One evening after Christmas, my mom and I were taking a nice walk after dinner, and we ran across two chocolate shops on Main Street in Bellevue (which is a neighborhood east of Seattle proper). One was Fran's--which is local to Seattle and now famous nationwide, especially for their seasalt caramels. However, personally I feel that their product quality is not what is used to be (perhaps due to their global expansion), so was lukewarm about going in. Also, I prefer to support local retailers whenever possible, so was thrilled to pieces to find Amore Chocolates right across the street from Fran's! It is the TEENIEST shop I've ever been in in the US (there were tiny ones in Europe like this), but here was the kicker--they had a sign on the door that said "Vegan truffles--dairy free" and "Gluten-free". How could I resist? I practically dragged my mom into the store behind me.
Once inside, I overheard one of the employees ask, then repeated the question, to someone as to whether she had touched some products because he was working with peanuts and he didn't want cross-contamination. Bingo--I was with my kind of people! I got even more excited, if that's possible. We started chatting, and it turns out that that young man who was concerned about cross-contamination also had food allergies himself. Of course, we began sharing our food allergy lists, and once again, this Food Allergy Queen reigned supreme. (Insert crowd cheers here.) He then goodnaturedly assigned himself the title of Food Allergy Court Jester. So cute!
On to the chocolates! So, it turns out that ALL the dark chocolates in the store are dairy-free and made with coconut milk instead. No cream in the chocolate, or the ganache (usually made with chocolate and cream) fillings. No butter either. Anything with a creamy texture was made with coconut milk! (See picture with bite out of it to see the texture--please ignore the bite mark.) And knowing that dipping chocolates by hand is difficult and a tempermental process in the first place, and also considering the extra challenge of the natural humidity in the Pacific Northwest, I was especially impressed by the hand-dipped chocolate texture and the intense European-style flavors of Amore Chocolates. The owner, Brenda, was on the premises so I was able to ask her directly about how she assembled her products and the ingredients of everything. She was tickled to help me work my way through the choices.
My favorites were the truffles, which had intense and complex flavors: Seriously Dark, Espresso and Raspberry. I also loved the Haystacks (coconut) and her new one, Potato Chip Haystacks, made with Ruffles! And the marzipan (made with almonds) ones were lovely and chewy, with just the right balance of sweetness.
A followup email confirmed that Amore uses chocolate from Guittard which is gluten-, dairy-free and peanut-free. However, they share equipment that may use dairy or almonds. They use soy lectithin, so those of you with soy allergies unfortunately need to skip these. Also, when I asked, Brenda was not able to confirm that her sugar was vegan, and I'm guessing neither can Guittard. So I think we're safe to say they're vegetarian, but may not be 100% vegan for those who avoid all animal products.