Sunday, January 26, 2014

Obsessivesweets and the Chocolate Factory: Visiting Diane Pinder of Donna & Company

 donna toscana balsamic truffle. photo courtesy of donna & company.

Stepping into the New Jersey chocolate factory of Donna & Company, the delicious brainchild of chocolatier Diane Pinder, feels a lot like stepping into a pristine scientific laboratory. The gleaming metal appliances remind the visitor both of Pinder's roots as a critical care nurse as well as of her exacting attention to detail in creating her mind-blowing chocolate truffles, caramels and candy bars. Frankly, though, this is more than science; this is chocolate alchemy!
 vanilla grapefruit truffle. photo courtesy of donna & company.
Diane actually manages three separate chocolate lines under the Donna & Company umbrella, each focusing in on a different vein of chocolate connoisseurship. After studying chocolate-making in Tuscany, Diane introduced the Donna Toscana line, hand-molded and colored chocolate truffles, caramels, and candy bars infused with rich olive oils and balsamic.

During our visit, Diane urged me to try myriad exotic chocolates and caramels. I had never experienced any of these combinations of flavor- mini flavor revolutions. From the Donna Toscana line, I tested the classic Olive Oil and Sea Salt Truffle, the Balsamic Truffle and the Red Raspberry Wine Truffle.

I ate a Carrot Cake Truffle that blew my mind. (Truly. And these are not chemically-induced flavors. Diane infuses the cream center with pure organic carrot juice, raisins, toasted walnut, and cinnamon.)

We tasted a new bite Diane concocted for her seasonal Valentine's Day chocolate mix, a Vanilla Grapefruit Truffle. At the center of the milk chocolate heart lies a combination of white chocolate and heavy cream infused with vanilla bean, fresh grapefruit juice, and a splash of bitter Campari. 

cocoabee blood orange and almond caramel. photo courtesy of donna & company.

The CocoaBee line consists of chocolate-covered caramels that employ honey from New Jersey apiaries rather than corn syrup. I taste-tested the Blood Orange and Almond Honey Caramel and it constituted one of those rare flavor epiphanies. The honey gives such a warm depth to the caramel and the layers hit your tongue one at a time, each stealing the spotlight from the last element. First you are struck by the rich honey, then the buttery caramel, and then tendrils of the blood orange infused through the caramel begin to drift to the fore. Finally, you bite down on a solitary almond at the center of the bonbon, bringing the entire piece together with a resounding crunch.

 fundamental chocolate line. photo courtesy of donna & company.

Diane's third and newest line is called Fundamental. Based on the paleo-diet, Diane is going into uncharted territory here with chocolate made of three simple ingredients and nothing else. She uses organic cocoa butter, organic cacao from South America, and gathers honey from local apiaries. That's it. The chocolate recipe is that simple, but the process is a trade secret. There's Simply Chocolate as well as the portioned chocolate slabs with additional dried raspberries or pistachio and sea salt on top. They're all good although I was partial to the Real Raspberry variety. The unsweetened raspberry provides the perfect kiss of tartness to the bite. This is really smooth decadent chocolate and it melts so quickly in your mouth it feels more like a fudge than solid chocolate bar.

Diane is garnering more and more fans with her imaginative chocolates. She won a number of top prizes in the 2012 International Chocolate Salon Awards: 3rd Place in Top Luxury Caramel; 2nd Place in Top Chocolate Bar; and 1st Place in Top Chocolate Bar. Talk about bragging rights! Edible New Jersey Magazine also named Diane as 2010 Local Hero. Diane doesn't seem to let any of these accolades go to her head. She's too busy working on her next new flavor combination.... I can't see what she comes up with next!

Donna & Company Website

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous sounding experience. Mini flavor revolutions? You were obviously inspired because I never heard chocolate described this way. I went to her website, and I can't believe that her works of art are so REASONABLY PRICED! Chocolate alchemy indeed! I want to try the blood orange one and the carrot truffle. Wow!