Better Than Sex? 

Makers of sumptuous chocolate truffles bring their rich craft to Montclair.

To understand what makes XOX Truffles' lumpy, marble-sized chocolates so appealing, you have to go back to the source. Looking at a bona fide black truffle, it's hard to see how such a nubbly, dirty-looking fungus merits such luxurious prices. Just give it a whiff: You inhale the aroma of sex -- the musty, sweaty side of sex, the side that calls forth our reptilian urges. Well, XOX Truffles' chocolates may not smell like sex, but they're pure id food. And now you can buy them in Oakland.

Six years ago, Jean-Marc and Casimira Gorce opened up a tiny cafe on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. It quickly developed a cult following, and then a national one. The couple outgrew their 350-square-foot space within the year, but it took them another five years to open their second location, a cafe in Montclair Village, where they live. You can't miss it -- look for the primary-hued yellow-and-blue walls and the drool spots around the counter.

Jean-Marc came to the States to cook, not to hand-roll chocolates. But a congenital defect brought on a heart attack at age thirty -- on his honeymoon, no less. "Meet my wife and you'll understand why," he jokes. The doctor's prescription: no more stress. "Making chocolate is therapy," he says. "It makes you feel good."

Now every morning Jean-Marc makes several batches of truffles in the San Francisco store; later in the day it gets too hot for the chocolate to be properly worked. XOX sells 25 varieties -- including three dairy-free confections for vegans -- and many of them will have been made within the week. The Gorces have moved their storage and wholesale operations to the new Montclair shop, and by early summer Jean-Marc plans to start making truffles there in the afternoon. Mechanizing the process is not part of the picture.

What makes these truffles so sexy? Freshness, yes, and the small size. But key is the chocolate Jean-Marc uses to make the ganache centers: It's a mix of high-quality French semisweet chocolate and cacao powder, with no added sugar to blow out the palate. The various truffles are flavored with everything from reduced red wine to hazelnut paste.

At the Montclair cafe, Casimira uses the same French cocoa to make the cafe's double-rich hot chocolate, served in big French bowls. She also is taking orders for Valentine's Day boxes, which come in papier-mâché containers that she designs and has painted in the Philippines. You can pick up a prepackaged assortment or pick out the flavors your beloved will like best. And of course, Valentine's buyers always get a free truffle as a treat.

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