STANDISH, Maine — Beer and oysters, pilsners and cheese, beef sliders with a frosty pint.
In the culinary world, such pairings are the norm. But craft chocolate infused with craft beer?
In a short period of time, chocolatier Laura Rudy has become the truffle stout queen.
Toiling in her country kitchen near Sebago Lake, she resembles a maestro with a baton conducting an orchestra. Filling an order of truffles to beat the Valentine’s Day rush, the petite 30-year-old wearing chef whites simmers cream, adds vanilla, tempers chocolate and then adds the beer.
Using a sour raspberry ale aged in oak barrels from Allagash Brewing Co. called Coolship Red, she creates beer bon bons.
“These are tart and sour and bold, enhanced with a fresh raspberry puree,” said Rudy, adding Coolship to create a beer jam that will become the truffle’s textured center.
The ganache is dipped in dark chocolate and topped with a garnish. This batch is christened with a crystallized raspberry shaped like a heart.
“I think it’s a wonderful challenge to be able to take something that’s a handcrafted, artisan product and make something that complements it and makes both parts better,” said Rudy, who is spreading the gospel that chocolate and beer is the perfect dessert with her seven-month-old enterprise La Creme Chocolat.
The former baker at Standard Baking Co. in Portland and head pastry chef at Black Point Inn in Scarborough fell in love with chocolate making after spending a year in France.
“They have amazing chocolate shops, pastry shops and bakeries on every block with wonderful smells coming out of them,” said Rudy. “You go in and are rarely disappointed. It’s an art form, an experience.”
Moving to Maine in 2007, “I really wanted to bring that flavor with me,” she said.
Married to a brewer-turned-hard-cider maker, the idea to fuse beer and chocolate was not far off.
After joining the Maine Beer Mavens, a club for women who appreciate beer, the idea to marry her two loves hatched. “They have inspired me. I had not thought of adding beer to truffles, but it made sense to combine my passions.”
Using beer from Maine brewers — Baxter Brewing Co., Maine Beer Co., Rising Tide and Allagash — she enhances rich ganache and gives chocolate and beer lovers a reason to cheer.
“She is very knowledgeable about beer. It’s a perfect little niche for her,” said Stasia Brewczynski, tasting room manager at Rising Tide Brewery, where Rudy’s decadent dollops are paired with just-brewed batches of beer for special tasting.
Brewczynski and Rudy frequently brainstorm and taste test combinations. Over chocolate and beer sessions they determine the right yin and yang to soothe the bitterness of an IPA, for example, or coax out the mellowness of malt.
“It’s symbiotic,” Brewczynski said. “The same way we encourage people to think small and local with beer, we want them to think small and local with food.”
With almost two dozen truffles in her repertoire — espresso, champagne and hazelnut, too — she is always confecting. Even La Creme’s nonbeer chocolates are meant to pair with ales.
Like a brewer, she creates new and limited releases when the spirit (or spirits) moves her.
One of the first truffles, made with Allagash Black, “has that creamy taste to it and a bit of bitterness from the roasted malt,” she said.
“The milk chocolate balances out the bitter hit,” said Rudy, who has created a new spin for Valentine’s Day, using a hazelnut-infused milk chocolate topped with a toasted hazelnut praline so it tastes like hazelnut stout.
It’s unknown how many beer truffles are on the market, but in Maine it appears untapped.
Rudy is inspired by the can-do attitude of her entrepreneurial peers here.
“Maine is very rich with a lot of entrepreneurial people. A lot of people that I’ve met have been elsewhere and choose to live here and start their own things,” she said. “I’m part of a cottage industry that’s thriving.”
For Valentine’s Day, Rudy will showcase her craft confections in these Portland breweries:
— 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, and noon-5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, at Rising Tide Brewery, 103 Fox St. Truffle flights are $10 paired with $4 beer flights. The event celebrates the release of Rising Tide’s Calcutta Cutter Imperial IPA.
— 4-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, La Creme Chocolat is part of a beer and chocolate tasting at Allagash Brewing Co., 50 Industrial Way, Portland. Tickets are $15. For information, visit allagash.com.
To purchase La Creme Chocolat truffles — which are $12.50 mixed- or single-flavor box of four, $25 single-flavor dozen or $30 for a mixed-flavor dozen — call 443-841-2458 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.