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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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Mayana Chocolate brings a sweet spot to Spooner

Chocolate is intoxicating. Even before the first taste melted in my mouth, I can vividly remember wafting waves of warm chocolate being exhaled from The Ambrosia Chocolate Factory. I became immersed in that scent, like being bathed in a pool of warm liquid cocoa. 

Chocolate is sentimental. It’s a favorite flavor for traditional birthday/holiday goodies like ice cream, cake and countless branded cookies/candies that meld with emotions from the events they are consumed at. The dreamy delight is also a symbol of love and affection when given as a gift to that someone special. 

Chocolate is versatile. It can be enjoyed hot, cold, frozen, solid or liquid. Heck, molecular gastronomy has probably found a way to use chocolate as a gas. 

Chocolate can be consumed or enjoyed topically in body lotions. Its scent is used in candles, perfumes and colognes. Its hue is utilized for shades of paint, makeup and fabric. Chocolate even describes a breed of beloved dog – the Chocolate Lab. And it’s antioxidants and flavonoids are utilized for their health benefits in supplements, powders and vitamins.

Chocolate is necessary. For indulgers and dieters alike, just a tiny square broken off a bar or individually unwrapped will often satiate the sweetest of teeth. 

Life without chocolate? Not sure that is a scenario I’m willing to negotiate.

And now, chocolate is local to Spooner. Situated in the upper northwest corner of Wisconsin, almost five hours from Milwaukee, a road trip may be in order to discover Wisconsin’s newest culinary treasure – Mayana Chocolate.

"Mayana" means "the future" in Spanish, and if these morsels of layered delicate flavor are an indication, the future of Mayana Chocolate is very sweet indeed. 

Conceived and run by husband and wife team, Daniel and Tamara Herskovic, who moved to Spooner following Tamara’s parents relocation there.

Award-winning Mayana Chocolate utilizes artisan ingredients tempered into artistic and scrumptiously delicious, sophisticated truffles. And with Christmas around the corner and Valentine’s Day looming next, what better treat for a sweetie or thoughtful gift for a co-worker, boss or friend than an impressive box of edible art created right in Wisconsin?

I discovered Mayana Chocolate through my infatuation with health food (raw food chef, Jess Rice of My Poor Tired Liver referred me after I discovered she was taking a trip to Wisconsin to visit her family – who happened to be Mayana Chocolate!) which only makes sense, since chocolate has many touted health benefits and therefore definitely falls into my personal area of interest.

Mayana Chocolate was generous enough to send me samples of their delectable treats made by hand, personally by the Herskovics right in Spooner – which I sampled with great enthusiasm. 

You see, even for a health nut like me, eating chocolate as special as Mayana is a part of balanced diet. You don’t need an overload of quantity to be contented. The concentrated flavors, highest quality ingredients and balanced notes make the experience of eating a single bonbon a satiating and special treat.

I was sent all three Mayana Artisan Candy Bars and their 16-piece Collection to sample. 

The Candy Bars take three days to make and feature Mayana’s slow cooked Fleur de Sel caramel. The bars are nested into an actual box, boldly adorned with Mayana’s festive color scheme of chocolate brown, yellow and teal. A window cutout presents the shapely treats and bares just enough of the beautiful designs that decorate these confections to woo you to immediately tear open the awaiting luxury. 

The Space Bar won me over with it’s mix of toasted almond nougat, caramel and 66 percent dark chocolate. Not even in the same hemisphere as say, a Mars Bar – this Candy Bar is light in texture, perfectly delicate and surprisingly – not overly sweet. Nor is the fleur de sel caramel too salty. The balance of flavors is flawless with notes of freshly toasted, crunchy almonds punctuating this uncommon candy bar. 

My gluten intolerance kept me from trying the other two varieties personally, but my taste testers exclaimed, "This is heaven!" upon The Fix Bar being masticated and "Holy crap – this is the candy bar I’ve always dreamed of!" through a mouthful of The Kitchen Sink.

My job (which I know everyone is now envious of) of sampling continued on to the 16-Piece Collection of truffles, which immediately struck me as the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates the finer things of the culinary world, but also would be a classy gesture for your boss or a co-worker. 

This collection is also a very special way to say, "I love you and appreciate you." The box is lavishly decorated with the same splashes of color as the candy bar packaging and punctuated with a red bow; each truffle nestled into its pocket like an edible work of art. 

Mayana chocolates are truly so esthetically gorgeous that it almost a shame to eat them, but somehow their beauty adds to their flavor – to the experience of consuming them.

Upon opening the box, you are enticed by a yellow invitation of sorts, a menu-map of the jewels you are about to reveal beneath "Tiffany" blue tissue paper.

We started with the Mayan Spice and were transported on a flavor ride ensconced with mild warmth and velvety cocoa in a single bite. How we chose where to go next was a thrilling ride. 

The caramel and cocoa nib praline? The peanut ginger nougatine and 75 percent Tanzanian ganache? Pistachio rose? Yuzu-Matcha green tea? Or perhaps we would savor the more subdued, classic Toasted coconut or mint-dark chocolate? 

Eventually, we tried them all, but The Passion Fruit Heart, adorned in shiny ombre red to white, cried out for me to taste her. Having feasted on fresh passion fruit in tropical climates, I have to gush; this encapsulation captured the caviar-like fruit in all it’s glory, blanketed by the silkiest chocolate. 

I could give you a play by play of the entire box, but the bottom line is that each intricately decorated and thoughtfully composed truffle is a journey of expertly entwined flavors. And get the idea of the traditional heavy, sugar laden lumps of chocolate they call truffles at the mall out of your mind. These truffles are celebrations of spice, not overpowered by sweetness and each piece is so light and subtle that consuming the entire box could not be sinful.

Mayana is currently available online and at select retailers in Wisconsin including The Patio Place in Thiensville, Vintage in Elkhart Lake and Northwind Book and Fiber in Spooner – but, not in Milwaukee yet. However, Mayana would love to have a chocolate presence in the city soon.

Want to know more about what it takes to be a chocolatier in Wisconsin? Then, read my interview with Tamara and Daniel Herskovic below. 

Lindsay Garric: I understand the Mayana Chocolate Story from your site, but please tell me more about you ended up in Spooner. Do you have family here

Tamara and Daniel Herskovic: Tamara's family took summer vacations in Spooner when she was little kid all the way through college. When we got married, Tamara's parents moved to Spooner and we went to visit. Little did we know we'd both love being up there together. In the summer we bike, hike and camp. In the winter, we snow shoe and cross country ski. We love North West Wisconsin's nature and friendliness. It's like a big playground that keeps us inspired.

LG: I love that Mayana Chocolate is manufactured in Spooner. How big of an operation is it? Please tell me more of the day-to-day details. 

TH: We relocated our manufacturing facility from Chicago to Spooner in July 2013. We are a small operation. Most days there are only Tamara and Daniel working full time with the addition of a few awesome part-time folks.

Every other day we look at our production schedule and see where Tamara needs to be: office or kitchen. Whereas Daniel seems to do office work in the morning and chocolate production during the day. We make our own caramel and ganaches. We package each chocolate by hand. We tie each ribbon by hand. There's a lot of love that goes into our product.

LG:  Would you say you are both chocolatiers then? Do you both have a hand in the design and packaging? 

TH: Daniel has been trained in savory, pastry and chocolate and all at different stages in his career. He's the chocolatier for sure. Tamara's background is in interior architecture and event planning. She does everything from package design and development, customer service, production scheduling to enrobing and decorating the chocolates and packaging. As small business owners we love that we can work together and have a hand in it all.

LG:  Please tell me more about the delectable 16-piece signature box of truffles. Will that always be carried or is it seasonal / limited edition? Will every flavor always be available? 

TH: Our 16-piece collection is what started it all. That's what got us declared "Best Chocolates, Chicago" by the Chicago Reader and all of our other accolades. The flavors stay the same and are always available ... or until Daniel decides to go a different direction which we can assure you would be just as amazing.  

LG: What is the one thing that sets Mayan Chocolate apart and makes it special? 

TH: Daniel is a culinary chef who knows his flavor combinations and has a great sense of what people want to eat. He takes chocolate seriously and infuses it with his culinary talent. 

LG: The health benefits of chocolate have been touted and you use ingredients with the highest integrity. Are there any chocolates you have formulated with health benefits in mind? A truffle with a potent combination of flavonoids and spices / herbs perhaps that has specific benefits? And on that note, do you carry any gluten-free or lower sugar chocolates or are there plans for these? 

TH: The Mayan Spice bonbon is a true classic with its dark chocolate, cinnamon and ancho chile. That flavor combination enhances a fire in the belly and soul. Most of the bonbons are gluten-free unless they have praline listed in the description. The Space Bar is completely gluten-free. We use local organic honey in our nougat. We use local organic cream as well. 

LG: What is your personal favorite Mayana item? Do you eat at least one piece every day? 

TH: We like them all! Our favorite bonbons are the Mayan spice, raspberry lime and sumatra coffee. The candy bars are amazing and we couldn't pick a favorite if we tried. We need to taste our product in different stages of the cooking process so some, if not all, enters our mouths every day.

LG: Has living in Wisconsin inspired any new recipes? (Cranberry? Door County cherry? Chocolate and cheese go together, right?) 

TH: We placed local organic cranberries into our Space Bar candy bar during the fall / cranberry season. We are definitely always thinking of new flavor combinations especially when we're so close to the source of amazing ingredients!

LG: What does the future look like for Mayana?

TH: Sweet! We want to pull our other passions into the world of chocolate by providing artisan hot chocolate during the American Birkebeiner (a 50-kilometer cross country ski race that Daniel is skiing for the first time this February.) Tamara is a yogi and excited at the prospect of pairing chocolate and chakras. As long as we are passionate about life the possibilities are endless. 

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