Chocolate. I never tire of it. I could eat it for breakfast (I shouldn’t), lunch (ok, sometimes) and after dinner (are you kidding, always!). What makes it so alluring? My favorite is deep, dark chocolate. You know, the kind that’s 95% pure and sun-roasted cacao with just a hint of sugar or spice. There are so many chocolate brands out there. I know there are millions of ladies out there like me who can’t resist the taste, texture and delight of chocolate melting in our mouths. And you guys out there – you know who you are – love it too.
I’m also a self-confessed chocolate snob. I won’t eat just any chocolate. I need the real deal. I’m talking about artisan chocolate. And if you really want to know, I like organic, fair trade, sustainably-sourced, responsibly-packaged, eco-friendly, local chocolate. Naturally, that cuts down the list of places where I can get my fix!
So when we were zipping down the M-22 coastal highway in a rental car the other day, with our friends and fellow Loopers the Fallons, on our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and Michael mentioned he saw an “organic chocolate store” by the side of the road, we had to hit the brakes. Like right away.
What a find! Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate – a bright key lime colored house just outside the village of Empire. Started in 2004, owned and operated by Mimi Wheeler, a native of Denmark, she and her group of helpers, create some of the most delicious and creative chocolate confections we’ve tasted on our travels so far. Organic ingredients, check. Fair Trade, you betcha’. Eco-friendly, compostable packaging, of course! Everything about this place from the bright green paint outside to the cocoa supply sourced from a small, sustainable farm in Otavallo, Ecuador (Fair Trade Grower), to the fact that it’s family owned and operated with just a handful of employees, makes you feel like you’ve made a good choice in supporting this business. Oh, and in supporting your own sometimes sinful habit of devouring these delectable confections!
The kids sampled a few of the milk chocolate “bugs” (shapes only!) and some gourmet hot chocolate, while the adults savored some of the richest dark chocolate truffles along with an interesting combination of hot chocolate laced with Vietnamese cinnamon and hot ancho chile powder — the Dragon’s Breath. Wow was that spicy good! Brewed extra hot and extra spicy (Michael’s request) it had us wishing for more down to the last drop. Easy enough, they sell it in the store ready for home brews whenever the temptation for chocolate arises.
Using the “let’s try a little of each” approach, I successfully walked out of the store with a nice selection of gourmet truffles infused with cardamon, ginger, basil, chile pepper, cinnamon and expresso as well as a few bars of chocolate, hot chocolate mix, and a jar of delicious caramel.
As if we needed another excuse to come back, the owner Mimi, kindly offered to give us an onsite tour and chocolate class, complete with history, farming and business background. Oh, and lots of free samples. What could be better??!! Chocolate and home-schooling done at the same time. This was one time the kids didn’t mind “learning” some new skills!
We saw what the cocoa bean looks like raw, discussed how they are processed and pressed from cocoa nibs (the inside of the cocoa bean) into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. We also talked about the regional variations in taste depending on climate, where they were grown, and what type of soil they are grown in. We learned about the different grades of cocoa using some our senses, namely smell and taste to judge just how different each type of chocolate tasted and why. We also learned to look for the different symbols on the chocolate wrappers that signify things like Organic (pesticide/GMO free), Fair Trade (the farmers and workers who are justly compensated), the Rainforest Alliance (conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods) and finally, looking for reassurances that the product was sustainably sourced (the environment was not compromised to make the product). Lots to learn, but luckily a very tasty lesson!
The kids asked lots of questions and I think for the first time, really got to appreciate the delicious taste of dark chocolate. They had their favorites — Daria liked the pistachio truffle while Keenan preferred the hazelnut — but they tried them all and both agreed that dark chocolate wasn’t all that bad after all. Michael was all about the spicy pepper laced truffles, while I just liked all of them, no favorites, I’ll take one of each!! We found out that Grocer’s Daughter has a monthly mail order club. When we get back home to Miami, this could turn out to be an expensive new habit for the Samways!
So there you have it — my chocolate addiction revealed. But at least I am reassured that chocolate, especially the artisanal, organic, fair trade, sustainably sourced, locally produced, and responsibly packaged kind that I love is good for me! Plenty of antioxidants to combat all those free radicals produced during my training and racing. It’s the perfect combination! I’m sticking with it! So…excuse me while I go and get a piece of my delicious chocolate to munch on!