Home Sweet Home

By LaReeca Rucker

The word connoisseur is generally associated with one of four products - wine, cheese, cigars and coffee. But in the last few years, another has emerged representing sophistication and affluency.

The gourmet chocolate industry is currently experiencing a boom with well-known companies like Godiva repackaging their brand to compete in an aggressive and changing market.

The Gourmet Retailer reports that gourmet chocolate is expected to become a $1.8 billion industry in the next four years, which means popular brands like Ferrero Rocher and Godiva may have to compete with smaller companies like Aunt V's Candies, a Ridgeland business that opened two months ago in Trace Station Shopping Center.

In their small boutique candy store, owners Cheryl and Jeffery Blackstock offer a variety of chocolates, from caramel, champagne and coffee to tiramisu, truffles and toasted coconut.

Cheryl said hand-dipped truffles are her most popular candy. She makes 400 a day at her Magnolia Market Place store in Flowood and has been doing the same for the Ridgeland store since it opened.

The Blackstocks say children are invited to come inside, but they won't find gummy worms and traditional penny candy on the counters. Even the kiddies who shop at Aunt V's are a little more sophisticated than your typical lollipop lover.

"We have a 10-year-old little girl who comes in here who always gets two truffles, two chocolate-dipped strawberries and a piece of fudge," Jeffery said.

While the Blackstocks candies are created for the most discriminating and knowledgeable chocolate connoisseur, their prices are not upscale and are designed to welcome the average Hershey addict who wants to sophisticate his palate.

"We want people to be able to come once or twice a week," said Jeffery, a Northeast Jackson native.

Prior to returning to his hometown, Jeffery and Cheryl lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and operated Aunt V's there until Katrina hit, forcing them to flee north. The following Labor Day, the couple ventured back to see what remained of their former lives.

"We already knew our house was gone, but you get mixed reports and think maybe it will be OK," Cheryl said. Everything wasn't OK. "When you're self-employed and something like this happens, your income stops."

Determined to rebuild their lives and business, the Blackstocks salvaged some of their equipment from the coast and revived Aunt V's, opening the Flowood store Oct. 12.

The Ridgeland store off U.S. 51 followed. Filled with chocolates, brownies, taffy, pecan logs, blackberry gels, pralines (their specialty), pecan clusters, turtles, sugar plum pops, chocolate-covered Rice Krispie treats and Martha Washingtons, the Blackstocks are now accurately calling the Jackson metro area "home sweet home."

Along with a large variety of candies, Aunt V's carries many Mississippi-made gourmet products like Hillside Vineyards Muscadine Juice from Kosiuskio, Magnolia Honey Jelly from Woodville, Mickle's Pickles from Picayune and Sweet Potato Sweets from Vardaman.

Aunt V's also offers candy trays, gourmet cakes and gift baskets, and the store ships anywhere in the U.S.

For more information, call 1-877-9KANDY9.