Everything you want to know about chocolate
In my last post I wrote about Hometown Favorites, the chocolate shop that has built strong emotional ties with chocolate fans for generations. As an outsider, it's sometimes hard to locate these gems while traveling but they're typically worth seeking out. A couple of years ago, my family members were in Buffalo, New York, and dropped off some sponge candy from Fowler's Chocolates (founded in 1901) for me.
Sponge, also known as honeycomb, is one of my all-time childhood favorites, but very few people make it anymore. I have to buy it wherever I find it.
For the past six or seven years I've been road-tripping every summer to Burlington, Vermont, and it's no surprise that many chocolates are being made in Vermont. Some of the key ingredients in confections—high quality dairy products—are readily available here.
The Predictable Vermont Chocolates
If you spend some time along Church Street, the spectacular pedestrian mall that anchors downtown Burlington, you might be tempted to believe that Vermont has no hometown favorite chocolates. Yes, I know all about Lake Champlain Chocolates and even Birnn Chocolate. There's even a Lindt store on Church Street.
While Lake Champlain might have been a hometown favorite many years ago, the brand is now pretty easy to find nationally, so the hometown patina is slightly glossy. To a large extent, the same thing is true with Birnn, and maybe there's some town in Switzerland that Lindt calls home. Even the multi-national Barry-Callebaut is in on the Vermont action—they have a major production facility in St Albans, Vermont just a few exits north of Burlington up I-89.
A Truly Special One: Sweet on Vermont
But for as long as I've been visiting Vermont, I've heard about a chocolatier named Linda Grishman and her company, Sweet on Vermont. The stars (aided by a full moon) aligned on my most recent trip. I finally got to visit with Linda and two of her assistants in her recently renovated, but already too small again, workshop. It's spread out among the garage and basement, located in a modest subdivision not far from the Ethan Allen Homestead.
Like many chocolatiers these days, Linda was not born into chocolate. She emigrated to the United States from South Africa some 30 years ago and got into the chocolate business quite by chance in the early '80s. She started helping a friend who was making confections with recipes involving melted Hershey bars and adding paraffin wax to avoid the need to temper the chocolate. Looking for ways to improve the product spurred her to excel in the field.
What They Offer
Today, Sweet on Vermont offers an eclectic mix of hometown favorites including several different maple brittle (this is Vermont, after all) and the beguilingly named Peanut Butter Pigouts, Moo Chews, and Cow Crunch. Never one to shy away from a pun, Linda also offers lines of themed chocolate bars with names like Moonlight in Vermont (covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald, with a Willie Nelson detour; not to be confused with Moonlight on Vermont by Captain Beefheart), Dashing Through the Snow at the holidays, and I can't overlook mentioning Hottie Chocolate.
As you can tell, there is definitely a puckish side to her personality (and a mischievous grin and laugh to match). Linda has some very serious chops when it comes to making serious chocolates, as well as firm convictions about who does not measure up to her standards.
Linda's Special Chocolate Style
In the truffles category, Linda's taste sensibilities lean toward the French-style: chocolate predominates and the added flavors enhance the chocolate experience, not dominate or overpower it. Judging by the pieces I sampled, she manages this delicate balance quite deftly. She's been in business for well over 20 years, so she must be doing something right.
One thing she is not doing, however, is her own retailing. You'll have to go online or contact her personally to find out if someone near you sells her stuff. Better yet, plan a trip to Burlington and take one of Linda's hands-on two-day classes. Burlington is a fabulous place to visit with lots of great dining options in addition to the non-dining activities.
And the genuine hometown chocolate favorite: Linda Grishman's Sweet On Vermont.
Sweet on Vermont
48 Sky Drive, Burlington VT 05408 (map); 802-862-5814
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