Sugar Coating // Elizabeth McDaniel, originally a wine rep, makes small-batch, artisan chocolates in Pickens as LaRue Fine Chocolate.
McDaniel grew up in Easley and jump-started her obsession with chocolate years ago, while hand-rolling truffles with her young niece to give as Christmas gifts. Later, while working as a wine rep for Southern Wines & Spirits, she made truffles for her favorite customers.
Encouraged by chefs and other customers who praised the quality of her chocolates, McDaniel mused that she might enjoy making chocolates full-time. So a couple of years ago, her husband Sean gave her an online chocolate- making course for Christmas. “During that five-month course,” she says, “I learned a lot from exploring what worked and what didn’t.”
On October 3, 2014, after 10 years in the wines and spirits business, McDaniel left her full-time job. The next day, she boarded a plane for Vancouver, British Columbia, to take a class at L’École Chocolat and earn her certification as a Maître Chocolatier.
Today, armed with techniques such as how to air-brush colored cocoa butter on the delicate shells of her bonbons, she crafts alluring truffles ranging from cardamom-orange to tart cherry in the kitchen at Martha’s Marvelous Munchies, a bakery in Pickens owned by her neighbor.
McDaniel uses only organic, fair-trade chocolate as her base, and seeks out local honey, cream, and Happy Cow butter. Her repertoire now includes 12 scrumptious flavors, and she is constantly experimenting with new ones. “I developed a good palate from working in the wine industry,” says McDaniel, “so I have a lot of fun playing with different flavors.”
Currently, she churns out 1,000 to 1,500 pieces of chocolate a week, and has plans to turn the guest house on the couple’s Pickens property into a DHEC-certified kitchen.
Chocolate, which needs to be tempered—a tricky and weather-sensitive process—to stabilize its crystalline structure, is a fickle mistress. “You end up having a relationship with chocolate,” the budding businesswoman laughs. “And as in any successful relationship, you have to learn to listen.”