I recently spent a lovely afternoon at Rue Claire Lavender Farm and Artisan Chocolate on Route 414 in Lodi. Located in the middle of wine country on the east side of Seneca Lake, it is this little shop with a view of the lake. It is tastefully arranged with a lovely mixture of old and new. Decorated with French china, marble and antique furniture, there’s even a hint of lavender in the air.
Claire Benjamin, the proprietress, served us some rich Valrhona hot chocolate, seriously the best cup of hot chocolate I have ever tasted! Claire uses only Valrhona chocolate (unless by special request) from the wine region near Lyon, France and describes it as “the finest chocolate,” containing more cocoa and a French premium chocolate, darker than many.
She believes in using only the best, often seasonal, ingredients, including local and organically sourced flavors. Claire is wonderfully creative, she likes to go “against the grain of the usual” in selecting her flavors. She has a knack for thinking outside the box, coming up with original flavors for her chocolates such as: hazelnut and bay leaf (her very first); mango and tarragon; ginger crème brûlée; pineapple and green tea; spicy jalapeno and passion fruit; Thai coconut; maple coffee Myer Farm coffee vodka.
We sampled a few of her chocolates, including a white chocolate made with local honey that had been infused with pink rosebuds, pomegranates, pink peppercorns and dried raspberry dust sprinkled in. She had created this particular white chocolate for Kindred Fare, as part of their daily dessert menu. The chocolate was delicate with a lovely depth of flavors. Benjamin believes in letting the flavors enhance the chocolate but not take over. She likes the chocolate to remain the star.
All the flavors came through distinctly and retained their individual integrity, a taste exploration of flavors and textures.
I had always believed that white chocolate was not really chocolate, but Claire noted that it does contain cocoa butter and liquor and therefore, depending on the percentage of cocoa liquor, white chocolate can be called chocolate.
Another chocolate we sampled was a dark chocolate truffle made with dark cherry balsamic vinegar in dark chocolate. It was intense, with great flavors of chocolate, molasses, cherries and prunes with a lovely balance of tart, bitter and sweet, truly delightful depth of flavor.
As a testament to her creativity, we also sampled an interesting chocolate onion that Claire had created for the Finger Lakes Cork and Fork event. Claire was challenged with creating a chocolate that would complement products from the Seneca Salt Company and Finger Lakes grape seed oil. She caramelized onions using the oil, dried them, added some Seneca sea salt and combined this with chocolate. They were finished in an onion mold. What an intriguing combination of flavors.
Claire plans to be serving sparkling beverages in her shop as well, including sparkling wine, cider and beer, all local to the Finger Lakes. Another fun reason to visit!
The other significant reason to visit Rue Claire is the lavender.
The smell of the herb pervaded the shop and the plants were growing just outside the shop entrance. Claire always loved lavender and for her birthday, she told her husband that she wanted lavender and when he asked her how many plants she wanted, she answered, “How many can you plant?” And that is how their lavender farm was started. They now have over 300 lavender plants. Along with the scent and the beauty of the flowers, it has some health benefits. Research (health.com) reveals that the scent lowers heart rate and blood pressure, putting you in a relaxed state.
Every year Rue Claire holds a harvest festival, a fun event for the whole family. All proceeds benefit the Beverly Animal Shelter, which is a Finger Lakes no-kill animal shelter. The event offers u-pick lavender opportunities, champagne, wine, cheese, hors d’oeuvres, and chocolate pairings.
The event is held on Saturday, July 9 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Muranda Cheese, Three Brothers Estates & Wineries, Red Tail Ridge Winery, Glenora Wine Cellars, Ports of New York, and Myer Farm Distillers are among the friends who’ll be joining Rue Claire for this year’s Lavender Harvest Festival. There will also be music by DJ H Man (Benjamin’s 7 year old son). People are welcome to bring chairs or blanket for a picnic. Yard games will be available for kids and adults alike!
Benjamin plans to start serving sparkling beverages in her shop as well, including sparkling wine, cider and beer, all local to the Finger Lakes. The shop is open seasonally, so check the Facebook page (Rue Claire Lavender Farm and Artisan Chocolate) for hours to visit, more information and upcoming events. §