Chocolate‚Äôs rich, dark history dates back 2,000 years according to historians, but visitors to Key Largo are discovering a newfound love of cocoa confections thanks to the talents of Kristie Thomas. As well as being the culinary creator behind Key Largo Chocolates, she‚Äôs currently the only chocolatier in the Florida Keys.
Kristie has a passion for baking Key lime cakes and crafting chocolate shells into a creative niche for truffles, each handmade from natural ingredients including the best chocolate from around the globe.
Much of the world‚Äôs cacao comes from areas within 20 degrees of the equator, she reports, and one of her favorite cacao products is Machu Picchu from Peru.
Kristie‚Äôs husband Bob oversees the company‚Äôs marketing, handling custom orders and special events. He refers to his wife‚Äôs superbly sweet talents as having ‚Äúpanache with ganache.‚ÄĚ
Key Largo Chocolates, located at mile marker 100.5 bayside, grew out of Kristie‚Äôs success with her first love ‚ÄĒ Key lime cakes. Not a professional baker, she attended cake school for cake design and decorating, and dabbled in making her daughter‚Äôs Key lime wedding cake in addition to decorative and delectable chocolate seashells.
At a flavor university, Kristie trained among researchers for Kellogg‚Äôs, Quaker Oats and candy companies to detect flavor notes and tastes. That training helped develop her ability to balance the cocoa with yummy additions of K√© K√© Key Lime Liquor, bourbon, whiskey and secret spices.
In addition to her numerous ‚Äúeveryday‚ÄĚ truffles, Kristie concocts seasonal treats that include a dizzying array of flavorful fudges, toffees and specialty barks made with peppermint, cream, pralines and hazelnuts.
A while back, her ‚Äúpumpkin-pie-less‚ÄĚ spiced truffle even won first place in the dessert category at the annual Key Largo Cookoff. However, there‚Äôs no pumpkin in it ‚ÄĒ just secret spices.
The Key Largo kudo is not the only award Kristie has won. Her Key lime truffles placed second in a nationwide taste competition in Atlantic City, behind an offering from the Ruth‚Äôs Kris steakhouse conglomerate.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre just a little chocolate company,‚ÄĚ Kristie said modestly. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve grown in leaps and bounds, and we enter contests and festivals as often as we can to help our growth spurts.‚ÄĚ
Her Key lime confections include freshly squeezed, locally grown limes. With the help of a pastry chef, she creates six- and eight-inch Key lime cakes and cupcakes in addition to rum cakes, a flavor favorite. Her passion for working with chocolate runs as deep.
Kristie says keeping the chocolate for her truffles tempered, or at a temperature ideal for its sheen and consistency, is a challenge in the humid climate of the subtropical Florida Keys since chocolate can absorb moisture.
‚ÄúTo make up to 300 truffles a day, the chocolate needs to be perfect,‚ÄĚ she said. With air conditioning and dehumidifiers, she manages to keep her kitchen near a cool 68 degrees.
Entering Kristie‚Äôs vibrant store, visitors are greeted by a daunting display of aromatic chocolates to choose from ‚ÄĒ each a shiny melt-in-your-mouth nugget of heaven. Packaged in lovely boxes, the truffles tempt customers to sneak a sample even before they make it out the door. Plus, the emporium offers ice cream.
In addition, some Upper Keys hotels as well as Key Largo and Islamorada retail stores carry Key Largo Chocolates. Patrons at Key Largo restaurants might also be fortunate enough to find a mousse-filled chocolate seashell on the dessert specials menu.
No matter where her morsels are found, Kristie Thomas aims to please. She delights in the satisfied faces of her customers that testify how irresistible her creations can be.
‚ÄúPeople like to treat themselves,‚ÄĚ she summed up. ‚ÄúPeople love chocolates.‚ÄĚ