Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Michele's Tesora, artisan candies made in Buellton, are an edible treasure
BY WENDY THIES SELL
One of my all-time favorite confectionary combinations is peanut butter and chocolate, but to make the pairing perfect, it must crunch.
So imagine my delight when, in between tasting wines at the Santa Barbara County Vintner’s Festival last month, I happened upon a food booth offering exactly that!
The pretty Ratcliff sisters welcomed me with their warm smiles as I laid eyes on their gourmet chocolate-peanut-butter candies, which are handcrafted by their family in Buellton.
Called Tesora—inspired by “tesoro,” the Italian word for treasure—the crispy, foil-wrapped snack filled the palm of my hand.
The ingredients include white chocolate, peanut butter, semi-sweet chocolate, peanuts, and brown rice crisps, and are natural and organic, making me feel even better about what I was about to munch on.
“The peanut butter that is used is organic, the peanuts that are used are organic, the brown rice crisps are organic, and the Guittard chocolate that we use is all natural,” Christin Ratcliff shared.
I ate one treasure right there at the booth; it was deliciously creamy and rich with a delicate crunch.
I took three Tesora candies home in a cute little bag, sharing one with my friend Hannah later that day.
I admit that I actually hid the remaining two candies on the upper shelves of my pantry for private late-night noshing or whenever my sweet tooth would beckon.
Turns out I’m not the first person to turn greedy over Tesora.
“People would tell us they would hide our candy like treasures, so when we were thinking about the name, we were like, ‘What’s the Italian word for treasure?’ And that’s the basis for the name Tesora,” Christin explained.
But not everyone is selfish with these artisan sweets. Tesora are wrapped in pretty gift bags with a hand-tied bow, making them a perfect anytime present. A 3-ounce bag containing three candy pieces costs $6.
“We wanted people to look at our product as something that’s giftable,” Christin said.
Tesora is a treat that Christin and her three sisters grew up eating regularly as kids. Their mom, Michele, then a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, wanted her daughters to have wholesome snacks.
“When we were little, we called it ‘crunch.’ My mom wanted to provide something for us girls that would still taste great, but that didn’t have all the preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup—stuff that was basically really unhealthy for us,” Christin said.
Added Michele, “This was always one of those things I would make at home for holidays and special occasions. It just came to the point that so many people started asking me, ‘Can I buy it from you?’ So I started thinking to myself, ‘Why not? Why not give it a go?’ There are plenty of very well-known candy companies that have been very successful with grandma’s recipe.”
Michele also realized that her four grown daughters and her husband, Ken, who is newly retired, could help run the business, bringing their own unique talents to the table—or in this case, kitchen.
Christin, 29, is a makeup artist for Chanel cosmetics and has experience in luxury retail and visual merchandising.
Elizabeth, 25, a college student, is computer-savvy and takes Tesora photographs.
Kathleen, 24, is in graduate school and helps with social media.
Michelle, 22, also in grad school, has experience in restaurants and catering.
And the patriarch, Ken, wears several caps, including deliveryman, carpenter, and dishwasher.
So in May 2013, Michele’s Tesora filled its first order.
The family makes the candies mostly on weekends or evenings in a commercial kitchen in Buellton.
“That’s the beauty of this: In terms of a family, I’ve got my girls in the kitchen; my husband is there; everybody is doing something,” Michele said. “We’re all in there together.”
The candies are sold on their website, MichelesTesora.com, and in several shops across Santa Barbara County, such as the Los Olivos Grocery, and Panino in Santa Ynez.
Michele’s Tesora has also done special orders for weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, and charity events.
But many people buy this little treasure for themselves, enjoying it with their morning coffee, as a snack at work, or with wine anytime. “My family even sometimes puts it in the refrigerator to make it cold. That’s another way to experience it,” Michele said. “We have a family friend who smashes it up and puts it over his frozen yogurt or vanilla ice cream.”
Any way you eat it, a Tesora treasure tastes even better when you know this nice local family makes each one by hand, sharing their yummy family tradition with the rest of us.
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell feels like she has found hidden treasure. Share your hidden wine and food gems by emailing email@example.com.