Salazon Chocolates

Pete Truby checks hand selects beans in the Dominican Republic. (Photo courtesy of Pete Truby / July 8, 2011)

It is a wet day in Carroll County — not too welcoming.

But in the kitchen of Pete Truby's Sykesville house, the scenario is considerably cozier.

For starters, there are his dogs — a beagle named Molly and a vizsla known as Murphy — who enthusiastically greet a reporter and photographer.

Samples of chocolates are set out on his kitchen island, while Truby works on a new batch on the stove.

Truby is the brains behind Salazon Chocolate, a two-year-old line of organic, fair-trade, dark chocolate that has carved out its niche by featuring natural sea salt.

Traditionally, chocolate candy has no salt in it, but Truby's foodie inclinations and background in the food industry led him to a sweet-savory discovery: He liked the concept of adding sea salt to enhance the flavors in the chocolate.

And he does so by hand at the very end of the process, so that you cannot miss this ingredient. It's visible and is not mixed into the bar.

Salazon — Spanish for "salted" — began innocently enough, when Truby and friends were hiking in Colorado in early 2009.

"I'd always liked the combination of salt and sweet foods," said Truby, decked out in jeans and a Salazon T-shirt that features the logo Truby and his brother designed. "And I found myself mixing trail mix with ordinary chocolate."

Still, it wasn't quite what the laid-back, bespectacled 34-year-old Truby really wanted. Not even close.

Then, lightning struck.

"It hit me that there was not a good organic dark chocolate with sea salt on the market," he said. "I wanted it, I couldn't find it, so I decided to do it myself."

That's something he could pull off. Truby has a business degree from Shepherd University in West Virginia and an MBA from the University of Maryland,College Park.

He's built his career in the food industry -including a stint at Honest Tea, the Bethesda-based company that makes President Barack Obama's favorite drink, Black Forest Berry.

Yet even when he visited gourmet grocers while working for other employers, the chocolate section was "the area that always interested me. I would go do my job, then check out the chocolate aisle, try different things."

Over the course of his travels, he tasted literally hundreds of varieties of chocolate. So this husband and father of a 10-year-old quit his day job and spent months immersing himself in chocolate, almost literally.

Family and friends - and a loan through the Carroll County Small Business Development Center — helped pay the way.

He was looking for something simple. Not complicated like, say, truffles. Truby began by picking the brains of chocolatiers in Pennsylvania.

"Everyone knows Hershey, but candy-making in this country really got its start in Pennsylvania," he said. "People in the business were really helpful to me."

Truby didn't know what he was going to make, but was intent on creating a niche around dark chocolate with sea salt.