Stacy Peters on raising the bar for Ohio confectionery with O’Chocolate
For someone with a self-described “lack of a sweet tooth” who, as a child, used to scrape the icing off her birthday cake, Stacy Peters doesn’t seem a likely candidate for a chocolatier. And yet in the last two years her company, O’Chocolate, has grown from a tiny chocolate-truffle-making hobby to an Ohio fixture, with 10 sales locations in Athens and Columbus. Stacy and her two sous-confectioners, Matt Burne and Courtney Xenos, recently reached a major milestone: They just opened their second box of truffle wrapping papers, which means they have sold their 20,000th chocolate truffle.
In addition to their signature chocolate truffles, O’Chocolate also specializes in chocolate bars, each one hand-poured, -molded and -wrapped in Stacy’s kitchen in Athens. Each bar features a signature Ohio-sourced ingredient, like Silverbridge Coffee in her Espresso bar, or Shagbark Seed & Mill Company’s popped amaranth in her Hazelnut Crisp bar or Sticky Pete’s maple syrup in her Pecan and Smoked Sea Salt bar. In fact, Peters believes that using these ingredients is the heart of her success.
“Chocolate is the perfect medium for exhibiting local vendors’ products. I find a unique local product and design a bar or truffle to showcase it.” She also credits some of her success to supporting and partnering with other local food businesses.
For example, the Fior di Sicilia truffle, featuring citrus and vanilla, was originally designed exclusively for sale at local Athens restaurant Della Zona, but eventually proved so popular that it is now available to everyone.
Stacy believes that eating chocolate should be an unforgettable experience of tasting a small amount of something astonishing. That process starts with making the highest possible quality chocolate. Peters studied the science of ganaches, fillings and tempering and used a trial-and-error process to create recipes that she scaled down to fit her home kitchen equipment.
Stacy still has her original notebook with the measurements from different experiments crossed out and corrected. “At the beginning, I had to perfect the chocolate itself. To do the featured ingredients justice, the chocolate had to have the perfect balance of taste and texture.”
For truffles, this meant designing a recipe for chocolate ganache, then designing flavor profiles customized around locally available ingredients. The lavender truffle (see sidebar for recipe) features lavender oil sourced from local herbalist Ancient Roots and is rolled in crumbled blue cornflowers grown in Athens.
As the truffle business grew and expanded, Stacy became interested in creating chocolate bars, but faced a new challenge: The chocolate ganache for truffles was a far more forgiving medium. The chocolate for bars must be carefully tempered up and down to specific degrees, in order to maintain the shine and “snap” of a high-quality bar. The chocolate then has only a short period of time in which the artist can work with it before it cools and starts to harden.
At first, Stacy and her team worked over her kitchen stove; eventually they invested in two small tempering machines, which moderate the temperature and, once it reaches its usable state, keeps the chocolate at an exact 88.7°.
As the business grew, the supply of chocolate became a challenge. In order to move back a step on the sourcing chain, the minimum order required was 2,000 pounds of chocolate, more than she needed for a year’s supply and more than Stacy had room to stock. She fell back on her community-minded foundations and partnered with two other local businesses. She bought the 2,000 pounds and persuaded her fellow business owners to buy their supply for the year from her. As Bob O’Neil, co-owner of Village Bakery and Café, Della Zona Pizzeria and Catalyst Café, pointed out, “the sustainable food web in Athens is strengthened when businesses collaborate on purchasing and marketing decisions.”
The arrangement not only benefited the business owners, but also customers. “With Stacy’s investment in larger quantities of bulk chocolate for her growing business, we were able to go in together for a larger purchase than we alone could manage, and each business will go through our inventory more quickly, so the end product will be fresher,” said O’Neil.
Discovering an unused storefront and turning it into a small shop was a similar milestone that involved not only discovering who owned the space, but also pitching the idea to them. “I’ve learned that I could never have done this if I didn’t believe in what I do and how I do it.”
Now, she benefits from foot traffic from other stores in the courtyard-style building. Around the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day, the lines are out to the street. This year’s holiday flavors, including Pumpkin Spice truffle, are available in a seasonal selection gift box.
Throughout it all, Stacy’s 5-year-old son Sehr occasionally shows up to lend a hand. For a preschool Thanksgiving project, he once told his class that he was “thankful for chocolate truffles.” Peters states that one of the things she has learned along the way is that “it is necessary to take the time to make well-informed, cautious decisions. But business owners also have to have a sense for when the time is right to take a leap of faith and make a scary decision.”
Now that Sehr is entering full-time kindergarten, Stacy is excited about growth and new projects. One new product is a “614 Surly Buckeye” bar, which features three Columbus-sourced ingredients: Krema Nut Company peanuts, Scotty McHotty’s hot pepper blend and Sticky Pete’s maple syrup.
And Stacy remains committed to never expanding in such a way that would compromise the product. O’Chocolate continues to specialize in what it does best. “Nothing leaves my kitchen,” says Peters, “unless it tastes extraordinary.”
By Stacy Peters of O’Chocolate
“One key to great ganache is to keep your basic recipe the same (16 ounces of chocolate to 8 ounces of cream), and always use an immersion blender. If you’re working with fresh fruit or alcohol as add-ins, reduce the cream to 5–6 ounces to account for the additional moisture.”—SP
16 ounces dark chocolate
¼ cup Sticky Pete’s maple syrup
1 tablespoon lavender extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces Snowville heavy cream
Weigh out dark chocolate into a heat-safe bowl.
Pour maple syrup, lavender extract and vanilla extract directly on top of the chocolate.
Bring the cream to a boil on the stove, stirring often so as not to burn it. Watch carefully; cream rises and will overflow abruptly. Once the cream is boiling and starting to rise, immediately remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Stir gently, cover and let sit for 2–3 minutes. Use an immersion blender to mix all ingredients into silky ganache. Mix until thoroughly blended and all of the chocolate is melted and smooth.
Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours. Overnight works well.
Once it has set, scoop into approximately ½-ounce balls and roll them in your choice of ingredients. We roll our lavender truffles in a mixture of half white and half milk ground chocolate, then grind up blue cornflowers and sprinkle them on top of each truffle. Other suggestions would be cocoa powder, ground dark chocolate or ground nuts or seeds.
Find O’Chocolate products at these retail locations:
Village Bakery & Café
A Touch of Earth at the North Market
Celebrate Local at Easton
The Hills Market
Bexley Natural Market
Clintonville Community Market
Weiland’s Gourmet Market