herb and adds in a mound of hand-shaved chocolate, which turns the mixture a lustrous mahogany.
The process for making this chocolate began thousands of miles away. The cacao was raised on the Reids’ 3,200-acre mountain farm in the Hato Mayor region of the Dominican Republic.
The couple now divides their time between this sprawling venture and their home in Gaithersburg. Crisoire is a native of the Caribbean isle, and she met Eric when he was there on vacation in 1995. Their courtship was lightning fast; they were married less than a month later.
It turned out that they had a mutual love of the farming life. Ultimately, they bought the plantation that they still own today, which was already under cultivation. After trying their hand at everything from passion fruit to papaya, they realized their best bet was to concentrate on the cacao trees that occupied a small corner of their property.
The first plan was to simply sell the crop to a global chocolate company, but that proved to be more difficult than expected. So they shipped a few bags of cocoa beans back to the States and began experimenting with them in their basement.
Eric was an IT specialist with no culinary background, but Crisoire had worked as a baker back in her home country. She specialized in rum cakes and meringue-topped Dominican cakes, but she had never explored chocolate.
So, after self-educating themselves about chocolate-making as much as they could, the enterprising duo enrolled at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago to fine-tune their technique.
Now they import beans from their farm, which is still run by Crisoire’s extended family. Once the cacao is stateside, they transform it into five different chocolates: 70-, 75-, and 80-percent dark; a 62-percent semisweet; and a 54-percent milk. SPAGnVOLA sells bars and handmade chocolates from this tasty quintet, including the rosemary truffles the chocolatier is whipping up now.
She finishes her preparations by adding a final dash of rosemary olive oil, then pours the chocolate into a bowl and refrigerates it. Four hours later, patting her gloves in a mound of unsweetened cocoa powder, Crisoire takes a spoonful of the cool chocolate and rolls it between her palms until it’s a perfect ball. Placing it on the tray, she inspects her work.
“That’s just lovely,” she says before reaching for the spoon and starting all over again.
SPAGnVOLA is located at 360 Main Street in Gaithersburg. For more information, visit spagnvola.com.