Say hello to Nathaniel Izard, of Izard Chocolate - the first
artisan bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Central Arkansas. Founded in 2014 and located in Little Rock, Izard Chocolate
started out as a dream but turned into a full-time passion.
I met Nathaniel recently at the 2017 Dallas Chocolate Festival, and he shared how he got started in the chocolate-making business.
“Almost four years ago, I quit my job and wanted to start a business. I was traveling through Italy for a while and really liked the idea of creating a quality product and doing something that was more small-business minded and creating an artisan product. At that point, I started playing around with chocolate as more of a hobby. I then took it from a hobby and turned it into a full-time business. I started selling to farmers markets and then opened up a retail space.”
I asked him several times about his backup plan (or "safety net") while he was starting his new business. No safety net, he quit his job first, started his new business second. I must have asked him the same question 8 different ways, but the answer was always the same – he quit his job first, started the new business second.
Now THAT’S confidence. And it’s confidence that has paid off.
“It can be a hard business but a really fun business to be in. The thing I love the most is just the ability to continually work and perfect the art of chocolate making.
We’ve been in business for 2.5 to 3 years. We started off just making chocolate bars then slowly kind of grew and opened a retail shop and brought in other products like the caramels and things like that. We also do truffles and wrapped caramels.
We also roast coffee and we do gift options. We’ve been growing steadily… sure and steady."
We also talked a little about my personal favorite, the Bourbon Pecan Caramels.
“As far as the Bourbon Pecan Caramel goes, the way it kind of came about, there’s a guy whose name is Phil who owns a distillery in Little Rock. He was wanting to do a product with our chocolate where we could combine his bourbon and our chocolate together. We came up with some different recipes for a couple of things and ultimately settled on the caramel. So, going from there, we did quite a few different variations. The tricky part was caramel doesn’t like liquid, so you’ve got a lot of bourbon, and you’re trying to get the bourbon flavor in there. We really wanted that bourbon flavor to come out, so we had to figure out how to get the caramel to the right temperature and to get the flavor there without compromising on the caramel texture while making it easy to work with.
It went through quite a few variations on that front. From there, we’ve been making it for about two years now and we slowly continue to learn and develop it a little further each time to get it to where it is today.”
The Bourbon Pecan Caramels taste, quite simply, like Christmas in the mouth. The only time I ever use bourbon is at Christmas. Not Thanksgiving, not New Year’s, not “the holidays” in general, but only at Christmas, be it in eggnog, bourbon chocolate pecan pie, etc. So when I tasted Izard’s Bourbon Pecan Caramels in September, it was like Christmas had come a little early.
The caramel itself is smooth as silk with that rich bourbon flavor infused throughout. Some caramels are very tough and gummy (tooth fillings beware!), but not this one. Izard Chocolate’s caramels quite literally melt in the mouth - chewing is optional. And the dark chocolate in which it’s dipped tames the sweetness to perfection.
The other caramel I tried was the chocolate-dipped Salted Caramel. This one defies description. You know the taste you get when you eat a fast-food french fry and take a sip of milkshake at the same time? That exquisite blend of salty and sweet is yours when you savor one of these bites of silken caramel goodness. Izard uses Icelandic Sea Salt, which lends a brightness to the caramel and a satisfying crunch on top, rendering it, as Goldilocks declared, “just right.”
Izard Chocolate offers a variety of products using organic, Fair Trade chocolates. The offerings include several types of single-origin chocolate bars, a Craft Chocolate Variety 4-Pack, and Ginger Caramels (next on my caramel-tasting list) in addition to the chocolate-dipped variety. All are sold both in stores around Arkansas as well as New York, Texas and Canada. You may also order online here.
Izard Chocolate has a retail storefront in their factory, and if you’re in Little Rock, they welcome you to drop by to see how chocolate is made and try samples of their products.
P.S. If you don’t see something online that I’ve described here, call Nathaniel at 501-352-5834. They are revamping their website but have a fully-stocked store.
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