By: Amanda Thorsteinsson
Constance Popp is up front about having an emotional attachment to her new birch bark chocolate.
“To me, it’s super cool when I can take things that are from the earth, like birch, and evolve it into something, especially when it both looks like where it’s from, and also so overtly connected to where it’s from.”
One would expect nothing less from a woman whose career prior to becoming a full-time chocolatier was in natural resource management.
“The mould is from a tree growing in the front yard of my house,” says Popp, who has made chocolates for presentation to Queen Elizabeth, for the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
Popp’s recipe is a blend of milk and white chocolate laced with pure Manitoba birch syrup. Popp sells the chocolate in bars that are a true-to-form replica of a hunk of bark.
If you’ve never heard of birch syrup before, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a painstaking process to actually get it, and so most people don’t bother with it.
Birch trees, in comparison to maple trees, are much more slender, which renders the actual extraction process of the birch water more difficult. And then even once the birch water is extracted, it takes 140 litres of it to produce one single litre of syrup. In comparison, it takes between 20 and 50 litres of maple water to make one litre of maple syrup.
Popp gets her birch syrup from a small family company north of The Pas.
It’s a process with a price tag—a single bar is priced at $12. In a city with a well-established reputation for being cheap, is anyone going to buy?
Well, yes. It seems premium home-grown chocolate is something Winnipeggers are willing to pay for—Popp has opened a new shop up in the concourse of the Richardson building to help keep up with holiday demand.
She began experimenting with birch bark syrup back in June and it’s fitting that the bars are making their debut at Christmas.
“I build up to Christmas all year round,” she says. “And trees are a symbol of Christmas, they’re just so wholesome, and so ‘nature’,” says Popp. “They’re so ‘home.
Popp uses other ingredients from her Manitoba home in her chocolate as well—things like flax, sunflower seeds and John Russell honey all make guest appearances in her shop.
And Popp has numerous suggestions for ways to make wherever ‘home’ is more inviting:
“Give your lover peanut butter cups early in the evening,” she says. “Peanut butter makes people comfortable.”
“A bit later, bring out the red wine truffles.”
And by red wine truffles, she is of course referring to her, “red wine and sea salt truffles in dark chocolate.”
Her white chocolate truffle featuring champagne and pepper might not be a bad start either.
But wait–handcrafted red wine and champagne truffles in cheapskate Winnipeg?
Bring it on.
Amanda Thorsteinsson is a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow her at: @amandathors
All photos by Amanda Thorsteinsson