I Love Lula’s
How one writer was seduced by the art of chocolates.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
It seemed a sound strategy. Take a small bite, take notes, and live to sample more chocolates. The box of Lula’s chocolates that Scott Lund presented me with, however, had me outgunned. His mother, Lula Lund, made candy for 65 years, until her death in 2001 at the age of 99, and the box—starting with the dark chocolate macadamia caramels—revealed that Scott hasn’t taken his artistic inheritance for granted.
Lula’s slow-roasts whole macadamia nuts for better flavor and crunch, stirs fresh heavy cream and corn syrup for nearly an hour and a half to make a slowly unfolding, buttery surprise of the caramel, and hand-dips the whole in a blend of Venezuelan and Ivorian chocolate.
What chance did discipline have in the face of craftsmanship like that? I took my small bite, and then, before I knew it, I was working over a mouthful of caramelly goodness and another pleated paper cup was sitting empty in the box.
It’s just as well. Made in small batches in a Monterey kitchen with no preservatives, Lula’s chocolates are to be enjoyed soon—in three to four weeks. “We’re all about fresh,” Scott Lund says.
The treats even have the power to win over people who consider themselves indifferent to chocolate’s charms—for example, Aaron Davidson, Lund’s business partner. Davidson was building custom houses in the Phoenix area when his old friend from Brigham Young University sent him a box of chocolates made from his grandmother’s recipes—chocolate-covered vanilla crèmes, whole almond clusters and caramels.
“I didn’t think I was a chocolate person,” Davidson says, “but I had to hide ‘em from my wife!”
Lund, who had lived all over California growing up, including Carmel, had an idea. Chocolate is a cool-weather food, so why not make high-end chocolates in a place where locals would buy them year-round and smitten tourists would return home and order them online? Lund moved here with his wife and two kids two and a half years ago to make his dream come true, and Davidson followed with his family shortly thereafter. The pair started production of Lula’s Chocolates in November 2006, with Lund as chocolatier-in-chief.
To hear Lund talk about chocolate is to hear a fascinating bit of philosophizing. “Chocolate is really about the marriage of chemistry and art,” he says. “My grandmother understood the art of it, but not the chemistry of it. She’d say, ‘And then you stir the crème until it’s done.’ ‘Well, how long?’ ‘Until it feels cold.’ ‘Why do you do it that way?’ ‘That’s just the way we do it.’ ”
So Lund studied both the art and the science. In 1994 he moved to Salt Lake City and over the next six years learned candymaking from Lula, who by that time had shuttered Mrs. Lund’s Candies and was making chocolates strictly for Christmas and gifts. From her, Lund learned the value of using only fresh, quality ingredients (like 40 percent-fat cream instead of evaporated milk or hydrogenated oil) and refusing to cut corners. Stir longer, cook slower. Roast whole nuts, even if that means they won’t last as long in storage. Never freeze anything. He learned the dying art of making handmarks, those dipsy-dos on the tops of filled chocolates that actually identify what’s in the center.
And then he learned the chemistry—“building crystals,” he calls it. At confectioner’s school Lund learned exactly how slowly to heat and how long to stir the crème filling to produce a sugar crystal smaller than 30 microns—the level that the human mouth can detect—for exceptionally creamy, silky penuche or mint or vanilla crème centers. He learned how to heat and cool chocolate to achieve the coveted beta crystals of a perfectly tempered chocolate that snaps, but then melts at 89 degrees for that sought-after “mouthmelt.”
In the end, all you taste of a Lula’s chocolate is the art. Break off a piece of English toffee and the deliciously warm flavor of browned butter seeps into your mouth, mingling with creamy milk chocolate and the slight crunch of chopped toasted almonds. Bite into a cashew cluster and the nut is almost squeaky, it’s so fresh, its flavor clear and pronounced through the intensity of the dark chocolate. Put a milk chocolate penuche crème on your tongue and let it melt into twin rivers of mellow creaminess, one chocolate, one brown sugar-based—if you can stand not to bite into it.
But don’t count on that. Willpower isn’t much use once Scott and Lula Lund step into the picture.
2 Harris Court, Suite B-6, Monterey • 8am-5pm Mon-Fri • 655-8527. • Lula’s Chocolates are available at Whole Foods, Cornucopia, East Village Coffee Lounge, Bruno’s and a handful of other places. Find them online at lulas.com.