By Jennifer Huberdeau
You can’t go wrong with chocolate. That’s what Nick Monte, chocolatier and co-owner of the Village Peddler in East Arlington, Vt., and the Village Chocolate Shoppe in Bennington, Vt., believes.
“You can bring it as a hostess gift at Thanksgiving or just give it as a gift,” Monte said during a recent interview at the Village Peddler. “It’s the most recognized flavor in the world. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t had it or doesn’t know what it is.” You just have to make sure you buy the right type of chocolate for the intended recipient. “I happen to be a dark chocolate lover,” he said, noting that his wife, Judy, prefers milk chocolate.
All of the chocolate confections and fudge are made in the Bennington store, where the chocolate is tempered and then either molded, dipped in or made into bars, truffles and other handmade chocolates filled with cremes, jellies and caramels by Monte and his son, Ken.
While the chocolate isn’t made on-site, all the fillings are, as well as their other specialty — fudge.
Helping people discover the joys of chocolate is something Monte enjoys doing. While the Bennington store is a more traditional candy shop, the East Arlington store includes a “Chocolatorium,” with an exhibit on the history of chocolate, make-your-own chocolate bars and chocolate “tasting flights.”
“When we do the chocolate flights, we taste five different samples of chocolate, from milk chocolate through the higher percentages of dark chocolate,” he said.
Tastes in chocolate have changed in the 30 years he has been in the chocolate business. His chocolate orders, which originally favored milk chocolate over dark chocolate 10 to 1, are now equal.
“People have become more aware of what they are eating,” he said. “They know that [dark] chocolate can be beneficial and they’re eating less of the other stuff.”
While solid chocolate Santas and chocolate pops are great seasonal sellers, boxed chocolates are the biggest sellers around the holidays, Monte said. Prepackaged boxes of chocolates also are the big sellers around the holidays at Catherine’s Chocolates in Great Barrington, Mass.
“No one has ever said no to a box of chocolates,” said Matthew Sinico, grandson of the store’s namesake, during an interview at the store.
“Christmas is a very traditional time of year. People know what they like.”
In a kitchen at the back of the store, Sinico and his mother, Kathleen, along with a small staff, keep up the tradition his grandparents started 60 years ago, molding chocolates and creating hand-cut confections filled with assorted crèmes, nuts, jellies, fruits and caramels.
“We specialize in miniature candies. My grandmother believed you should be able to pop them in your mouth,” he said.
While Catherine’s doesn’t have the facilities to make its own chocolate, all of the centers — caramel, nougat, buttercrunch, peanut brittle and jellies — are made as needed.
“Our jellies are still made in a copper pot on a gas stove in the kitchen,” Sinico said.
The crew begins preparing for the holiday season with molded chocolates — solid chocolate turkeys, dreidels, sleighs, boots and Santas. Pops shaped liked menorahs, Christmas trees, Santas and other holiday items also are made, in addition to holiday-themed chocolate bars.
“Chocolate-covered cherries are one of our most popular things at Christmas,” he said, adding that every cherry is hand-dipped at the store. But prepackaged boxes filled with a variety of the store’s handmade candies are the most requested items. They’re requested so often that the store offers a variety of prepackaged options for the holiday shopper, both in-store and online.
“We do a lot of mail-order business,” Sinico said.
Mail orders are big business for the Village Peddler and Village Chocolate Shoppe, as well as for Tavernier Chocolates.
Working out of a business incubator space in the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro, Vt., Dar Tavernier-Singer and John Singer, a husband-and-wife team, specialize in sweet and savory small-batch chocolates.
Beginning with single-origin, fairly-traded Venezuelan chocolate, the couple adds locally sourced and foraged ingredients — mushrooms, fruits, herbs and vegetables.
“We really like savory chocolate,” Dar Tavernier-Singer said during a visit to their kitchen and small storefront. “We love that people are willing to try new and interesting combinations.”
While their bonbons and caramelized maple sugar log-shaped candies are holiday favorites, the couple specializes in chocolate charcuterie — sausage and pâté-style chocolates that are cut and served like meat with cheeses, fruits, beer and wine.
“We provide pairing cards with suggestions for all of our charcuterie chocolates,” she said.
Although they have a small storefront in the Cotton Mill, most of their business comes from mail orders from individuals they’ve met at festivals and fairs or through customers who have discovered their chocolates in shops in the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires and Vermont.
Tavernier Chocolates can also be found at Heavenly Chocolate inside Thornes Marketplace in Northampton, Mass., where owner Bud Stockwell offers his own small-batch chocolates, as well as a selection of American and European chocolates.
For those with friends that have dairy allergies or vegan diets, Heavenly Chocolate stocks a full case of options made with dairy alternatives, including chocolates such as almond bark, salted cashew turtles and coconut creams.
Chocolate Springs Cafe, in Lenox, Mass., also offers a selection of vegan and gluten-free chocolate, in addition to the traditional milk, dark and white chocolate offerings.
Chocolatier and owner Joshua Needleman crafts bonbons, caramels, candies, bars and more on site. Here, or online, you can order his decadent creations, including his famous champagne cognac truffle.
At the end of the day, Monte believes the secret to giving chocolate as a gift is buying the type that’s right for the recipient — not the most expensive or the most decadent.
“My feeling is, chocolate is a fun food. You shouldn’t have to mortgage a house to buy it,” he said. “The best chocolate in the world is the one you like, not the one you’re told you should like.” •
Try for yourself
In Southern Vermont …
Jennifer Huberdeau is editor of UpCountry magazine. She also pens the column, “TheCottager,” for Berkshires Week and The Shires of Vermont.