Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” As a bona fide chocolate lover, born and raised, I could not agree more.
Chocolate has a special way of warming our insides and bringing a little piece of joy to our days. It can help soften our heartbreak, support our laughter, and contribute to all sorts of celebrations.
Chocolate is a staple for several holidays, including one that is quickly approaching in the form of a bouncing bunny carrying a basket of pastel-colored eggs.
What better way to get into the holiday spirit than by traveling down the Brandywine Valley Chocolate Trail’an adventure that’s sure to please both young and old, as well as bring out your inner sweet tooth. This trail includes everything from bakeries and Italian markets to teashops and restaurants. For the adult explorer, the trail also includes wineries and taverns where you can delve into the classic pairing of wine and chocolate, or you can try something new in the form of a chocolate-flavored beer.
To help you along this sweet journey, we have listed four not-to-miss stops on the road to mouth-watering bliss.
1. Ever had a craving for salty and sweet? A mere 20 minutes apart in Oxford, Pa., dwells Herr’s Snack Factory and Neuchatel Swiss Chocolates; when you put these two companies together, magic happens in the form of the Swiss Chip. According to Neuchatel’s owner, fifth-generation Swiss Chocolatier Chef Albert A. Lauber V, the Swiss Chip was born 25 years ago when an employee placed a potato chip on the conveyer belt to see what would happen. This tasty little bite is made from Switzerland-imported chocolate and Herr’s potato chips. “The salt of the potato chips provides the perfect complement to the sweet, rich Swiss chocolate, and the crunch of the crisp chip makes you crave another bite,” Lauber says. “Swiss Chips are the perfect snack.” If you crave more salty or sweet treats, both Herr’s and Neuchatel offer a variety of other products.
2. In Kennett Square stands The Mushroom Cap, a store devoted to one thing and one thing only: mushrooms. It might surprise you to find a mushroom store on a list devoted to chocolate, but the Mushroom Cap has found a delicious way to combine the two. Snack N Shrooms are mushroom chips made of dried mushrooms, grown right in Kennett Square (“The Mushroom Capitol of the World”). Owner Kathi Lafferty makes these veggie chips in several fabulous flavors, including original, garlic and hot. One crunchy little devil comes covered in decadent dark chocolate. “It reminds me of loving pretzels and chocolate ice cream at birthday parties as a child,” Lafferty says. The mushroom’s naturally earthy taste pairs exceptionally well with the dark chocolate’s depth. With these snack packs, you can enjoy your chocolate craving while eating a healthier alternative. So munch on, chocolate lovers, munch on!
3. A Taste of Olive’s mission is to supply its customers with the best quality and freshest olive oils and balsamic vinegars. To do this, the West Chester store imports the choicest products from artisans around the world. One such product is its Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar. Kate Schroder, one of A Taste of Olive’s managers, says, “Dark Chocolate Balsamic can contribute complexity to your favorite dishes.” It works as a delicious topping on lemon pound cake, can add depth to your favorite chili recipe, and makes a marvelous, smoky rub for meats when paired with the store’s Espresso Brava sea salt. Plus, you can combine it with A Taste of Olive’s signature olive oils. “Blood Orange olive oil pairs with the Dark Chocolate Balsamic to create a sweet and savory salad dressing, glaze or marinade,” Schroder says. Other exotic creations include three distinct chocolate pastas, as well as an Italian chocolate bread mix.
4. We would be remiss if our list of chocolate stops did not include West Chester’s E’CLAT Chocolate, home to world-renowned master chocolatier Christopher Curtin. E’CLAT has received accolades from magazines such as Bon Appétit, Vogue and Food and Wine. “Pennsylvania has a long chocolate history,” Curtin says. “It’s exciting to be a continuation of that tradition.” Curtin creates chocolates that are both delectable and unique. His favorite product, E’CLAT’s Peruvian Nacional, utilizes one of the world’s rarest and finest cacao beans, which, until recently, was thought to be extinct.
“We go every year to Peru [where the bean was rediscovered] to a small hidden valley in the mountains and hand-select the first harvest of the year for the best beans,” Curtin says. The top five percent of that harvest is used for E’CLAT’s Good & Evil bar, which Curtin produced with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert. You can also taste this rare delicacy in E’CLAT’s Peruvian Nacional truffle and the Peruvian Milk Chocolate City Harvest bar.
Learn more about the Brandywine Valley Chocolate Trail at brandywinevalley.com.