By Henry Dolan
The Swiss brought two of their favorite things to New England when they came here in the 1930s and 1940s: skiing and chocolate—and the two seem to pair well. Think of steaming cups of hot chocolate after a long day out in the freezing cold and bars of chocolate tucked into coat pockets for an energy boost on the slopes.
Denise Monte, part of the Monte family that runs Village Peddlers in East Arlington notes, “Chocolate may be so popular because it pairs well with the wines, beers, and cheeses that are a large part of the ski lifestyle.” Leigh Williams, of Laughing Moon Chocolates of Stowe, agrees: “All of my staff, and so many of our customers are skiers and riders. Our busiest part of the day for sales is after the mountain closes.”
Around Vermont, boutique chocolatiers have popped up in ski towns creating their own hand-made specialties using local products. At many, you can also learn about —and even participate in —the chocolate-making process. Make your own chocolate bar at Village Peddlers in East Arlington; take a self-guided tour at Lake Champlain Chocolate’s flagship store in Burlington. Drive up Route 7, and you can literally taste your way up the state.
From Christmas to Valentine’s Day to Easter, chocolate season intersects with ski season. For skiers and riders who can’t make it to Switzerland, here are 9 decadent chocolate boutiques near popular Vermont ski areas. While some are closed to visitors now due to Covid-19, many are still open and are fascinating places to visit: South to north, they make a sweet chocolate trail.
Charcuterie and…chocolate? At John Singer and Dar Tavernier-Singer’s chocolate shop, Tavernier in Brattleboro, you may be surprised to find chocolate on the charcuterie board along with all the fixings. “Our Chocolate Charcuterie really stands out because it is made with savory ingredients like herbs, nuts, and dairy. It is made to be paired with cheese, real charcuterie, bread, and condiments, as well as wine and craft beer,” Dar remarks. “The chocolate comes wrapped to look like charcuterie, and people love to serve it at gatherings.”
Tavernier’s chocolate bars are also works of art, garnished with flower petals and sprigs of herbs such as lavender as well as some ingredients you wouldn’t expect.
“We use locally foraged spruce, mint and mushrooms,” says John. “We grow our own mint, edible flowers and other herbs, such a black garlic, are organically grown by High Meadows Farm, just up the road in Putney.” They also add in local berries and apples when they are in season, Vermont crafted cheeses and spirits, and maple, birch or shagbark hickory syrups.
The chocolate itself is not overly sweet and is ethically sourced. “We do not use added colors, preservatives or flavorings and balance the flavors of our confections so you can really taste the chocolate, which is single origin, direct trade and ethically sourced from South American producers,” Dar notes.
While their brick-and-mortar store has been temporarily closed during Covid-19, you can order online or find their bars at shops around the state. But once the shop reopens, make Brattleboro a stop on your way to the slopes.
2. The Chocolate Barn, Shaftsbury
The Bottum Farm, which dates back to 1842 was once the largest sheep farm in Vermont. But since 1976 it has housed The Chocolate Barn, a staple of Shaftsbury and the surrounding area. It has become a stop for anyone headed up the western side of the state to ski Stratton, Bromley or Magic.
Today, the barn’s aged wood walls serve as a backdrop for displays of fudge and chocolate and it’s a place to sample some of the homemade ice creams with flavors such as maple and Scotch (yes, you read that right)
Tom Huncharek and Sue Balutis honeymooned in southern Vermont over 25 years ago and fell in love with the area. Huncharek had worked as a chemist. Balutis had experience in making chocolate at Premise in Trexlertown, Pa. The couple bought The Chocolate Barn from Lucinda Gregory in 2010. With it, they inherited her chocolate recipes and over 2,000 molds for various chocolates and fudge.
Many of the ingredients used today come from local producers, like the blueberries for the Blueberry Butter Creams. The maple syrup commonly added to the chocolates and ice cream is from trees tapped just up the road. Strawberries and many of the ingredients for the ice cream come from the farm across the street, Clearbrook Farms, or other nearby producers.
3. The Village Chocolate Shoppe, East Arlington
After a day on the slopes of Stratton or Nordic skiing at Prospect Mountain, take the kids to the Village Peddler and Chocolatorium in East Arlington to see Cocoa, the world’s largest chocolate teddy bear. (Or, if going through Bennington, stop at the sister location, the Village Chocolate Shoppe to see Benny and Molly, two giant chocolate moose.)
Inside the Village Peddler, an old wagon shed, you’ll also find an entire mountainside village made of chocolates, a ski town, with chalets of smooth white chocolate walls and dark chocolate roofs.
Part of what makes the Village Peddler so unique is the Monte family’s enthusiasm to teach others about chocolate and get them involved in the process. The Village Peddler is something of a chocolate museum where you can learn about the history of chocolate, how their business operates, and have quite a few taste tests. You can even rent out the Chocolatorium and create your very own chocolate bar or purchase home-kits for the kids to make chocolate fishing poles or sugar stones. They have many recipes on their website for you to try at home like the Ice Cream Truffles and their Candy Cane Bark.
4. Middlebury Sweets
With 1,300 different candies and 100 homemade chocolates, Middlebury Sweets claims the title of the largest candy store in Vermont. The shop on Route 7, just 15 minutes from Rikert Nordic Center and the Middlebury Snow Bowl, first started out as a scrapbooking store that had three cases of candies at the counter.
The candy sold extremely well and owner Blanca Jenne began to make her own chocolates. In 2012, they made the change to full-on candy store and haven’t looked back since. Some of the things they make in house now include chocolate peanut butter cups, turtles and truffles.
Part of what makes Middlebury Sweets so special are the candy buffets—beautiful displays of every imaginable confection in many colors and flavors. They carry everything from house-made peanut butter cups to jaw breakers to Gummies. If you’re looking to make an event stand out or can’t decide between all of their treats, the shop will even help create a candy buffet you can set up at home.
As the pandemic hit, Middlebury Sweets had the ingenious idea to make Quarantine Survival Kits: a combination of candies and chocolates to send to a loved one. But, if you can, stop in to see the dazzling displays of candies and meet the shop’s four colorful live parrots: two macaws, an African gray, and a blue crown conure.
5. Daily Chocolate, Vergennes
If you are headed north or south on Route 7, Daily Chocolate is tucked into a basement in a classic Vergennes building like a speakeasy. These days, the shop is curbside pick-up only but it is absolutely worth it to call ahead for their famous small-batch specialty bark bars such as White Chocolate Lemon Lavender or Pistachio Green Chili. Throw in a cannister of their Dark Hot Chocolate mix and you can settle in for the evening.
While the shop has been around since 2006, in December 2020 it was taken over by Dawn Wagner. Wagner had worked at Lake Champlain Chocolates in the 1990s but then moved to New York to pursue an acting career on Broadway. There, she met her husband, actor Jeremy Holm (best known for playing Agent Nathan Green on the Netflix series, House of Cards.) While in New York, Wagner continued to make chocolate at El Eden in the East Village and under her own brand cocoSnap!
The couple returned to Vermont in 2016 and Wagner is now busy bringing her own touch to Daily Chocolate creations which are soy-free and made without corn syrup or white sugar. Instead, they are sweetened with local maple syrup, use milk and honey from Addison County, and ingredients from other local producers.
6. Lake Champlain Chocolates, Waterbury Center and Burlington
With a shop and café in Waterbury Center and one on Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, and chocolates that get shipped around New England, Lake Champlain Chocolates is the corporate giant of Vermont’s chocolate scene.
But this being Vermont, that corporate “giant” is a Certified B Corporation (meaning it has legally committed to balancing purpose with profit) that uses non-GMO ingredients, has organic and Kosher lines and guarantees their chocolate is Fair Trade Certified.
That takes nothing away from the taste of its many hand-crafted specialties. While truffles, peanut butter cups and almond clusters are the crowd-pleasers, for something really unique try the delicate vegan Dark Chocolate or Red Raspberry truffles. Their dark chocolate Cocoa Nibs use unsweetened chocolate and, with a lower sugar content and lower carbs, are billed as “Keto-friendly.”
The Waterbury Center store and café is a great place to stop for a hot cocoa on the way to or from Stowe. But it’s worth a visit to the flagship store on Pine Street in Burlington where you can see chocolates being made, watch a video about the process and take a self-guided tour.
7. Laughing Moon Chocolates, Stowe
“All of my decision-making has come back to keeping it small and keeping it quaint and just doing what we’re doing because the people that find us love the product. It’s very fresh. It’s delicious. It’s all homemade,” says Leigh Williams, owner of Laughing Moon Chocolates.
When you walk into the small, Victorian cottage right in the heart of Stowe village, you’ll find hand-packaged truffles stuffed with ingredients such as Bayley Hazen Blue cheese, honey-glazed dried fruits, and salted caramels. Behind a window you can see into the kitchen where a vat of smooth, velvety chocolate is stirred and you can hear the rhythmic machine churning out more chocolate and caramel. Williams got started in the business when she was living on Cape Cod and working at a second-generation chocolate shop, which she did for a half-dozen years before moving to Stowe. She started Laughing Moon 19 years ago. What sets Laughing Moon apart from other chocolate boutiques? “I think the freshness. The freshness and the centers. Technically, we are confectioners. So that just means we make the center. A lot of places don’t actually make the center that they dip.”
Her truffle centers are often made with ingredients such as herbs from Zach Woods Herb Farm for the basil and black pepper truffles, Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen blue cheese and even local liquors like the Green Mountain Sunshine Vodka.
Laughing Moon has adapted to the pandemic by limiting the number of staff and customers in the shop and renting out space in the one building across from it. This has given them room to sell their popular coffee and other drinks and space to get deliveries ready.
8. Snowflake Chocolates, Jericho
If you’re skiing Smuggler’s Notch or Bolton Valley and you’ve never had one of the chocolate turtles from Snowflake Chocolates in Jericho, you have to stop by for a visit.
“It’s a softer caramel dropped on a bed of nuts. Pecan is the traditional one. And then you take those and then run them through a covering of chocolate. We make those with sea salt. And then we also do a version of maple caramel and those go on walnut,” says Sharon Pollack.
Sharon’s parents, Bob and Martha Pollak started the store in 1986 when they realized that their homemade chocolates were becoming increasingly popular. Today, their family—including Bob, now 90— still works in the store, which is made up of multiple expansions attached to the original house where the chocolates were made. Bob and Martha’s grandchildren have all worked there from time to time and his daughters currently run and operate it.
As the name suggests, Snowflake Chocolates strives to make each chocolate as unique as snowflakes, with no two exactly alike. This methodical, painstaking effort is obvious in their delicious buttercrunch, chocolate turtles, and truffles.
One of the tricks that they suggest experimenting with is softening their maple fudge in a microwave and spreading it on toast to make a delicious treat. You can also put their chocolate peppermint meltaway in your coffee or hot chocolate to make a minty and refreshing hot drink after skiing.
Before the pandemic, Snowflake Chocolates also offered a unique “Chocolate Experience,” an event where small groups are given a brief history of how chocolate is cultivated, produced, and shaped.
9. Burke Mountain Confectionery, Burke
If you have seen chocolate bars with the classic, Vermont landscape on the packaging—a rustic, quintessential red barn on the left, green hills dotted with trees and a cute mountain town nestled into the valley on the right—they are from Burke Mountain Confectionery, run by Nancy and Tom Taylor.
Credit for the image goes to noted artist Sabra Field. The Vermont printmaker captured the essence of the chocolatier’s pastoral roots in the Green Mountain state.
“What people have told me before is they just want to jump into the packaging, they want to be in that scene,” Tom says. What’s inside is just as appealing: you can taste the made-in-Vermont local ingredients in their chocolates such as Eden Ice Cider truffles or the Fat Toad Farm Caramel used in the Dark Chocolate Salted Maple Caramel Truffles.
The Taylors and their four kids had been coming up from Nashville, Tenn., to ski at Burke Mountain Resort for years and were looking for a way to move to Vermont. Nancy had been making chocolate as a hobby and eventually started to make delicious peppermint bark, giving it as gifts around the holidays. One thing led to another and in 2013, they started the business here. Though the retail shop is closed now to visitors due to Covid-19, their chocolates are available at shops around the state. n