Chocolate has been consumed as a beverage for most of its 4,000-year-plus history: The Aztecs and Mayans drank chocolate, considering it an aphrodisiac, and so too did Marie Antoinette, who brought her own chocolate-maker to Versailles when she married Louis XVI in 1770. The officially appointed “Chocolate-Maker to the Queen” made himself indispensable to his patroness by creating new recipes for drinking chocolate, mixing in orchid bulbs for strength and orange blossom to calm the nerves.
It wasn’t until a Dutch chemist invented a cocoa press in 1842 that the first solid chocolate bar was created. But it took a while before the process was refined, so drinking chocolate was still the primary product being produced at the Cadbury chocolate company in 1861 when its founder, John Cadbury, turned the company over to his sons, George and Richard.
The company wasn’t in the best financial shape at the time. In looking for ways to save the business, Richard hit on the idea of using the excess cocoa butter produced as a byproduct of the drinking chocolate production to make “eating” chocolates. Valentine’s Day had become quite the craze in Victorian England by this time, so the savvy marketer began packaging his new product in heart-shaped boxes that he designed himself, embellished with Cupid and rosebuds. He pointed out to consumers that when the chocolates had been devoured, the boxes could be reused to store love letters and valentines.
But while an Englishman gets the credit for coming up with the heart-shaped box of chocolates, it took an American to invent a chocolate kiss: Milton Hershey, whose teardrop-shaped chocolates invented in 1907 were promptly christened “kisses” because of the smooching sound made by the machinery as it squirted each one out.
While you may not have your own personal chocolate-maker this Valentine’s Day, living in-house as Marie Antoinette had, you may just have something better: The Hudson Valley is full of fine chocolatiers; you just have to know where to find them.
Lagusta’s Luscious in New Paltz
Lagusta Yearwood founded her business online in 2003 and opened a storefront in 2011. Her shop is known for vegan chocolate. Fair-trade-sourced and organic, it’s combined with fresh, organic and often locally grown ingredients to create handmade artisanal chocolate confections.
Valentine’s Day specialties: Blood Orange Heart, a 10-ounce heart-shaped layering of blood orange caramel – made with fresh blood orange juice – and white chocolate ganache spiked with blood orange zest, enrobed in dark chocolate and garnished with a slice of candied blood orange; Valentine’s Bark, a six-ounce flat slab of solid chocolate embellished with swirly pink-colored white chocolate hearts with bits of candied citrus, candied hibiscus and rose petals and freeze-dried raspberries embedded in it; and Box of Hearts, 22 pieces of artisanal chocolate: chocolate caramels with chocolate sea salt garnish, white wine and pear white chocolate cream hearts, violet caramels with candied violet garnish, rosewater cashew cream hearts and cinnamon caramels.
Regular shop hours: Tuesday through Friday, noon to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Extended Valentine’s week hours: Open regular hours plus Monday, February 8 (normally closed Mondays).
Lagusta’s Luscious, 25 North Front Street, New Paltz; (845) 633-8615, www.lagustasluscious.com.
Fruition Chocolate in Woodstock
Bryan Graham, a CIA grad and former pastry chef, founded the business in 2011. Chocolate is made in Shokan with a retail location in Woodstock. Fruition is unique in that Graham buys fair-trade cacao beans from Central and South America, then roasts and grinds them himself, combining the resulting chocolate with locally sourced fruit, maple syrup, honey and spirits in small batch production of artisanal chocolates.
Valentine’s Day specialties: Chocolate Tumbled Raspberries, a four-ounce jar of freeze-dried raspberries tumbled in white chocolate mixed with pop rocks candy for a slight effervescence, then coated with dark chocolate (a take on champagne and berries); Raspberries & Cream, filled chocolates in a nine-piece assortment; and Brown Butter Bourbon Caramels, a nine-piece tin of caramels spiked with locally sourced Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon coated with dark chocolate.
Regular shop hours: Wednesday through Monday, noon to 6 p.m. (closed Tuesdays).
Fruition Chocolate Works, 17 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 657-6717; www.tastefruition.com.
Alps Sweet Shop, Beacon and Fishkill
Owners Sally and Terry Craft place an emphasis on small-batch production, fresh ingredients and attention to detail. Terry is the chocolatier, using the same recipes developed by Sally’s grandfather, Peter Charkalis, when he started the business in 1922. They make more than 100 different confections.
Valentine’s Day specialties: Chocolate-dipped strawberries, a variety of truffles, buttercrunch, heart-shaped molded items and heart boxes filled with chocolates.
Extended Valentine’s week hours: Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 7 p.m. and Sunday (Valentine’s Day), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Alps Sweet Shop, 269 Main Street, Beacon; (845) 831-8240, www.alpssweetshop.com. 1054 Main Street, Fishkill; (845) 896-8080, toll-free (888) 442-2577.
Commodore Chocolatier in Newburgh
Owner John Courtsunis runs the business started by his uncle and father in 1935 as a luncheonette and soda fountain that also made ice cream and chocolates. Exclusively a chocolate shop since the 1950s, it’s known for fine handmade molded chocolates, special caramels, truffles and chocolate turtles.
Valentine’s Day specialties: Chocolate-covered strawberries, solid-chocolate molded ribbed hearts, chocolates packaged in festive heart-shaped boxes.
Extended Valentine’s week hours: Open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, February 14 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Commodore Chocolatier, 482 Broadway, Newburgh; (845) 561-3960, www.facebook.com/commodore chocolatier.
Oliver Kita Chocolates in Rhinebeck
Oliver Kita founded his chocolate business in 2007. He is known for artfully handcrafted chocolates made with fair-trade chocolate from French and Swiss sources.
Valentine’s Day specialties: The Loveletter Collection, a poetic message boxed with 16 artisanal chocolates; the 16-piece Velvet Heart Box; Love Buddha with chocolate meditation; the 29-piece Rococo Heart Box.
Regular shop hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Oliver Kita Chocolates, 18 West Market Street, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-2665, www.oliverkita.com.
Lucky Chocolates in Saugerties
Owner Rae Stang is known for her small-batch, handmade organic truffles with unique and often-intense flavors. (One of the shop favorites is a dark chocolate truffle filled with a very tart sour lemon.) She enjoys the creativity of coming up with new pairings of ingredients and eclectic combinations.
Valentine’s Day specialties: Heart-shaped boxes filled with choice of truffles (including passionfruit, raspberry, strawberry balsamic), Pâte de fruit hearts (small bonbons filled with intensely flavored homemade fruit pectin confection, covered in dark chocolate), hand-decorated conversation heart pops, molded chocolates, white, milk or dark chocolate-dipped strawberries (order in advance), dipped stem cherries.
Regular shop hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Extended Valentine’s week hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, February 14, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Lucky Chocolates, 115 Partition Street, Saugerties; (845) 246-7337.
Krause’s Chocolates of Saugerties, New Paltz and Rhinebeck
Owner Karl Krause makes everything by hand in the business started by his grandfather in 1929. More than 50 varieties of handmade chocolates and candy treats, including truffles (hazelnut, sea salt chocolate, espresso, raspberry), caramels, peanut brittle, chocolate nut clusters and chocolate peanut butter cups.
Valentine’s Day specialties: Large selection of heart-shaped boxes, molded chocolates, hand-formed caramel hearts hand-dipped in milk or dark chocolate and lightly garnished with sea salt, edible chocolate box filled with chocolates and chocolate-dipped strawberries from February 12 to 14 (not available in Rhinebeck location).
Krause’s Chocolates, 41 South Partition Street, Saugerties; (845) 246-8377. 2 Church Street, New Paltz; (845) 255-1272. 6423 Montgomery Street, Suite #9, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-3909, www.krauseschocolates.com.