While “follow your nose” is the better known advice, around the store you’ll hear a lot more urging to “follow your mouth.” The idea is to taste, and not in haste, until you track down the elusive flavor with some oomph. We don’t want to proscribe ignoring the other senses in seeking out the best in chocolate, but following just that bit of advice as part of her own lifelong quest for the perfect truffle — those cocoa dusted or otherwise coated bites of ganache — led assistant baker Valentina Quetzl to I Heart Truffles of Montclair, N.J. and trufflemeister Judith Antelman.
Antelman, a writer with credits ranging from the 2001 New York Giants Media Guide to corporate presentations with names like Global Structured Products Strategy (and a whole bunch of stuff in between), transformed a lifelong passion for dark chocolate that first began to germinate while making ‘smores with her sister in their family kitchen into her current business of artisinally crafting truffles and bark featuring fair trade organic dark and milk chocolate complemented by other organic ingredients and flavors from pumpkin to mint to lemon to peanut butter to amaretto to lemon zest to wherever else imagination and inspiration take her.
What struck Valentina when she finally tracked Antelman down was the chef’s self-described search for “the pure truffle.” And so, after she also agreed to the courtesy of answering a few questions, it was about that we first wanted to know:
Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: Can you describe how truffles snagged your heart?
Judith Antelman: I was looking for a pure truffle, which is dark chocolate and cream. I couldn’t find anything made without a combination of butter, egg, oils, corn syrup, glucose, etc. So, I experimented in my kitchen, reading and researching until I perfected the original French truffle. From there, I started infusing the truffles with pure fruits, herbs, coffee beans, liqueurs; using fresh organic ingredients only.
CAC: Why were you looking for a pure truffle? Was it a personal quest or a followup to your Wall Street career or had you already decided to start up the business?
JA: Everything I tasted was mixed with added ingredients, thus the pure taste of cocoa was lost. Many truffles tasted like plastic, or were too buttery, or just weren’t right for any number of reasons. I like clean food; I wanted a clean pure chocolate tasting truffle; not a mush mouth of sugar and butter. Thus, I experimented. The business was purely a whim initially. I love making chocolate truffles and bark, and was encouraged by friends who loved my truffles.
CAC: What was your specialty on Wall Street and what led you there first, instead of to the world of chocolate?
JA: Wall Street was an accident. I previously had worked as an editor in publishing and academia. Through a friend, I fell into a freelance editing gig in the mid 90s at a Wall Street bank. It was flexible, lucrative, and I enjoyed the other editors, so I continued as a freelance editor until the credit crisis. I worked for a few different banks until the recession.
CAC: What was the process like in putting together your business and why do you think it has found a niche?
JA: It is a small business, and mostly word-of-mouth and my website, ihearttruffles.com. I started plying friends and then parties with truffles, until friends encouraged me to try selling them. It took off slowly, and is still in the baby stages. The niche I found is a result of individuals like me desiring a pure cocoa truffle. Using high quality chocolate and ingredients are crucial to garner a clean smooth truffle. My demographic is usually the foodie with a sweet tooth, but not a sugar addict.
CAC: Is there something in particular that you have learned as an artisan that can help the at-home truffler?
JA: Practice. Practice. Practice. One must love crafting truffles as it truly is laborious, thus it is a labor of love in the greatest sense. It took many years of practice, a few chocolatier classes, and experimentation, which still continues.
CAC: What are some of your favorite current and can you share the secret of truffles you are working on for the near future?
JA: Without sharing truffles secrets, some of my favorites are: maple-cinnamon; coconut; and mocha.
CAC: Are there one or two aspects to truffles that you wish your customers knew more about before or when ordering from you?
JA: I want customers to know I combine the highest-quality ingredients, fair trade chocolate, and a whole lot of love in every small batch of truffles and chocolate bark.
CAC: What other projects are near to your heart and what is to be expected from I Heart Truffles?
JA: I hope to open a small chocolate shop at some point in the near future. Location still unknown. Currently, I am crafting orders for Easter, Passover, weddings, and Bat Mitzvahs. I sell to the NJ/NYC area. When I start shipping, I will sell nationwide. Interested customers may refer to: ihearttruffles.com for further information.