Veteran dcfüd readers will have heard the name “Fleurir Chocolates” before. Our own JAY has mentioned some (http://www.dcfud.com/2011/10/12/fleurir-chocolate-tasting-friday-eve-at-biagio/) tastings (http://www.dcfud.com/2010/05/14/free-chocolate-tasting-may-20th/) held by the Fleurir team in the past. But I have a personal connection to the chocolates there, one I discovered only recently when I came across the proprietor of the Georgetown shop, a friend from college, on Facebook. Amazing how the kids are using this social networking thing these days, isn’t it?
Ashley Hubbard is the “Jill of all trades” at Fleurir Chocolates. She mans the store in Georgetown, while her husband, Robert Ludlow, runs the kitchen. Ludlow, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, spent some time as a restaurant chef, but found the hours and the lifestyle not to his liking. After working at Gearheart’s Fine Chocolates in Charlottesville, Ludlow took his new mastery of the chocolate art to the DC area. While they currently operate out of a small, one-room shop off of Wisconsin Avenue, with production done offsite, Ashley had some exciting news for me: they had just signed a lease on a location in Alexandria, where they will both produce and sell their chocolates. Anticipating a build-out of a few months, she told me that they hope to be settled in the new location in plenty of time for the holiday season.
Fleurir dubs their chocolates “hand-grown,” a slogan that Ashley told me is meant to emphasize the high quality of their ingredients and their near-manic dedication to their craft. I love chocolate, don’t get me wrong, but I have no idea what goes into making handmade chocolates special. The team uses Valrhona chocolate, a brand that I’ve heard touted by other gourmet dessert stores (Georgetown Cupcake, for one, prominently mentions Valrhona chocolate as an ingredient in many of its signature cupcakes).
What makes Fleurir’s products different, though, is the amazing artistry that goes into every single piece. It’s something I’ve never seen before in chocolate, and I’m a longtime buyer of truffles for my wife. I even know of a little store in Lexington, Virginia, that produces some of the finest truffles I’ve ever tasted – and in a Wall Street Journal taste test a few years back, they beat such illustrious competitors as Harry & David’s and Godiva. But Fleurir’s chocolates are the closest I’ve ever seen to works of art rendered in chocolate. (Admittedly, I do occasionally watch Top Chef: Just Desserts, but I’ve never seen a showpiece live).
While some of their chocolates are elegantly simple – their peanut butter-banana is enrobed in dark chocolate with a simple golden flourish on one corner, and their Irish coffee flavor is similarly covered in milk chocolate with some dark chocolate on the corner – their pieces come with floral art. Their Grand Marnier orange blossom comes with a tiny tree, painted delicately with cocoa butter on the surface of the chocolate. Their “85%” flavor, an incredibly dark chocolate, is dotted with flowers, while their Brandy Alexander shows blue and orange flowers mirrored, reminding me a bit of the characters in Pixar’s “Day & Night” short.
Yet the chocolates taste even better than they look. I bought a box of assorted flavors, which Ashley bagged up complete with cold pack to fight the heat on that warm Saturday. Their take on carrot cake, a white chocolate piece, was absolutely stunning, with a strong aroma of cake spice. Their lemon honey variety hits the palate with intense citrus flavor – I honestly wonder how they packed that much lemon flavor into a small piece of chocolate. But I think our favorite was their salted caramel. Finished with “Australian Murray River Sea Salt” according to the flavor booklet included in the box, the piece melts in your mouth with just a hint of saltiness to contrast with the rich caramel.
Fleurir has managed to elevate chocolate making beyond what I’ve ever envisioned. High-quality chocolate is something we can all appreciate, but making it into an art form dramatically exceeded my expectations. With the expansion to the Alexandria location (something on which I’ll definitely follow up in a few months), the business appears to be doing quite well. And while it might be a slow season for chocolates right now, this store is definitely on my radar for the holiday season. My wife helped me taste this assortment, so I won’t be able to surprise her, but I’ve got plenty of in-laws to think about!
Fleurir Chocolates is located at 3235 P St. NW. More information on the store (and online ordering) may be found at http://www.fleurirchocolates.com/.