With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to check out the sweet temptations from The Chocolate Stache. Available at winery tasting rooms and specialty shops around the Central Coast, the handcrafted chocolates are made specifically to pair with wine, beer and even craft cocktails.
The name coalesced around the concepts of “stashing your chocolate, and that mustaches are really in right now,” explained Kellymarie Otto, who launched the Paso Robles-based company in 2014 with her husband, Nick Otto. Both are second-generation San Luis Obispo County natives, and grew up in the North County — Atascadero and Templeton, respectively — before meeting, marrying and starting their own family.
The Chocolate Stache began, like many such ventures, as more of a hobby, Kellymarie said. “We really enjoy food and wine pairings.”
That may be a bit of an understatement. Nick is kitchen manager at Vic’s Café in Paso Robles and previously served as sous chef at Villa Creek Restaurant Bar in Paso Robles, and his wife has been a restaurant server and worked in wineries “from production to tasting room to lab rat and back to tasting room,” she said.
While her husband’s palate is often called into play for the enviable job of taste testing and flavor suggestions, Kellymarie handles most of the company’s operations.
The process starts with tempering the bulk chocolate — melting it before creating the final product so the chocolate will set up glossy and smooth.
While the chocolate is melted, the additional ingredients are added, and the resulting mixture is poured into molds. Options include the signature mustache shapes, hearts and chunks of chocolate.
The packaging is done by hand one bag at a time, from heat sealing to labeling.
Currently, all the production takes place in the Ottos’ kitchen under a Cottage Food Operation Class B Permit, but the goal is to move into a commercial kitchen.
All The Chocolate Stache flavors have suggested pairings — though you’re certainly welcome to come up with your own. The Salted Dark Chocolate pairs with any favorite wine, while some pairings are more specific.
Raspberry Chipotle Dark Chocolate goes with syrahs and syrah blends. Apricot Champagne White Chocolate goes with white Rhône wines, and Mexican Hot Chocolate pairs with port.
As for beers, try the Hot Salty Nuts with porters or stouts.
Spirits can get into the mix as well. For a recent private event, The Chocolate Stache created white chocolate-dipped raspberries and blackberries to pair with a champagne pomegranate mule and dark chocolate-dipped dried figs with maple salt for a bacon bourbon cocktail.
“There’s really an exponential number of flavors, and we’re always coming up with new ones,” Kellymarie said.
To commemorate the recent birthday of Wilbur Scoville, developer of the scale used to measure the heat of chili peppers, The Chocolate Stache came up with a fiery flavor combo of chipotle, cayenne, jalapeño oil, hot chili oil and scorpion chili salt with 60-percent cacao dark chocolate.
The Chocolate Stache also develops goodies that pair specifically with a particular winery’s wines.
“I’ll go in beforehand, taste the wines and get a list of which might work,” Kellymarie said. “Then we’ll work up pairings.”
Two of the chocolates the company created for MCV Wines in Morro Bay are a Peach Pear Ginger White Chocolate to match the 2014 Viognier and a Cinnamon Pistachio Smoked Salt Dark Chocolate to pair with the 2013 Red.
Among the other wineries that showcase The Chocolate Stache’s treats are August Ridge Vineyards in Templeton and Parrish Family Vineyard and Pianetta Winery in Paso Robles. The chocolates are also available at Summerwood Winery & Inn in Paso Robles, where Kellymarie works part time.
Running a company — especially one that’s gained such a following as The Chocolate Stache — is not without its challenges. However, there’s one aspect of this business that’s priceless.
“Because it’s still pretty flexible, I’m able to spend a lot of time with our two kids,” Kellymarie said.
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.