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Connecticut's Trove of Locally Made Chocolates

Calling all Cupids: Connecticut is rich in world-class chocolates for lovers who are locavores.

Is your love a locavore? Is he or she committed to buying and eating produce and products that travel the least distance to get to the table?

Whether your answer is yes or no, locavores and chocolate lovers alike can rejoice this Valentine's Day. Connecticut is home to a handful of world-class chocolatiers who also happen to be committed to the idea of sourcing what they can from the farms down the road.

From Munson's Chocolates, the family-owned chain of candy shops headquartered in Bolton, to boutique chocolatiers, including Bridgewater Chocolate of Brookfield and West Hartford, and Knipschildt Chocolatier of South Norwalk, Connecticut offers a bevy of locally made, locavore-friendly bonbons.

Many of the chocolate makers we spoke to source ingredients such as butter, cream, herbs and even tomatoes (which at least one chocolatier uses in some confections) from Connecticut growers. Some ingredients – such as Belgian chocolate or various liqueurs – are imported out of necessity, but until they are made in the Northeast, that's about as good as it gets.

So this Valentine's Day, consider buying what's local – because it's made right here in Connecticut or because it's world-class. Love is guaranteed.

Bridgewater Chocolate

Swedish-born chocolatier and company founder Erik Landegren combines European chocolate-making traditions with his love for American-style chocolate treats such as turtles, toffees, and caramels. Landegren, who first opened his business in Bridgewater and later moved to Brookfield, sources ingredients locally and makes everything – from the chocolates to the fillings such as peanut butter – by hand. The cream and butter he uses in his chocolates are sourced from local farms. For Valentine's Day, annually offers a variety of confections, including bags of chocolate hearts ($8.50), which are great for kids; large solid chocolate hearts ($9.75); chocolate-covered cherries ($15.95 for six pieces; $27.95 for 12); and the best-selling chocolate assortments in a Valentine-red box festooned with red ribbon (prices start at $20.50 for the 1/2-pound assortment). The only hard part is deciding.

Bridgewater Chocolate is at 12 LaSalle Road, West Hartford, and 559 Federal Road, Brookfield. For more information, visit www.bridgewaterchocolate.com or call 860-570-0707.

Divine Treasures Chocolates

Founder and owner Diane Wagemann opened her Manchester operation four years ago specializing in gluten-free and vegan chocolates, "but no one would know the difference," she says. "Ninety percent of my customer base is not gluten-free or vegan." Her candies are made using Belgian chocolate. For Valentine's Day, Wagemann offers a variety of truffles including the new harmony truffle, made with peanut butter, as well as raspberry champagne, Kahlua, and cognac truffles, to name a few. The truffles are sold as assortments in heart-shaped boxes that start at $16 for 14 pieces.

Divine Treasures is in the Parkade Plaza, Middle Turnpike West, Manchester. the chocolates are also available at Whole Foods stores in the region, and Granby Village Health, 10 Hartford Ave., Granby. For more information, visit www.divinetreasureschocolates.com or call 860-643-2552.

Knipschildt Chocolatier

A rose is a rose is a rose unless it's a rose truffle, one of the confections designed to tempt Cupids at Knipschildt Chocolatier and its adjacent Chocopologie Cafe in South Norwalk. The bonbon, an ethereal combination of Valentine's Day flowers and chocolate, is a bestseller at this time of year, says Knipschildt's office manager Ana Gonzalez. (An 8.2-ounce box sells for $25). In addition to the rose truffles this holiday, chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt and his staff offer signature handmade paper boxes – red or pink with gray polka dots – filled with assorted artisan chocolates (prices start at $24 for a 7.2-ounce box); Valentine Amour collections (two white chocolates filled with passion fruit ganache and dusted with edible gold accompanied by a white chocolate heart filled with rosewater ganache); single heart-shaped chocolates, which can be purchased by the piece ($1.50 each); and chocolate bars. 

The Knipschildt retail flagship, Chocopologie, is a cafe and retail outlet at 12 South Main St., South Norwalk. There, visitors can see firsthand the chocolate-making process. Last October, a Chocopologie opened in Dubai. Knipschildt chocolates are also available at Dean & Deluca (www.deananddeluca.com), Balducci's (www.balduccis.com), and select Whole Foods markets. For more information about Knipschildt Chocolatier, visit www.knipschildt.com.

Munson's Chocolates

Connecticut's largest maker and purveyor of chocolates is the family-run Munson's Chocolates, which was founded in 1946 and has 11 stores in the state. The company has been practicing locavore habits since before they became a trend and recently won an award for sustainability. When it comes to sourcing ingredients locally, "We've always done it," says Karen Munson, a family member and company vice president. Some of the ingredients used in Munson's chocolates come from a farm "right down the street" from company headquarters in Bolton, Munson says. Last year's success of the company's "tipsy cherries" for Valentine's Day has inspired additions to the line of alcohol-based chocolates. New this year are fresh cream truffles called the shiraz (made with shiraz wine), the margarita (made with tequila and lime and topped with a sprinkle of crystallized sugar and salt), and the mojito (made with dark rum, mint and lime). The tipsy chocolates are sold by weight (1 pound for $25.98). Another hit for the holiday are Munson's new chocolate letters ($2.25 apiece), which can be used to spell out words like l.o.v.e. "One mom came in and bought the first letter of every child's name in her daughter's class for her daughter to hand out on Valentine's Day." Also new this year are customers' buying habits, Munson says. While Valentine's Day is still set aside for expressions of love and romance, Munson is seeing lots of customers buying friendship or thank-you gifts. "It's 'Thanks for helping with the kids on snow days,' or 'Thanks for shoveling the snow,' " she says. 

Munson's Chocolates has 11 retail locations in Connecticut, including Simsbury, West Hartford and Westfarms mall in Farmington. For a complete list, visit www.munsonschocolates.com or call 888-686-7667.

Tschudin Chocolates & Confections

Owner Rob Lucheme is experiencing his second Valentine's Day in the bonbon business. A lawyer and firefighter who started his business because he loves making chocolates, Lucheme sources as many ingredients as possible locally. He works with Urban Oaks organic farm in New Britain and Billings Forge, a farmer's market and community development project in Hartford (and yes, he's the guy who sometimes puts tomatoes in his chocolates). For Valentine's Day, Tschudin Chocolates is offering a variety of heart-warming confections – from ladies shoes made in chocolate (priced from $25 to $50); individual bonbons ($1.50 to $2.25 apiece); chocolate cakes (starting at $6 per slice); chocolate fish; and chocolate sculptures (a 2-foot-high creation featuring two interlocking chocolate hearts sells for $150; other sizes are available with prices varying according to weight).

Tschudin Chocolates is at 100 Riverview Center, Middletown. For more information, visit www.tschocolates.com or call 860-759-2222.

Belgique Chocolatier

First, a confession: Belgique Chocolatier does not do "the locavore thing." "All of the ingredients are fresh, but it's not like we have the time to source things from farms down the road," says Susan Gilissen, who co-owns and operates the two Belgique shops with her husband, Pierre Gilissen, a world-class chef who was gradually seduced by the art of chocolate-making. The lack of locavore habits has not stopped Belgique from winning Connecticut magazine's Best Chocolates award three years running. As the name of the shops implies, Belgique Chocolatier specializes in handmade Belgian chocolates. For 11 years, the flagship store in Kent has been a destination for lovers of the 100 percent cocoa butter bonbons as well as chocolate desserts such as mousse-filled chocolate cups topped with raspberries, and, in summer only, ice cream. The New Canaan shop, which opened last September, sells only Belgique's chocolates. For Valentine's Day, Belgique has very few items that are prepackaged. Instead, customers are encouraged to select a box – some adorned with paper roses (boxes are available in a variety of sizes and styles with prices ranging from $3.50 to $23) and choose the chocolates to go inside. "Customers can put as few or as many chocolates in there as they like," says Susan Gilissen. Boxes are then beribboned by the Belgique staff. "You might want one box wrapped in red and another wrapped in pink, it's all very custom," she says. The chocolates that go inside might range from the popular Cleopatra, a heart-shaped chocolate filled with passion fruit, to  chocolate pianos or violins, or a marzipan-filled confection. (The average price per piece is $2.) Customers might also select chocolate-covered strawberries.

Belgique Chocolatier is at 1 Bridge St., Kent, and 88 Elm St., New Canaan. For store hours and more information, visit www.belgiqueonline.com or call 860-927-3681.

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