“You know, I really want to make high-end edibles.” So said recent Berkeley grad Vanessa Lavorato back in 2010 in a moment of inspiration while riding the BART.
At the time, the only edibles Lavorato could find at marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco were Saran-wrapped snickerdoodles and Rice Krispies treats. Those options didn’t cut it for Lavorato, who ran with the best of the Bay Area’s slow-food crowd and learned to temper chocolate from a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, the famed Berkeley restaurant of Alice Waters, godmother of farm-to-table cuisine. Since her rapid-transit revelation, Lavorato has perfected her recipes for THC-infused fleur de sel caramels and raspberry-rose ganache in Los Angeles, where she now lives. Her artisanal cannabis confections are available online and at Cornerstone Collective in Eagle Rock under the label Marigold Sweets. “We’re trying to get away from the stereotypes of Cheech and Chong,” she says of the name choice.
California is, of course, not Colorado or Washington, two of only a handful of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. Many signs indicate that the Golden State will legalize recreational use this year, but until then pot and related products remain legal for card-carrying medical patients only. For now the foodie must speak and behave strictly pharmaceutically: “I work with a licensed dispensary. I’m a patient of that dispensary, and for my fellow patients I provide the chocolates,” says Lavorato.
Since Lavorato started crafting edibles in 2010, research and experimentation have vastly improved the product. Six years ago people were working with shake—basically the crumbs from a big bag of weed. “That’s why edibles from that time had this green, plantlike flavor,” says Lavorato. “You’re trying to get a very small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, from the shake, so the result tastes bitter, like over-steeped tea.” Dosage was also a problem with the shake method. (That time you ate pot brownies in college, got all paranoid and wobbly and ruined the one chance you had with your longtime crush? Those brownies were made with shake, resulting in an uncontrolled amount of THC.) Today carbon dioxide extraction is one process that is favored for its purity and precision. The resulting concentrates have enabled Lavorato to achieve an end result that’s as high as 90 percent THC. “I can put that directly into my chocolate and ensure that the potency is consistent,” she says.
Bigger operations go even further with quality control, and on a much larger scale. In northern California, Altai Brands has a 40,000-square-foot production facility capable of making 30,000 pieces of THC candy in a single day. “It’s difficult enough to be able to make a good sea salt caramel bonbon, but to produce 30,000 with consistent levels of THC in them—that takes another level of skill,” says Altai CEO Rob Weakley, whose vice president of operations, Mark Ainsworth, produced food lines for Costco and Whole Foods before joining Altai. As THC edibles move toward the moneyed mainstream, Weakley hopes to capitalize on that demographic’s good taste and desire for just the right amount of buzz. “We set out to make a product that had the same predictably low-key effect as a glass of wine,” says Weakley. “At 10 or 25 milligrams, it’s about being coherent and social. You don’t get couch-locked like back in your college days.”
THC FOR YOU AND ME
Started by Ainsworth, Weakley (also co-creator of Pebble Beach Food & Wine) and Gavin Kogan, a marijuana-business attorney, Altai manufactures bars, bonbons, lozenges and more at its facility in Salinas, California.
Lavorato’s chocolates contain just 25 milligrams of THC each (her toffees have 16), so there’s little risk of overdosing. (She also makes nonmedical chocolates.)
Défoncé (it means “stoned” in French) is the new kid on the block. Like Lavorato, the chocolatiers at Défoncé use sustainably made cannabis concentrate.
Opus makes both THC and cannabidiol (CBD) chocolates; CBD addresses patients’ pain issues without producing a psychoactive high.
One of the only bean-to-bar producers in the industry, Kiva has more than a dozen edible offerings.