Ohio: The Heart of Chocolate
Let's visit a couple of Ohio's sweet spots!
When Valentine’s Day rolls around this year, don’t be mad at your sweetest; this whole chocolate thing’s really the fault of the Mayans and Aztecs and their stupid little bean, theobroma cacao. But I guess it’s too late to whine, so in Ohio, just grit your teeth and head to the nearest confectioner, like Cocoa Beans in Fremont. There, Donna McNemar and company will meet you. Sweetly.
“I’ve been making candy since I was a little girl,” explains McNemar, who recalled stirring the pot for her grandfather at age three. September will be Coco Beans’ tenth anniversary. And of course, like most candy shops, all the chocolates are made on-site. “We make candy every day,” McNemar says. The most popular item is buckeyes, with sea-salt caramels trailing a close second. The aroma of rich cocoa and sugar hits as soon as you open the door.
Like most sweet spots, Coco Beans sells bulk candies and treats made elsewhere as well as their own candies, truffles and cupcakes. And also: hand dipped ice cream. With the big day approaching, McNemar is stocking up for their biggest guy seller: chocolate covered strawberries. They also sell plenty of heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates as well as kid’s bags stuffed with treats for the younger valentines.
Like Cocoa Beans, Fawn Candy in Cincinnati, is an all-around sweets shop specializing in fresh-made chocolates and chocolate treats. While they have third-party candies of every variety, the good stuff is made right there. “Our whole lower level is a kitchen,” explains Kathy Guenther, whose father opened shop when he returned from war in 1946. Fudge, popcorn, peanut brittle and a host of chocolates are Fawn Candy's staples.
Fawn Candy's best seller? Hands down, the Pecan Caramel Cluster, otherwise known as a turtle. In addition to candies, one of Guenther’s most popular items is more of a service: wine bottles dipped in chocolate. Basically, it’s wine bottles dipped in chocolate. Folks drop off their full bottles, then take them home coated with the fruit of the cocoa, peeling away the yummy skin as they sip their wine. “That’s when you know you’ve made it,” Mom says enthusiastically, with a dirty chocolate mouth, “When you have chocolate and wine both!
While we were gawking at goodies, a man entered, then left with a large, pink, toy dump truck that had been custom-filled with chocolate treats for his daughter’s birthday party. Guenther said they do all kinds of custom orders for folks. And also as a side note, my mother got chocolate on my car seat. Bad mom.
And speaking of custom, you won’t find any tubs of jelly beans, gummy worms, buckeyes or turtles at Maverick Chocolate Co., a few miles away in Over-the-Rhine. The small space is all about chocolate. Serious, serious chocolate. The upstart bean-to-bar operation takes in cocoa beans whole and spits out chocolate. While a bourbon milk chocolate with smoked sea salt, including 60 percent dark, is one of the best sellers, there is still something for the purists. What is it? Single origin chocolate, sourced from one specific co-op. The shop is situated in a vintage brick space adjacent to Findlay Market.
Customers at Maverick are offered samples of all the chocolates, which are sold in handsomely packaged bars. There are definitely no Hershey bars here. “No soy lecithin, palm oils or any types of fillers,” explains Hannah Bragg. “And, business is good.” A small selection of truffles is available, also. Maverick specializes in high-quality chocolates, leaning toward the bitter. And better. While the girls are very serious, I figure they have to let go soon, so I ask them about how the Maverick chocolates taste.
“Well, we do have to taste them. That’s all part of quality control,” Dana Hagedorn explains. “Part of the gig.” Smiling, of course. One of those chocolatey smiles.