For years, Janet Bowers would make truffles as gifts for friends and colleagues, but, she says, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could do it professionally.” After all, she already had a full-time job as a practicing psychologist.
How things can change: Now her typical workday results in 1,200 dipped, dressed, and luscious chocolates, boxed and out the door.
Bowers, a member of South Central Power Company, grew up in Chillicothe and went on to work for the National Park Service and as a schoolteacher before deciding to earn her doctorate in clinical and forensic psychology.
She enjoyed her professional practice in Evergreen, Colorado, where the mountain town’s proximity to trout streams for fly fishing was a bonus. When she inherited her grandmother’s Wren Valley Farm, however, she knew it was time to return to Ohio. Back in the Buckeye State, she kept at her psychology practice for a few more years until she retired. Her retirement lasted about a week — exactly the time it took her to realize that “this retirement thing is not going to work for me.”
As she tried to decide what to do with her newfound free time, Bowers considered things she liked, and she hit upon chocolate. Wren Valley Truffles was born. She spent a year learning about chocolate, took some formal classes, and shadowed professional candymakers. She spent a lot of time trying out recipes and flavor combinations. “Good chocolate is a combination of chemistry and artistry,” Bowers says. “It’s fun, and there’s always something to learn.”
The most challenging aspect of being a chocolatier in the beginning, she says, was simply working with the chocolate, learning how to heat it to the precise temperature at which it develops a high gloss and a crisp snap when it is bitten into — which took about a year for her to perfect.
Bowers says that her psychology background helps her as a chocolatier “in marketing and reaching out to people and in naming the truffles. I enjoy people, and I loved my psychology career. A lot of my skill sets just rolled over.”
Chocolate needs respect, but it should always be fun."
Bowers likes to try new filling flavors for the Wren Valley truffles, but, she says, “I don’t make it again if I don’t like it.”
The truffles get a lot of repeat sales, but molded chocolates — bunnies, mice, fish, bears, hedgehogs — sell well, too. So do Wren Valley’s candy bars, including one with the design of a nautilus fossil, an allusion to Bowers’ undergraduate major in geology.
“I source ingredients from local suppliers as much as possible,” Bowers says. Her suppliers include Snowville Creamery, Dirty Girl Coffee, Spring Hollow Farm for maple syrup, Hartzler Family Dairy for butter, and Wildflower Lane Honey.
Bowers enjoys working with brides and event planners to create truffles and other artisan chocolates for weddings and special events. She decided not to open her own shop or offer mail-order service, but to remain a wholesale operation supplying her goods to area businesses.
She does take local special orders and delivers them to Hocking Hills Winery for the customer to pick up. The newest chocolate creations are frequently market-tested at the winery and later announced on the Wren Valley Truffles Facebook page.
Bowers says that her goal was always to create “Old World-style European truffles for people who understand what good chocolate is.” She adds, “Chocolate needs respect, but it should always be fun.”
Besides Hocking Hills Winery, Wren Valley’s truffles and other artisan chocolates are available at Glen Laurel Scottish Inn, Keller Market House, Hocking Hills Moonshine, and other area restaurants, lodges, and retreats.