Going into the kitchen of an artisanal chocolate maker feels a lot like getting the golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s factory. You walk in, and it’s like you’ve entered an alternate, more whimsical universe. First, you’re hit with the sweet, floral smell of chocolate, wafting at you from every direction. Then, there are the delightful sight — straight out of a child’s storybook. On one side of the room, trays of pretty, heart-shaped chocolates cool on the counter. On the other, creamy, luxurious chocolate is pouring thickly and continuously into a mixer. It’s especially hard to take your eyes off that fountain of chocolate-y goodness. It’s just begging for you to place your mouth under it like Augustus Gloop. It’s chocolate you wouldn’t mind drowning in.
When I went on a tour, I considered doing just that for a moment, mowing down everyone around me to beeline straight for that hot stream of pure chocolate. I figured I could get my head and hands in for a good 30 seconds before the shocked staff was able to pull me out. Luckily for… well…. all of us, I think, they were prepared for the uncontrollable chocolate lust that must overtake every visitor to their kitchen. A plate of dark, delicate looking chocolates was passed around within seconds of entering.
And as I popped the freshly made chocolate into my mouth, hazelnut flavors giving way to a sweet, cream filled center, I closed my eyes and audibly sighed. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.
The craft of making chocolate has been around for thousands of years. Even from the start, cultures in the Americas knew they had something nearly divine. Cacao beans were valuable enough to be used as currency, and both the Aztecs and Mayans used chocolate in sacred ceremonies. Though, at the time, chocolate wasn’t quite what we think of today. It was most likely a fairly bitter drink. It wasn’t until Spanish ‘explorers’ (as a Puerto Rican woman, I prefer murderers/slavers over ‘explorers’ but to each his own…) arrived in the 16th century (and took the beans back to Europe) that chocolate was mixed with honey and cane sugar to become the sweeter chocolate taste we know today.
And it wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that chocolate really started to resemble the harder form we think of as ‘chocolate.’ That’s when a Dutch chocolate maker came up with an inexpensive way of squeezing out the cocoa butter from the bean. This led to chocolatiers around the world taking cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter and combining them to make eatable chocolate. Since then, artisans everywhere have worked to craft the perfect combination of these ingredients.
And lest you think of chocolate as a purely Europeon pursuit that migrated to our shores later, you should know that the first chocolate factory on American soil opened in the 1700’s. It’s a product that comes from the Americas, has been hand crafted here for hundreds of years, and has inspired chefs, and chocolatiers for centuries.
These are some of our favorite artisanal chocolate shops and brands in the United States. They are all small businesses that put pride and craft into the art of making one of the most addictive and decadent foods in the world, and they’re definitely all worth a visit ASAP.