Those living with food allergies know too well how difficult it is to find allergy friendly treats. Many of us find ourselves importing treats from outside the United States. Families living with peanut and tree nut allergies in the Loudoun County, VA area can stop searching because Simply Nut Free Chocolates is now available! With several flavor options and fillings, owner (and LAN member) MaryAnne Klank offers a wonderful variety of peanut and tree nut free chocolates. There's something for the kids, like the solid milk chocolate treats in seasonal shapes and something for the grown ups like, the Chili infused Velvets! Take it from this chocolate lover, Simply Nut Free Chocolates are a heavenly dose of delicious treats mixed with a bit of sophistication.
INTERVIEW WITH SIMPLY NUT FREE CHOCOLATES
MaryAnne Klank: I am actually a second generation chocolatier. I grew up making delicious chocolates with my father for our family business in the Cleveland area. It was a great company and I enjoyed working in both the factory and the retail shop.
In the past I have attended The Philadelphia National Candy Gift and Gourmet Show with my father and I was able to return there this year and re-connect with a number of people in the industry. That one show really helped me focus my ideas and get this start-up on it's way to success.
Recently, I have attended the Chocolatier's Workshop put on by Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, based in Lititz, Pa. The Chocolatier’s Workshop is a 3-day seminar designed for those who are interested in starting their own confectionery business. The workshop showed me that I really do have a solid background in this business and gave me the confidence to move forward with this project.
Thanita Glancey: Would you consider yourself a chocolatier or a candy maker, or both?
MaryAnne Klank: Well, when I was growing up we called ourselves confectioners. Chocolatier is a phrase that only recently has been used to describe someone who works in chocolate. Making chocolate itself is actually quite a process. Similar to coffee, the cocao beans have to be roasted, cleaned and then made into the finally product we know as chocolate.
A confectioner uses a chocolate made by a company such as Ambrosia, Peter's, Wilbur or Guittard. The centers are what a confectioner will produce and then cover with the couverture chocolate that they have gotten from their supplier. This is not a product that is just melted and then used to cover the pieces. Fine chocolate has a beautiful shininess and crisp break that comes from the cocoa butter content. Cocoa butter requires the correct tempering and is very fickle. If not done precisely the cocoa butter will separate and cause the white streaking and crumbling that many have experience when opening a candy bar.
To answer the question, I guess I am a chocolatier, confectioner and candy maker! It all means the same thing. I make delicious candies whatever the label and that makes me happy.
Thanita Glancey: What made you start your own chocolatier business?
MaryAnne Klank: When my sister's son was diagnosed with a dairy allergy in 2005 she purchased dark chocolate Halloween treats from an online, nut free chocolate company in New England. It was the only site of it's kind at the time. We both were looking at the website and thinking that this was something we could certainly do! Our kids were too young at the time for us to really give the idea the attention it deserved. Two years ago I came back to this idea and since then have been moving slowly towards this launch. I'm glad that my husband and I took our time and really researched all possibilities. The candy company of two years ago has grown and evolved from making suckers for kids to what you see now on the website. A quality, gourmet confection like my Sea Salted Caramels that I'm proud to say is mine!
I also probably would not have done this if the need for delicious nut free candies wasn't so obvious. Recently I had some problems at school with keeping a "peanut free" classroom during the Halloween Party. I walked out of school and it dawned on me that I had to move forward with this company for no other reason than to allow my son and daughter to have something they could eat without fear. Same thing happened at our visit to see Santa at our community center last week. We walked in and all I saw on the tables were large signs stating that everything was possibly contaminated. I was so frustrated! I realized after a little while that I could do something about it. I had just had my first vendor's event and still had inventory in the van. I ran out and grabbed a box of chocolate ginger man suckers and brought them inside to donate. I had a really good feeling when they put that basket out with a big SAFE sign on it. I was able to help.
Thanita Glancey: Do you or any of your family members have food allergies?
MaryAnne Klank: Both of our children have peanut/tree nut allergies and I understand how difficult it can be to find quality chocolates without an allergy disclaimer on the packaging. Simply Nut Free Chocolates can meet that need and provide quality, hand-crafted European style chocolates without the fear of cross contamination from nuts and peanuts.
Thanita Glancey: Tell me about your peanut and tree nut free manufacturing process? What measures are taken to ensure that your product will be free of peanut and tree nut allergens?
MaryAnne Klank: Having made chocolates in a factory setting, I know first hand how easily cross contamination occurs during the manufacturing process. We have done everything in our power to ensure this doesn’t happen at Simply Nut Free Chocolates. We have a dedicated area for the crafting of our candies and all of the confectionery equipment was purchased new to eliminate this potential source for contamination. Additionally, we maintain a peanut and tree nut free home and kitchen. I have personally toured the factory where my couverture comes from to make sure it’s a safe ingredient to use in my candies. I was amazed when I was told that they aren't even allowed to have peanut products in the lobby vending machines.
Thanita Glancey: What do you find most challenging about your profession?
MaryAnne Klank: There are a few challenges with this profession. Balancing a family life with a start-up is a definitely high on the list at the moment.
Also, trying to take recipes from my childhood and making them safe has been much more of challenge than I anticipated. Coconut oil is an ingredient used by most confectioners to achieve a good "mouth feel" or texture for their chocolates. I know that coconut is actually a seed not a nut but don't feel comfortable using it in my products. It was quite a process to find an oil that would give the same great "mouth feel" and texture. I did it though and It was well worth the effort. Our Velvets are wonderful!
Trying to find ingredients that are safe can be an issue too. The cocoa butter that is used to make the design on the pieces is only manufactured by one company in the US that is safe for peanut/tree nut allergies. One company in the whole United States. I've had to make a number of changes in what I thought would be our product line because of similar situations.
Thanita Glancey: What do you find most rewarding about your profession?
MaryAnne Klank: I really knew this was what I should be doing when I met a little guy at Newton-Lee Elementary last week. He never had the experience of knowing that all the goodies before him could be eaten without fear of a reaction. I know what his morning had been like since we have the same experiences daily. He came for breakfast with Santa and couldn't have the donuts, muffins or baked goods. They probably offered him something after his time with the Man in Red and he had to refuse. Other vendors were giving away candies for stopping by their tables and, once again, no thank you. He arrived at my table and looked longingly at the display. When I explained that everything was safe for him the look on his face brought tears to my eyes. I get it, little guy. Come back for as many samples as you like. This is for you and all of us that deny ourselves quality, gourmet chocolates to keep our kids safe.
Thanita Glancey: Which flavor of your chocolates is your favorite?
MaryAnne Klank: Obviously I like all of the 5 flavors I'm making but I'm partial to the Mint Velvet. It was a piece we used to make in my family's company when I was growing up. I made my first batch while researching flavors and the moment I bit into it I was transported back to the factory. The place would just be brimming with the smell of peppermint! It was one of my favorites then and now too. My father passed away in 1992 and the candy company is no long around but I feel I really brought some of my dad back with that piece.
Thanita Glancey: Where can customers find you?
MaryAnne Klank: Check us out on Facebook and at my website, www.SimplyNutFreeChocolates.com. I've got some local events posted on both Facebook and the website. I will also be at the Hillside Elementary Shopping Extravaganza on Sat. Dec. 11th from 8am-12pm and then at Heritage High School's Holiday Bazaar from 12:30pm-4pm the same day. Come check out the chocolates and get a free sample of Sea Salted Caramels, Raspberry Butter Creams and Chili infused Velvets all hand-crafted by me, a Loudoun mom!