By Jon Lewis
Chocolat De Nannette's Nancy MatthewsStory by Jon Lewis Photo by Kara Stewart
After 27 years in the chocolate-making business and turning out candy bars, truffles, toffees, caramels and turtles by the thousands, you’d think it would be easy for Nancy Matthews to name her favorite. You would be wrong.
“People are always asking me what’s my favorite, and I can’t answer. They’re all my favorite. Chocolate just runs in my veins,” Matthews says with an easy laugh.
Any talk of hanging up the pots and pans garners a similar response. “My husband keeps asking me when I’m going to retire and I say, ‘Why?’ I love it. I love making chocolate.”
That love is everywhere this month. It’s an accepted fact that chocolate and Valentine’s go together like Cupid and his arrow, and the heart-shaped holiday is a natural fit for Matthews and Chocolat de Nannette, her homegrown business.
Matthews says her foray into the confectionary world sprang from a desire to leave her job as a registered dental assistant and “do something interesting in my life.” After a period of organizing Tupperware-style home chocolate parties, Matthews secured a space in downtown Redding’s Sherven Square building in 1984 and officially became a chocolatier.
Chocolat de Nannette quickly established its presence in the wholesale scene and her shop routinely shipped truffles, bars, barks and a host of other treats to markets, florists, delicatessens and restaurants throughout Northern California.
When Sherven Square was remodeled in 1988, its owners encouraged Matthews to add a retail element to her business and created a storefront space for her. As over-the-counter business picked up, she scaled back her wholesale operation and eventually curtailed it altogether to focus on the local market.
In the past two dozen years, if you’ve reveled in the decadence of a truffle or delightedly munched on a piece of almond bark or other chocolate treat, there’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed some of Matthews’ handiwork.
More recently, her confections have been catching the eye of customers at Market Street Wines, the wine shop and restaurant Matthews owns and operates with her husband, Bryan, and a handful of other partners.
Matthews has relocated her shop to the Atrium in the Market Street Promenade and no longer has over-the-counter sales, but her products can always be found in Redding at Enjoy The Store, Holiday Market on Placer Street, Déjà Vu Restaurant, Westside Florist and Redding Florist. Those looking for sweets for their sweethearts in Mount Shasta should visit Village Books or the Siskiyou Arts Council Gallery.
Matthews also produces the popular Mt. Shasta Bar, a chocolate bar featuring an embossed logo of the namesake mountain. Available in milk or dark chocolate, the bars are distributed by Mount Shasta-based philanthropists Michael and Joe Wirth. Profits from candy bar sales are used to develop and maintain trails in Siskiyou County—a project that has raised more than $100,000 during the past 10 years.
Chocolat de Nannette also is the creative force behind those clever chocolate bars sold at Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s gift shop. Being creative is part of the chocolate business, it seems, and Matthews is happy to think outside the box to accommodate her customers.
Matthews says she has mounted more than one diamond engagement ring atop a truffle—surely a case of love at first bite for the betrothed—and even found a way to encase a fishing license in chocolate to create a sweet surprise for one lucky angler.
“I’ve done some interesting things,” Matthews says. “I remember in the old days I took a video camera, wrapped it and dipped it in chocolate as a gift. I also do very large custom orders for different groups, like Mercy.”
She even works with Vintner’s Cellar to coat wine bottles in food-grade plastic and then dip them in chocolate. Customers can then enjoy the wine they helped make while pairing it with chocolate.
During the busy periods, Matthews says she orders 1,000 pounds of untempered chocolate a month. Each 10-pound brick is slowly heated to 100 degrees and then allowed to cool a bit before she works her magic and transforms it into trays of honeycomb, truffles, caramels, clusters and other delicacies.
Depending on what she’s making and what texture and finish she’s after, she’ll tinker with the tempering process. “It’s very temperamental,” she says.
That attention to detail pays off, if her longtime customers are any evidence. “When See’s opened in the mall, people said I’d be in trouble. I lost some customers, but they came back. They said mine was better,” Matthews says.
“Maybe I just put more love in.”