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Food, Shop Local

Claire Miller and the Gift of Cacao 

Claire Miller fulfilling local orders. Photos by Saori Wall

Claire Miller is a gift from the cacao deities. She first fluttered into our lives brunching with our neighbors (remember those?) I was so overcome by sun rays beaming from her grin, that when she asked me where I lived, I forgot and stuttered to say, “Next door” and when she asked how long I had lived there, I said two years (it had been four). 

Time bends in a peculiar manner in the presence of beauty, doesn’t it? Despite starting a friendship just before a pandemic, I have gotten to know Claire better. Last year I even nicked her bumper amid my feeble attempt to parallel park on our narrow, windy, street, and somehow it was me who received the most beautiful box of handcrafted chocolate. This is just the beginning of how delightful Claire really is. In a pandemic, realizing there were truffles waiting on my windowsill lifted my spirits in more ways than I can say.

When did you first begin hand making chocolates?

I started experimenting with chocolate six years ago. I’ve always loved to cook and bake. My grandmother and mother taught me everything. I was introduced to making chocolate by my dear friend and mentor Paula Ferraro of Scents of Awe. At the time, I was her assistant for her skincare line; some days I’d help her prepare chocolate. 

She is a master formulator and taught me a lot about using your intuition when you cook. 

Tell us a little bit about this magical cacao bean you source; where is it grown, what drew you to this region?

Well, cacao trees grow along the equator, usually within 20° north and 20° south. Venezuela, Ecuador and Madagascar are especially famous for producing really good cacao beans. In my twenties I spent a good amount of time traveling in Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador. Most of all, I’m drawn to the warmth and sunshine of these tropical areas. It’s nature is lush and wild. The butterflies are enormous and the birds flutter around almost too heavy from all of their colorful feathers. It is in this rich and fertile terroir that the cacao tree grows. 

What are some of the lessons revealed from cacao and handcrafting chocolate?

When making chocolate, you have to be patient and present. Chocolate is very unique. You have to learn how it behaves to know how to work with it. And you are constantly moving it through different states. I have to set myself up by bringing my focus to the present moment and task at hand. And then I let myself be open to finding my groove and having that magical experience.

Also, cacao has a really potent history. You can feel that when you hold a cacao bean. The [cultivated] species is well over three thousand years old. Cacao first originated in the Amazon river basin and was cultivated and spread by the ancient mesoamerican civilizations of the Aztecs, Olmecs and Mayans. Chemists have been able to discover traces of the cacao compound on the interior of ceramics from archaeological sites. These ancient cultures drank cacao in painted clay vessels. They would pour the liquid cacao from one vessel to the other to create foam! 

You have lived here in Topanga for several years now, what do you love the most about this community?

I was drawn to Topanga in the first place because I kept meeting awesome people who lived here! This community is loving, creative and caring. We all appreciate living in nature and no one is going to judge you if you show up to Sibyl’s yoga class with dirty feet because you were out hiking barefoot that morning! 

What are the best ways to enjoy chocolate and what are some ingredients you like to pair it with?

It can be a little tricky to pair red wine with chocolate. They both have tannins and you might find that your chocolate makes your wine taste sour. Try to match the sweetness of your red or white wine to the sweetness of your chocolate. 

Or try a nice port or rum. And surprisingly beer is great as well! Of course, hot tea is nice because it also warms your mouth so you get a really melty bite of chocolate. Always take a moment to really let the chocolate melt in your mouth and savor all the notes that come through. That piece of chocolate has taken a big journey traveling from its origin to your mouth and has passed through many, many hard working hands. Enjoy with reverence!

Claire is the founder of Ladée Claire Chocolates. To learn more email [email protected] or check out her IG @ladeeclairechocolates 

Ladée Claire Espresso Martini Enjoy! 

Makes 2 cocktails 

Prepare 8 oz of pour-over coffee

Froth 6 oz of your choice of milk (cow, almond, macadamia nut) blend in a blender or just whisk by hand  

Divide the coffee between 2 martini glasses 

Add tequila to each glass

Pour in foamy milk and stir with a cocktail stirrer  

Dust with a nice quality cacao powder 

A Ladée Claire espresso martini in the making.
Don’t fret if you don’t have an espresso machine, whisk or froth some milk and pour over black coffee.
Add love to this holiday beverage by finding those meaningful pieces to you; your favorite mug, a vintage glass, a loved ones heirloom silver… serve with tender love and care.
Last but not least, a dusting of cacao atop this cozy adult beverage.

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