For the longest time I've had Vermont on my bucket list, just so I could see and experience where my favorite chocolates are made—the factory of Lake Champlain Chocolates, an award-winning family owned company. I crossed that off my list this summer as we relaxed in Burlington for a few days. The weather was unusually spectacular for August, 80s and dry, so that we would pick up a healthful lunch at City Market and picnic next to Lake Champlain. We enjoyed watching fleets of boats from sailing classes drift by and seeing families bike along the pathways. Everything about the town was quaint including the chocolate factory, which I wasn't expecting. I'd imagined it to be a large building in the middle of a green valley with a separate store showcasing all of their amazing candies. Instead the factory is located on an industrial street in the center of Burlington. When you first walk in, you're greeted by the retail store. There is a cafe towards the back offering hot chocolate and other drinks.
The free factory "tours" are actually a 20-30 minute seated lecture that takes place on the hour, located to the left of the cafe. Our seats next to the open-window factory allowed us to peek at the assembly lines of chocolates being fitted into various molds. Our lecturer was a long time staff member who gave us the lowdown on everything from the origins of the factory because of a chocolate making "dare" by owner Jim Lampman in 1983 to their earning last year of a Fair Trade certification, Fair for Life, for their organic chocolate line.
Of course we also learned where chocolate comes from, starting with the cocoa pod filled with beans, to roasting and deshelling the beans into nibs, and further processing of the solids into chocolate liquor. The nonalcoholic "liquor" refers to the purified cocoa solids and cocoa butter in liquid form. From there, sugar and emulsifiers are added to transform it into the creamy dreaminess that we crave.
We were treated to a tasting of milk, dark and white chocolate samples. We learned that, at least in their opinion, white chocolate is considered real chocolate because it contains cocoa butter (derived from the chocolate liquor). After our taste buds were piqued, we were smartly dismissed to the retail section where I hoarded my favorite Granola Five Star Bars (their best seller) and a few other flavors on sale. A benefit to visiting the factory is that you can get nice discounts not found in their other two retail stores (also in Vermont), on their website, and at the Whole Foods Markets that carry the chocolates.
I understand being a chocoholic. There was a time when I would eat any and every type of chocolate and chocolate derivative. I'd eagerly wait for post-holiday discounts on Valentine's and Christmas chocolates, gather girlfriends to attend all-you-can-eat chocolate buffets at local hotels, and visit chocolatiers in different cities. Thankfully I don't long for chocolate as I used to (too expensive and time-consuming!), but I like to keep a bar or two stashed away...just in case: Lake Champlain's Five Star Bar or Dark Chocolate Peppermint Crunch, and Ghirardelli's Dark Chocolate with White Mint Squares. If you're ever passing through Vermont, I'd highly recommend a quick stop at this factory store for a great education on chocolate-making and to stock up on some very high quality chocolate!