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For The Love Of Chocolate

DALLAS — This time of year, Bonnie Andrews has a daunting task in front of her: testing pairings of chocolates and wine.   Andrews, the woman behind the tasty treats at Melting Pot Candy in Dallas, is preparing for a number of Valentine’s and February events — one at Willamette Valley Vineyards this weekend featuring the delectable combination of cocoa and vino. Photo by Jolene Guzman Bonnie Andrews, the owner of Melting Pot, identifies different flavors of truffles she makes in her Dallas kitchen.   “This is the best part of the job. I have a friend come over and I say ‘Now, we have to drink wine and eat chocolate,’” she said with a hearty laugh.    Valentine’s Day is Melting Pot’s second busiest time of year, behind the Christmas season. Coincidently, her birthday also falls on Valentine’s Day, but she doesn’t mind the extra hustle and bustle that comes with the holiday of love.    “That is what Valentine’s Day is about,” she explained. “I get great joy watching people’s faces when they try one of my chocolates.”   Around Valentine’s Day, truffles are the most popular, especially the for-the-chocolate-lover-only “decadent dark” truffle. She said her toffees seem to be an everyday treat, while people typically buy the truffles as gifts on special occasions, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas or Mother’s Day. Photo by Jolene Guzman Marsh Shadbolt of Cherry Country coats the chocolate cherry molds with milk chocolate last week in the farm’s kitchen, the first step in the candy making process.    Truffles and toffee are Melting Pot specialties, but in response to customer requests — more like pleading — Andrews is branching out into caramels this year. Her lemon and jalapeno — the flavor she made famous in her toffee — seem to be early hits.    “It’s like putting love in your mouth,” Andrews said, describing the buttery caramel flavor and smooth texture, paired with her unique flavors.    Americans will spend nearly $1.4 billion on candy this Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation, and Melting Pot won’t be the only Polk County candy maker trying to entice the chocolate lover.    Cherry Country of Rickreall, with its unique recipe for chocolate cherries — they are just that, chocolate and cherries, no sugary cream in the middle — see a healthy bump in sales this time of year. So strong are sales that Cherry Country has released a special Valentine’s Day recipe and heart-themed packaging. Photo by Jolene Guzman Along with its normal candy boxes, Cherry Country makes special heart-shaped and heart-themed packaging for its popular candy selections around Valentine’s Day.   Cherry Country uses different varieties of dried cherries to make milk chocolate and dark chocolate cherries and popular cherry-pistachio bark. Cherry Country created a special cinnamon almond and cherry chocolate bark about four years ago for Valentine’s Day, which has remained a hit.    “It’s certainly a welcome boost at a time of year when sales are declining after Christmas,” Cherry Country co-owner Mike Shadbolt said. “People have been consuming a lot and are trying to cut back, so it’s kind of a welcome boost around Valentine’s Day.” Photo by Jolene Guzman Hazelnut, cherry and chocolate bark is a ­limited edition at Cherry Country.   Like Melting Pot, Cherry Country sees its strongest sales during the Christmas season. But it was still all-hands-on-deck for Valentine’s Day orders and events, including the same chocolate and wine event Andrews will be attending.   Andrews was busy Monday, in the midst of preparing literally thousands of chocolates for sale and events.    “I’ve got to get a lot of candy done,” she said, “but it makes people happy and I like making people happy. I like sharing my birthday with them.”

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