Chocolate has always been synonymous with the holiday season, and Bissinger’s has long been synonymous with St. Louis. So now that the season is upon us, it stands to reason that you should head over to Handcrafted by Bissinger’s to take advantage of your sweet tooth and the sweet teeth of everyone on your nice list this year. Bissinger’s Chief Chocolatier Dave Owens can tell you just how chocolate and the season of giving go hand in hand. And don’t miss the MAX Toys For Tots event from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, at Handcrafted by Bissinger’s in the Central West End.

Why is chocolate a quintessential holiday gift?
Dave Owens: I think it really comes down to tradition. One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone is an assortment of chocolates. What we find is that people really tie those traditions back to memories of the past when they were small children and their parents or grandparents were gifting them with chocolate for the holidays. Our biggest time of the year is the holiday season when everyone is giving gifts to their families, friends and business associates, so when people think about what to give, they think about those traditions.

Are there certain types of chocolate that pair best with certain types of wine?
It’s certainly subjective to each person’s palette, but I find wine that is either fruit-forward or has a bit of residual sugar pairs best with chocolate. Wine that is super dry causes the chocolate to become kind of acrid or astringent and clash with one another. With wine pairings, the goal is for the two parts to come together and be better than they were individually; one and one should make three. We produce a lot of different types of chocolate, and often they are chocolate and something-type conceptions so we ask, “Is that a dark chocolate, milk chocolate raspberry creme or is that a dark chocolate bar with blood orange and rosemary?” So when our creations are chocolate plus [something], that has a big influence on what it’s paired with. When we talk about those complementary flavors, if I wanted a wine with a little more blueberry, I’d pair it with some chocolate covered blueberries, or maybe it has notes of cherry, and I’ll pair it with our Tart Cherry & Cocoa Nib Crisp bar.

Do certain chocolates pair well with more savory foods?
Chocolate has an origin of being savory; it was used originally by the Aztecs as a beverage that was very savory and had chilies and spices as part of the ingredient list, so it lends itself to a lot of savory recipes. We’ve produced many things over time where it’s used really more as an ingredient, not as a sweet. We’re using it for the cacao — the ground-up chocolate itself, not necessarily the sugar — so we’ll end up using a darker chocolate. I just did a dinner with a restaurant here in town and we used ground chocolate as a crust for some lamb. As an ingredient, it pairs well with a lot of different foods.

What is the history of Bissinger’s?
The history of the name and the family goes back to the mid-1600s when the Bissinger factory was awarded the crest of “Con seur Imperial” to the court of King Louis XIV. We still use that crest today on our boxes and on the website; it has real roots in history. The family came to the U.S. in 1845 and set up shop in Cincinnati. Karl Bissinger came to St. Louis in 1927 and set up shop in the Central West End.

How has Bissinger’s evolved in St. Louis?
We started as a single confectionary shop, Karl Bissinger’s French Confections, and over the decades, became a mainstay in the community as a go-to place for people when they wanted that perfect piece of chocolate or that perfect gift that conveyed the way you felt about a person. That has gone on for the last 90 years, but we have evolved during that time in that now we have catalogs all over the country so people who were maybe from St. Louis originally have the ability to buy our chocolate and ship it anywhere in the country. That was a big step in our evolution as was the number of stores over time. Right now, we have three shops: Plaza Frontenac, our production facility at 1600 N. Broadway and finally we have Handcrafted, which is the evolution of that original Central West End store. Since its inception, it was about being a cafe, wine bar and dessert lounge, so with Handcrafted, we took that to another level, offering more food, more wine, more desserts and more of an interactive experience for the consumer. It’s a fun space where you can sample a number of different wines and pair those with any number of chocolate samples and find what appeals to your palette.

Why is Toys For Tots in line with the Bissinger’s brand?
Bissinger’s has always been a part of the St. Louis community, and I think that the Toys For Tots program is just that as well: It’s part of our community and gives back to people in need. There’s a good synergy there in how we feel about the St. Louis area and how good it’s been to the Bissinger’s brand as well as Toys For Tots and how good they’ve been to St. Louis. M