Sweet arts: Hillsborough chocolatier prepares treats to thrill the senses
The word alone has such an influence. Chocolate creates images of love. Chocolate causes people to make strange sounds. One never likes to admit an addiction, however chocolate appears to be an acceptable crutch to lean upon.
All towns need a good chocolatier. In Hillsborough, the flag of chocolatier is being flown from Matthew’s Chocolates on Churton Street. Situated between the socially acceptable pastime of Wooden Nickel Pub and the Gulf Rim, Matthew’s Chocolates is allowing residents, patrons and addicts alike to confess an addiction, voice strange sounds, and of course, to convey love all by way of first bite.
Yet, for Matthew Shepherd, the owner of Matthew’s Chocolates, creating chocolates is similar to his own life biography.
Shepherd is from Clinton, Mo., and he attended the New England Culinary Institute, where he did not learn anything about preparing chocolate. “I was at a point in life where I was either going to go professional as a bowler or enter the culinary profession; I chose to learn how to cook,” says Shepherd.
Along his journey, Shepherd has established a diverse business experience that, upon initial observation has nothing to do with chocolate, until you taste his chocolates and one can appreciate his sense for entertaining the senses.
Shepherd once owned an incense business and he has experience in the jewelry industry and he is proficient with the idea of aromas, scents and fragrance and their affects on people.
Cooking, for Shepherd, was something of a trade he did for friends and family. “I baked for holidays and while in culinary school I developed an interest in pastries,” says Shepherd. His skill with folding crust and sweetening sweets created a following of patrons that actually requested reservations when he was working at a particular restaurant. “It was great to be recognized but when the other pastry chef is the wife of the owner, it just created an opportunity that I seek my trade elsewhere,” he said. Eventually, elsewhere became a bowling tournament where Shepherd befriended a competitor, who, it turns out was the older brother of a childhood friend of Shepherd; something he had never known before. His friend lived and still lives in Hillsborough and convinced Shepherd to move to the area.
“I had a five-year plan and it was one of those moments in life when the door was open and when a person sees a door opening, they are obligated to walk through,” Shepherd said.
It was Nov. 21, 2007, when Matthew’s Chocolates opened in Hillsborough. “I had nothing in my pocket, everything was prepared here in the shop, and I was nervous as anyone would be,” Shepherd says.
While it would be unique enough that Matthew’s Chocolates is the only chocolate place in Hillsborough, what’s equally unique is that the town chocolatier is self-taught. “I pretty much combined my experience with flavors, scents and an understanding of the higher olfactory senses and I let that become my chocolates,” Shepherd says.
Here, a customer will not find average chocolate. In addition, the process that chocolate undergoes just to become worthy of display and to suit the discriminating tastes of chocolate addicts is, essentially, art. “The whole process is very delicate and time consuming; and really, chocolate is not cooked, it’s prepared,” says Shepherd.
From his current kitchen in the Daniel Boone Complex, Shepherd creates his signature chocolates by way of a detailed and temperamental process. In describing the steps to create his Whipped Peanut Butter Hazelnut Crunch, Shepherd tells of the labor to buff the mold so that no imperfections exist. “Chocolate is prepared backward, such that what you apply to the mold first, is what is on top of the finished piece,” Shepherd says.
Through combining his experiences with aromas and fragrance, Matthew creates chocolates that redirect the taste buds of customers and allows them to step out of the box into new flavors and ideas that they might otherwise never try. “I try to create something more than unique; and instead something that is going to be worth the risk,” says Shepherd.
Business, according to Shepherd, is well received and it swells for the holidays. For Valentine’s Day this year, Shepherd is offering a box of nine chocolates with a surprise creation in the middle faux-piece of chocolate. “Spiral Studios and Catherine Calloway jeweler are contributing a center piece that will surprise the receiver of our box of chocolates,” Shepherd said.
Regarding his special Valentine Box, Shepherd has advice for all those seeking to profess love and admiration this Valentine’s Day: “Please, please, order early. You don’t want to be that guy that is in line and we either run out or you have to wait. If you order ahead, all you have to do is walk in and we will hand you your pre-ordered box,” says Shepherd. From inside his shop, the atmosphere is inviting and warm and the abundance of fine, handcrafted chocolates adds to the décor. Yet, for this writer, one question remained and Shepherd answered it with the chuckle of a successful chocolatier.
Of the last time he had store-bought chocolate, Shepherd said, “I was sick over the holidays and I had a Hershey’s chocolate bar. It was not creamy and it tasted like sandpaper.” Perhaps, the candy was missing ingredients to chocolate by.
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For more information contact Matthew’s Chocolates at 919-732-0900. To order, owner Matthew Shepherd suggests doing so in person and to do so ahead of Valentine’s Day.