For alum truffle entrepreneur, life is like a box of chocolates

Katharine Earnhardt ’04 loves her jobs – both of them. With her bachelor’s in art history and economics, it’s fitting that Earnhardt works in finance and investments at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It’s her second career, a creative side project, that seems more like a non sequitur – since founding her chocolate company, Purple Cow Truffles, in August 2008, Earnhardt has been running the business entirely on her own from her home in New York, N.Y. Surprisingly, the origins of Earnhardt’s company can be traced back to her years at the College. “I started making truffles probably around mid-college, so 2002 or 2003,” Earnhardt said. “I just always had a love for making desserts.”

After college, Earnhardt was busy working and attending graduate school, but her desire to turn her passion for chocolate into something greater never left her mind. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial interest and I was ruffling with small business ideas in my head, something in the food industry, especially the dessert industry,” she said.

Four years later, Earnhardt turned her dream into a reality. “I really felt it was the right time – I got married last June, so this was the first time since college I was geographically settled,” Earnhardt said. “My job at the MoMA was definitely in control.” Earnhardt got her Limited Liability Company registration in August 2008, and launched her products in November.

“I decided to start [my business] before the full-fledged recession hit everyone – I didn’t know that was coming,” Earnhardt said. “But that said, I think chocolate seems to be actually a great idea during the recession – people seem to want chocolate.” Earnhardt may be right – after all, she has sold about 4000 truffles since the product launch in November. It’s an impressive feat considering the fact that her only forms of advertisement are personal e-mails and a Facebook fan page. “There have been people in my class and elsewhere who found out about [Purple Cow Truffles], mostly through Facebook, and they’ve been reaching out to me,” Earnahrdt said. “It’s been good to get back in touch with people from my class and in general from Williams.”

Naturally, the Williams community has been extremely supportive of Earnhardt’s business. “I have some tentatively lined up Eph weddings, and the alumni office just bought a ton for the Alumni Fund Leadership Dinner in May,” Earnhardt said. “My five-year reunion is coming up in June, and they’re planning on serving them at the Mount Hope dinner – And I’ve had several alumni from the New York area, who I’ve never met before, contact me because they love the idea.”

Of course, Earnhardt is no longer using a Williamstown kitchen to hand-make the truffles – due to FDA regulations, she must outsource the truffle production to an outside chocolate manufacturer. But Earnhardt has been involved with the production process every step of the way. “I experimented with a ton of flavors and did pretty extensive research on many chocolatiers and manufacturers all over the country, so the flavor selection I chose was based on what worked best,” she said. “I wanted something that didn’t have too many preservatives, and something that fit in with my brand – the apple, the lime – that fits in with the jovial, uplifting small town brand I wanted to have.”

Purple Cow Truffles’ appearance and packaging also fit in with this small town image. The boxes are made out of plain, recycled cardboard and the colorful, kitschy truffles have a homemade charm to them. Earnhardt has no intentions of competing with the likes of La Maison du Chocolat or Teuscher – it’s not about flying truffles in from Zurich once a week or using 70 percent Valrhona chocolate, and Earnhardt believes that this has helped her company thrive amidst the economic recession. “My packaging [and] the whole homey-looking, small-town brand seem to be a little more recession-friendly,” Earnhardt said. “People are moving towards more modest products – they want to know they’re supporting a small business. It almost seems like extravagance is out of style – I didn’t want to have anything like a champagne truffle.”
I was privileged enough to sample some of her truffles, which come in four flavors: Summertime Lime, Caramel Sundae, Purple Honey and Berkshire Apple.

Summertime Lime’s bright green “white” chocolate shell is a little questionable, and the creamy, lime filling is cloying – but if you love key lime pie, you’ll probably like this truffle. Caramel Sundae has a dark chocolate shell and a chocolate-caramel filling; unlike most caramel truffles, it isn’t sickeningly sweet, probably because it isn’t filled with an overwhelming amount of caramel. Purple Honey is a lavender honey truffle enrobed in white chocolate – it has light notes of honey, but the filling tastes more like fresh lemon than anything else.

The real standout, though, is Berkshire Apple. I’ve never heard of apple truffles before, but Purple Cow’s version is brilliant. The dark chocolate shell perfectly complements the creamy filling that tastes like real apples with a hint of cinnamon. The unique combination is enough to make your eyes roll to the back of your head. It’s a perfect indulgence during exam period – especially since chocolate is proven to release endorphins and help people de-stress.

You can order Purple Cow Truffles in packs of two ($4) or eight ($15) at www.purplecowtruffles.com, or you can buy them in packs of two at The Browns on Water Street.