Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week: Delicious Tastes to Sip & Savor

Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Runs Now till April 30, 2017

I always love it when Charlotte chefs and restaurants pull together to put on a food event.  Throughout the year there are many such collaborative events, wine dinners and themed promotions, and I have loved them all. But for me, some of the best events stretch out over a week or two, giving the dining out public the chance to explore, taste and experience at several different venues.

WineandTapasWeek-just-charlotteThe all new, first ever, Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week is just such an event, and it runs NOW through April 30. This eight day long event ( it all started Friday April 21) is about little plates, sharing and tasting – a great way to dine out with friends; and you still have lots of time to participate!  The more than 30 of Charlotte restaurants  are taking part with special menus offered for the eight evening stretch of this Springtime extravaganza.  CWTW founder Phong Luong, owner of Zen Asian Fusion in Dilworth  came up with the clever concept.

IMG_1155

Heidi Billotto with Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Creator Phong Luong of Zen Asian Fusion on East Blvd.

I caught up with Phong at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week kick off event, held in The Bottle Shop in the lobby of the Center City Marriott, just outside Stoke Restaurant.  He explained the reasoning behind the dedicated week –   “Everyone loves tasting new flavors in food & wine and its always fun to share! Little plates are a great way to try just a taste.”  The concept is  a clever approach and an easy, reasonably priced way to get new and repeat customers in to try out a restaurant where they have never eaten,  or perhaps haven’t eaten at for some time..

IMG_1170

Chefs Rodrigo Velazco, Evoke; Chef Chris Coleman, Stoke; Chef Ryan Daugherty, Dogwood Southern Table all cooked at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Kickoff

This CWTW affords customers a change to mix and match and taste a variety of tapas and wines.  Chef Ryan Daugherty from Dogwood Southern Table and chef Rodrigo Velazco from Evoke restaurant were at the CWTW Kick off and joined Stoke’s Chef Chris Coleman to share tastes of the tapas and wine they will be serving at their own restaurants so that kick off attendees could see how the concept would work.

While a few of the participating restaurants have planned seasonal menus just for the promotion, many are featuring tapas or small plates regularly featured as appetizers, sides or salads on their current Spring menus.

IMG_1142For the stretch of Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week, each participating establishment is offering a pre-selected menu of wine and tapas. $30 or $35 dollars ( depending on the restaurant) buys you two glasses of wine and  two tapas offerings. The really cool part is that you can order a CWFW package for yourself, or you can share one order with friends. It makes for a wonderful game of mix and match which helps to  make this culinary adventure even more fun.  Enjoy your Wine & Tapas offering as a start to a meal, or as an opportunity to just  meet for a drink and a quick  bite. You don’t need to specify when you make your reservations that you’d like to order the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week plates; not everyone in your party has to participate, and you can change it up and order off the restaurants regular menu as well – but only the specific Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu items qualify for the special $30-$35 pricing.

IMG_1096The week before the kick off my husband Tom Billotto and I were invited to come by several of the participating restaurants for a taste of what would be on their menus. And then I tasted more at the kick off event. There are lots of big flavors on these little plates and the wine pairings are nothing to scoff at – as always, Charlotte restaurants and chefs are putting their best plates out there for you to enjoy – take advantage, sip and savor your way through the remaining days of April,  hitting as many of the participating restaurants as you can – you’re going to love it!

The list of participating chefs/restaurants is up  on the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week website as are the detailed menus and wine lists at each venue; and if you would like, there are reservation links here as well.  Check them all out, and eat at as many as you can,  but first  take a look at this quick preview from a trio of the participating restaurants we tried and then make your plans. 

 

LUCA MODERN ITALIAN KITCHEN

For those of you who don’t know, Jessica and Luca Annunziata, Proprietress and Chef, formerly of Passion 8 restaurant here in Charlotte decided just after the first of the year to change Passion 8’s name and concept. The new Luca Modern Italian Kitchen  was born and is still located on Elizabeth Ave. in Charlotte.

IMG_1055The menu and wine list is now decidedly authentic Italian cuisine. You simply cannot wait another minute to go in and check it out. Lots of nightly specials like Tuesday’s Bottomless Bowl of mussels for just $18 and Wednesdays all you can eat pasta night for $30.  You can certainly sit anywhere you’d like in this beautiful restaurant, but truth be told, when it is just the two of us, we love sitting up at the bar. They mix many a creative craft cocktail at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen and will come up with any kind of spirited elixir your would like to try.  While wine comes with the Charlotte Wine & Tapas package, you might just have to start your evening at Luca with a cocktail first.  

Like many of the participating CWTW restaurants, Chef Luca is  featuring some of the regular items from their all Italian menu and all of the wines on the are all spectacular Italian pours. This is the food Chef  Luca was born to cook, literally – its the food he grew up eating and each and every bite of the four dishes we tried – plus the soup and the dessert we decided to add on  was nothing short of spectacular. 

IMG_1063

Pasta e Fagiole at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen. 

We started, as I suggested with cocktails and with a little bite before our tapas  & wine pairings because we simply love Luca’s Pasta e Fagiole, a thick and delicious bean soup with fresh homemade noodles and enjoyed a side of the restaurant’s homemade foccacia on the side.  

Then we made an evening of it and each ordered  the two tapas and two wine package. It was more than enough to make a meal and there was more than enough to share..

IMG_1066

Baked Eggs in Tomato Broth at Luca ModerItalian Kitchen

Among our little plates this evening,  this iron skillet of baked eggs in a savory tomato broth, Parmesan and grilled bread,  or as they say in Italian, Zuppetta di uovo pomodoro    con Parmigiano e pane alla griglia.

We simply had to order pasta, as it is all made in house, so the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – a hot casserole full of fresh made gnocchi was the perfect next plate.  These soft fluffy little pillows of pasta came baked with a sauce from San Marzano tomatoes topped with mozzarella – ahhhh!

IMG_1082

Tender Grilled Octopus at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen

While the gnocchi was divine and we could have simply ordered more and been quite happy, I decided to beef it up a bit with Luca’s  Polpettine di Bisonte  – these bison meat balls are served with local Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms and a creamy Parmesan fondue – perfect with the 2015 Scarletto Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo pairing Jessica Annunziata had suggested.  Tom ordered and very much enjoyed  Luca’s tender Polpo alla Griglia (grilled octopus), a favorite on many local restaurant menus this time of year, but served here with a warm potato salad, celery, olives and a bright lemon emulsion,  few do it better than chef Luca and the team at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen.

We ended our meal at Luca with a two servings of Gelato  – a blood orange for Tom  and a coffee for me. Luca and Jessica bring in this perfectly Italian gelato from a company in Greensboro. The name is Gnam, Gnam Gelato and believe me it is nom, nom.  For More info …

EVOKE RESTAURANT AT LE MERIDIEN HOTEL

IMG_0951With a new chef on the team and some major menu development in progress look for big things to be happening at Evoke Restaurant in the Le Meridien Hotel on McDowell Street in  Uptown. Chefs Rodrigo Velazco in the kitchen at Evoke and Chef Oscar La Fuente, the hotel’s executive chef, certainly have plans to take things up a notch, so the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week affords them the opportunity to stretch their culinary wings a bit and offer some really cool special plates. We had a delicious evening, tasting our way through several plates of tapas. As this is the restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel, Evoke regularly serves breakfast lunch and dinner and the bar is open during those hours.

IMG_0956

A Trio of Trios Marinated Stuffed Olive Plate at Evoke at Le Meridien Hotel 

We tasted several Wine & Tapas pairings at Evoke – The first a clever trio of olives presented three ways – Olives stuffed with Marcona almonds, Dolce Gorgonzola and Fig jam are skewered and dressed in three different combos of oil and vinegar – my fave was the 20 yer old white balsamic with Pumpkin seed oil, but you will love the mix of tasting them all.  Use Evoke’s signature foccacia also on the plate for dipping up the remaining oil after the olives are gone!

IMG_0972

Taste of Spring Grilled Vegetable Platter at Evoke Restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel

The “Taste of Spring”  vegetable plate combines seasonal grilled, sauteed, pickled and raw veggies and was another seasonal winner and a delightful alternative to a simple salad.

At the CWTW kick off, I also tasted Chef Rodrigo’s Middle Ground Farms’ Rabbit Scarpinocc ( a stuffed pasta much like half moon ravioli) served with Sherry jus and manchego; and his delicious fresh Cobia Crudo, a tartar of sorts dressed with aji  rocoto ( a small Peruvian chile) and corn nuts. Sad to say, my photos didn’t come out well, but don’t let that stop you from ordering – both selections are  on Evoke’s  Tapas week menu and worthy of your consideration!

IMG_0967

Corn Soup from Evoke Restaurant in Le Meridien Hotel

As we did at all of these stops, we complimented our taste of the CWTW menu at Evoke with a few extra bites from the restaurant’s  seasonal menu. Chef Rodrigo offered us a sample sized portion of his delicious corn soup served in a tiny saucepan;  and we ended with a a wonderful not too sweet finish from Evoke’s talented pastry chef. On the plate Green Matcha tea mousse with raspberry cream inside, a raspberry puree, and black sesame tuille. Its enough for two of you to share, but you’ll want to order on all your own!

For More Info…  

 

 

THE ASBURY AT THE DUNHILL HOTEL

If its been a while since you have been to The Asbury restaurant in the Dunhill Hotel, its time to get back Uptown and prepare to be wowed. Chef Matthew Krenz’s spring menu has got it going on. If you like what you taste from the Spring menu ( and you will) you’ll want to come back for more. Be sure and check out the detail and make reservations for the one or more of the upcoming  collaborative chef dinners   held monthly from now till the end of they year – Chef Matthew teams with another chef from around the city or across the state and they plan a whole chefs tasting menu dinner around a certain theme –  these dinners are a blast and you’ll want to be sure and make reservations. the next one takes place on May 25 with Chef Greg Collier of The Yolk!

But I digress… all of the Asbury’s Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week offerings are also featured on the Spring menu and you won’t want to miss a single one.  Start your evening  with two of The Asbury’s signature items: the deviled eggs, prepared a different way every evening and the savory sticky buns – yum!!

IMG_1110Each of The Asbury’s  tapas plates is its own little ode to Spring. Take for example the peas bathed in uni butter alongside a pea emulsion with mint and cilantro topped with toasted coconut and springtime blossoms. This is peas like you have never had them before, but this is how you are always going to want then from here on out! See what you’ve started, Chef Krenz!?

IMG_1106

Fried Oysters at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

The fried oysters, dusted with cornmeal and cleverly plated in the shell with onion jam, Cajun-spiced aioli and baby cress are another winner – there are four on the plate – just delicious and beautifully presented.

Heartier Tapas from Chef Matthew include the melt-in-your-mouth Pan-fried Lamb Sweetbreads, that come to the table almost looking like a salad of sorts – the sweetbreads are dressed with  local mustard green and with the made-in-house carrot BBQ sauce the slightly spicy greens are the perfect  foil to the rich taste and texture of the sweetbreads.

IMG_1114

Fermented Chili-glazed Pork belly at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

It is not often that I order pork belly. Those of  you who know me know that I am just waaay over the “everythings-better-with-bacon”, but never say never as there is always the exception to the rule. The Asbury’s tapas of Fermented Chili-Glazed Pork Belly is it. Its tender, and moist and served the way pork belly was meant to be, atop a cornbread puree, braised greens with local turnips and radish

IMG_1113

Pea and ricotta tortellini at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Finally ( well sort of) I’d like to recommend the pea and ricotta tortellini as a tapas plate to consider. It’s scrumptious! Stuffed with local Uno Alla Volta ricotta and peas, topped with asparagus & crispy ham,  the thin melt-in-your-mouth pasta is bathed in a white wine butter sauce – oh my!

IMG_1132When the tapas and wine pairings were done, we found ourselves totally satisfied, but its always nice to end on a sweet note and Chef Matthew did more that oblige the craving.

Spring in Charlotte means strawberries and in total tribute Chef Matthew has created a spectacular take on a Southern fave – strawberry shortcake. Here macerated local strawberries and blueberries are bedded atop a fresh baked biscuit and then topped with an incredible strawberry mousse with  lightly whipped cream. Nuff Said!   For More Info….

#TellThemHeidiSentYouIf you’d like to try a taste and sip and savor your way through these and other area restaurants participating in the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Weekend, its easy and you still have till the end of the evening on April 30. Visit the CWTW website and scroll down through the entire list of logos so you won’t miss a single on of the 30 + excellent options. Click on the individual restaurant logo. This will take you to the restaurant’s page on the site (I’ve already provide those for the restaurants I highlighted here.) Here you will read a bit more about the restaurant , see the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu and can even use the link provided to make reservations if you would like.

Print

Post your photos on social media and be sure to tag me in the posts on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter – I will be happy to share. Enjoy! Have fun! Now go forth to Sip and Savor your way through the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week line up…Cheers!

 

 

 

Heidi Billotto Live: from The Matthews Community Farmers’ Market

PrintWe interrupt the regularly scheduled series of blog posts to bring you a brand new series of social media videos – all LIVE from local area farmers’ markets.

I generally hit 2-3 area markets on any given Saturday morning. Its my Saturday morning thing to do. It’s not just about what I need to pick up for that week’s cooking classes, catering jobs or what Tom and I will eat during the week; for me a farmers’ market trip is about seeing what’s growing, visiting with all the farmers and being there to support what they do. The fact that I can buy all the local produce, proteins and product that I need and know where it all came from and what went into the food that I eat and serve to others is a bonus. Someone commented on the Facebook feed that they were amazed that I knew everyone’s name.

That’s what shopping local is all about: Knowing your local farmers and producers; Shaking the hands that feed you and resting assure that the food you eat was grown and nurtured with love and care, not pesticides and hormones.

This new video series started as a way for me to help the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market promote their opening day last week. I was going to write a blog post about the new additions to the market and the list of new vendors, but alas as it was all new I didn’t have any of these photos to include in the post.

So instead, I decided to hit the market early on their opening day April 15, 2017 and film my very first Facebook Live video. I had a blast! I have always loved spreading the word of all our local farmers bring to the table and this was a fun way to do it in real time. It appears that lots of Facebook friends and fans loved it too. To date that first FBLive video has enjoyed over 1.6K views! I am over the moon!

And you will be, too, when you go to shop at the Matthews Community Farmers market this Saturday and any or every Saturday hereafter, Spring and Summer hours are now officially in effect.

The market, located at 188 N Trade Street right in the heart of downtown, Matthews, is open every Saturday from 8 till noon. Matthews is a “growers only” market and  each of the farms represented by the farmers themselves are located within 50 miles of downtown Matthews.

Currently the Matthews Market is hosting a strawberry fundraiser with fresh delicious berries from Cody Strawberry Farms and new to the market this year is the addition of a food truck or two. Both of these trucks are preparing breakfast items using the local product you’ll find available at the market each week. Last weekend I enjoyed a killer Farmhouse Croissant from Carolina Smash Truck. The savory breakfast sandwich was prepared with Maitake Mushrooms, green onion, egg, and white cheddar – just what I needed to go with that delicious cup of Good Cup Cappuccino I was enjoying after I posted my video.

You can check out all the names of all the participating vendors, and sign up for the Matthews’ Market’s email newsletter by visiting their website 

Each week the market features a different chef presenting a 9 am cooking demo; and a different local musician  there to provide a little music to enjoy as you shop from and visit with each of the market vendors.

Last weekend, Chef Luca Annunziata wowed the crowds with a taste of his traditional Italian cuisine now featured on the menu at his restaurant Luca Modern Italian Kitchen ( formally called Passion 8). This Saturday, April 22 at 9 am chef Adam Reed from Sante Restaurant in Matthews will be cooking  up a storm for the market crowds to  sample and enjoy after they watch his entertaining demo.

And there is so much more, from compost to King of Pops, local honey, chicken, eggs, pork, beef, fresh from the Carolina Coast seafood,  fresh flowers, plants for you to grow and produce for you to cook and eat; From Water Buffalo cheese to locally made cottage cheese and ricotta; From Beeswax candles to Breads, pastries, frozen casseroles and pizzas made from local ingredients, baskets, pottery… whew! Just take a look at the video here and check it all out for yourself… then stay tuned.

Coming up  in a day or so, a post I filmed yesterday Wed April 19  which  features my  Facebook Live Video with market vendor details from the brand new Wednesday afternoon Selwyn Avenue Market in the parking lot of the Mouzon United Methodist Church from 3-7 on Wednesday afternoons.

This Saturday, April 22, I am teaching one of my On the Farm cooking classes at New Town Farms, but before hand I  will be at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market at 208 N Church St, Waxhaw, NC 28173, open from 9 till noon,  to bring you a FBLIve video of everything from the market there. You can join me on my HeidiBillottoCooks Facebook page to watch the video live – probably around 9:30 -10 or so ( I’ll post a social media heads up about 5 minutes ahead of time), or you can catch it later on my personal Heidi Billotto Facebook page. Or if you are not on Facebook you can view it here in the next farmers’ market blog post.

My plan is to film from a local market once or twice a week  over the course of the next several months – so get ready for your close ups Atherton Farmers’ Market, Mecklenburg County Market, Noda Farmers’ Market, Davidson Farmers’ Market and more! If you know of a market selling local product that I am leaving out or one I might not be aware of – please post a comment here,  let me know and I’ll add it to my list.

My purpose is instead of just offering a list of local markets, you can really have the opportunity to see for yourself, virtually meet the farmers and producers and then make plans to go and shop local so you can eat local, too!

And don’t forget, what ever farmers’ market you shop at this weekend, be sure to #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Cooking Classes with Heidi Billotto

img_7806April Showers bring May Flowers and several new “At Home with Heidi” and “On the Farm” Cooking Classes  – make your reservations today! 

Get ready to slice, dice, simmer and saute as you make plans to join in on the fun at any one of my exciting hands-on classes cooking classes taught as the name suggests, “At Home with Heidi ”  in my home kitchen; or  come and experience one of my unique On the Farm Classes are held at various farms in and around Charlotte. Each On The Farm class includes a walking Farm Tour and then we settle into the farm kitchen to cook with whatever is in season. You really just have to experience these classes for yourself, there is indeed something quite special about being on all these local farms…

Classes are a perfect  for a fun date night, night out with the girls and a great way to meet new people or host a team building event.  Don’t see a date that fits – email me and lets plan your own private class with work associates or with friends or family.

simply-email-heidi-to-make-your-reservations

Registration links are at the end of each class descriptive.  Make your reservations by simply sending me an email. Payment confirms your reservation and you may pay by cash, check or credit card. As soon as I gets your email, I’ll be right back in touch to confirm your payment and to give you the  address and details for each class.

Looking forward to seeing you at one (or more) of these “At Home with Heidi”  or “On The Farm” Cooking Classes soon…

on-the-farm

Sunday April 9, 2-6 pm – On the Farm Cooking Class at Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC SOLD OUT Lots of local in the guise of great greens, herbs. lettuces, radishes, garlic, microgreens and more planted and  growing in the certified organic greenhouses and grounds at Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC  and we’re planning an “On The Farm” class to celebrate the first of Spring harvest.  This fun and informative class will kick off with a 45 minute or so farm tour  as we explore the  lay of the land with farmer Mary Roberts and her hubby Ray; then we’ll head into one of the greenhouses or, if weather allows, under a tent at the garden shed to set up a makeshift kitchen to cook with all of Windcrest’s fine local certified organic produce. We’ll have an appetizer and aperitif to start as we head out on our tour and then come back to create 4 fabulous courses of all local fare… But Wait, there’s more….Joining us at class is Ann Jacks from Grassfed Productions, Rootdown Foods, Charlotte’s source for local, grass-fed, cultured butter and ghee; grass-fed beef jerky; gluten-free crackers; grass-fed bone broth; and other grass-fed treats. AND, our favorite Wine guru, Josh Villapando from Assorted Table Wine Shoppe will be on hand to provide a Springtime Wine Pairing with each course.  Its going to be fabulous!  Cost is $85 per person.  For reservations, Email Heidi here 

on-the-farmOn The Farm Cooking Class at New Town Farm – Saturday April 22, 1-5pm –SOLD OUT I taught my very first “On the Farm” class at New Town Farms years ago and love going back each year to enjoy a class at this  family farm in Waxhaw, North Carolina each year. New Town Farms was established in 1990 by Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg.  These unique On the Farm classes kick off with a walking farm tour led Sammy who will talk about his farming philosophy and share what goes into growing the produce and raising the proteins sustainably produced at New Town Farms. We’ll meet the chickens and the laying hens, visit with the pigs and then all wind up in the kitchen making a four course meal from all that New Town has in season. Wine parings with each course compliments of Josh Villapando at the Assorted Table Wine Shoppe at 7th Street market in Uptown Charlotte.  These classes are truly an incredible experience – don’t miss it. Cost $85 per person. For Reservations Email Heidi Here

on-the-farm

On The Farm Cooking Class at Tega Hill Farms -Saturday June 3, 6-9 pm Another wonderful On the Farm Class, this time in the hydroponic greenhouses at Tega Hill Farm in Ft. Mill. Our guides and hosts for the evening are Mindy and Mark Robinson. They’ll teach us all about growing greens, lettuces. microgreens and more in water. By the beginning of June peas and tomatoes may be getting their start as well.  As in all of my On the Farm classes, The Robinson’s will share their views on sustainable farmer and the pluses of greenhouse growing. We’ll set up a kitchen area among the veggies and cook with everything they have in season to create a 4 course dinner for the evening. Wine pairings from Assorted Table Wine Shop of course. Come and join in on the fun! Cost $85 per person. For Reservations Email Heidi Here

on-the-farmOn the Farm Cooking Class at Proffitt Family Cattle Company – Saturday June 24, 4-8pm – So excited to be back working with my friend Shelly Eagan at Proffitt Family Cattle Company for another wonderful On the Ranch farm tour, class and dinner. Proffitt is located in Kings Mountain and is a certified organic grass fed cattle ranch. Come join us to meet the herd and the dogs and the chickens, tour the ranch and find out what exactly goes into raising the kind of beef you need to be eating. Class participants will also be able to purchase beef after class if you would like. Josh Villapando will. of course. be on hand with wine pairings – it’s going to be spectacular. Cost is $85 per person.  For reservations email Heidi Here and then check out the blog post I wrote about Proffitt earlier this year – the post included some tasty NC Beef recipes I know you’re gonna love!

And. last but not least, here are All the Details and the Fine Print on my regular series of cooking classes, both At Home with Heidi and On the Farm….

Living the Loving Local Mantra: In my classes and catering I cook for clients as if I were cooking for my family. It is important to me to use the healthiest, freshest product so I shop Local and cook with produce, proteins and products sourced primarily from local farms and vendors, using certified organic or product that is grown by organic standards when I can’t find what is needed from a local source.

Wine Not?  I partner with my friend Josh Villapando of the Assorted Table Wine Shop at 7th Street Station to provide wine ( and sometimes beer) pairings at each class (with the exception of the cocktail and appetizer class), so you’ll not only leave with some great recipes, but you’ll know what beverages to pair with them as well.

The Take Away: Everyone participates in the preparation of each dish and each class participant leaves with a packet of recipes, wine notes and coupons and other fun party favors.

Class size is limited: Your advance reservations via email gets you on the class list and advance payment confirms your space in class. Once I hear from you with a reservation I will contact you with specifics on how to pay. I will send out directions and any other details you might need, several days prior to  the class date.

Cancellation Policy: I try hard not to cancel events; but reality is. There is a three person minimum for my At Home With Heidi Classes and if weather is a problem we try hard to reschedule. If you need to cancel  more than 7 days prior to class I am happy to provide a full refund of your advance payment. If you cancel 6 days or less before the class date I know you will understand that I will have already started making plans and purchases and am glad to offer you a refund of half of your original payment.

I Heart You! Happy Valentine’s Day!

blog headerIts a little heart-shaped kiss of everyone’s favorite seasonal sweet… and its on my  list of “Things That Make You Go Mmmmmm…

Whether you are planning on saying “Be Mine” or “See Ya” to your sweetie this Valentine’s Day, there’s no easier way to put your thoughts together than through a few Conversation Hearts.

These heart-felt talkative treats are enjoyed by millions of Americans each year. In fact, Americans have been enjoying the candy we now call Conversation Hearts since the 1800s.

wafers-boxMade by several companies, the leading manufacturer of Conversation Hearts is the NECCO/Sweethearts brand. Its  my favorite brand of any heart shaped candy and  shares a history with another longtime favorite of mine,  the much loved NECCO Wafers. Daniel Chase created the idea for the first conversation hearts in 1866 by devising a machine that would press food dye letters onto the candy lozenges made famous by his brother and NECCO founder Oliver Chase. The Conversation Hearts we know and love today came to be in the early 1900s. hearts 2Today NECCO manufactures 8 billion Sweethearts year ’round to meet consumer demand.

From mid-February to January NECCO produces about 100,000 pounds of the iconic candy hearts each day, which adds up to billions of candy hearts—more than enough for everyone in the world to have one, so buy several packs and be sure to share the love .

Through the years, the sayings on Conversation Hearts have been an edible reflection on how our culture has changed, but it is good to know that some of the original sayings are still in rotation, including “Be Mine,” “Be Good,” “Be True,” “Kiss Me.”

In honor of NECCO’s 150th anniversary in 1997, the original phrase “The One I Love” also reappeared in the mix. In the early 1990’s, NECCO’s then Vice President Walter Marshall began an initiative to update the sayings each year, retiring some while adding others. The first new phrase, in years was “Fax Me” which met with a bit of controversy from diehard Conversation Heart fans; but now you can find hearts that suggest a would be lover “email me”, “text me” and “tweet me”, too!ChocolateSweethearts

And they come in Chocolate and  are Gluten Free…Gotta Heart That!

While all Conversation Hearts have been certified Kosher and  gluten free from the beginning, the flavors have made changes with the times.  It all started with the original eight familiar flavors customers found in the company’s Necco wafers: orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. Now there are just six different flavors of hearts in box.

dazzledsweetheartsWhile the classic flavors are mixed and boxed together, the Necco company also produces  separate boxes of chocolate Conversation Hearts,  and they are, like the rolls of chocolate NECCO wafers, this food writer’s personal favorite…just sayin’

But if you’d like something different, instead of enjoying the classics, you can also now buy sugar-free Sweethearts and for those of you who really like to pucker up, enjoy the Dazzled Tart Sweethearts this season in Pink Lemonade, Wild Berry Grape, Sour Apple, Watermelon, Extreme Tangerine and Blue Raspberry

Here’s how it rolls…

To make this sweet candy confection,  six simple ingredients -sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gum, colorings and flavoring –  are blended together into a mixing machine, one color and flavor at a time, until they turn into a soft dough.  The dough is fed into a machine that presses the dough until it is flat, a process called sheeting. The sheeted dough moves on to the cut and stamp station where  the sayings are applied on the dough and  a large machine cuts the dough into 100s of little  hearts. Next, the sheets of cut hearts go into a drying tunnel for about 30 – 45 minutes. The finished hearts are lightly dusted with cornstarch and moved to a drying area where they cool and harden during a twelve hour resting period. Once the hearts have cooled and dried, the starch is dusted off and flavors are mixed together to provide the assortment we find in each box or bag. Each year NECCO reports that they receive hundreds of saying suggestions from romantics, candy lovers and school kids, alike. 

Think you have a good conversation heart phrase to add to the collection?  Sweethearts NECCO is happy to accept suggestions for sayings from their consumers. Each saying can be no longer than two lines of four letters on the small hearts and two lines of six letters on the large motto hearts. You can either e-mail your suggestion to the company via their website at Necco.com,  or mail it to Sweethearts, NECCO, 135 American Legion Highway, Revere, MA 02151.

#TellThemHeidiSentYouWhy not surprise your sweetheart  or your best friend this Valentine’s Day with a box of conversation hearts and reservations at any one of my upcoming At Home with Heidi  cooking classes. The list is on the home page of my blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com – just shoot me an email  to make your reservation and I’ll be back in touch to confirm the delicious details.