It was a beautiful Fall day and I walked along the sidewalks, listening to the rustle of the leaves under foot as I made my way from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast to the Chocolate Fetish in Asheville, NC where I had been invited to tour the shop and factory. While invitations like this are a perk of inn-ownership, the tour is open to the public and I was joined by six others when I reached the store. The smell of chocolate was an invitation to explore the displays while we waited. After drooling a bit over the rows of truffles and caramels, I found myself by a display case exhibiting a beach scene where a sign announced that everything except one sea shell was made from chocolate. I have no idea which one it was!
At last we were ready to begin. You have to love a chocolate tour that begins with your being handed a round of dark chocolate studded with small raspberry bits. Of course we weren’t allowed to eat the chocolate right away! It was part of our lesson. The best chocolate is made of cocoa butter and sugar, nothing else. Our first lesson was in using our senses to distinguish good chocolate.
- Sight: Look at the chocolate. It should have a sheen. While you don’t need to be able to see your face in it, it should be shiny and lustrous.
- Smell: Smell the chocolate. The chocolate should be balanced with the other ingredients (if any). In this case, we wanted to smell primarily chocolate with just hint of raspberry underneath. It was important that the flavoring not overwhelm the chocolate but the flavoring should not get lost either.
- Hearing: We were asked to break off a piece of chocolate. It should make a sharp snapping sound. Chocolate should crack, not crumble.
- Taste: The chocolate should melt in your mouth with a rich, luxurious mouth feel.
We each tried these tests on our chocolate rounds and were happy to be able to finally eat them!
While we did, our guide (one of the apprentices at the Chocolate Fetish) told us a little about the history of the shop. It has been in business since 1986 and was bought by the present owners in 2001. Bill and Sue Foley continue to keep a discerning eye on the shop while they have been joined by their daughter, Elizabeth, in the running of the business.
We were shown the shelves of chocolate and tempted by some of the amazing flavors created there. Dragon’s Sigh contains wasabi and sesame seed; Midsummer’s Dream is white chocolate with lavender, and lemon. At the Chocolate Fetish new flavors are created and changed with the seasons, although favorites return every year. Special holiday flavors are also created. For St. Patrick’s Day you may find a sweet stout chocolate truffle. And of course we were given some samples to try!
Leaving the main store we headed back to view the factory. As you can readily understand, we were not allowed on the factory floor itself but were shown to a gallery of windows which overlooked the factory operations. Inside the workers were bobbing their heads to what was clearly piped in music. And really who would not be happy working in such an environment? Orange colored chocolate pumpkins were kept spinning by passing workers. Apparently this needs to be done so that the chocolate settles evenly in the mold. In another corner, a woman was filling molds for chocolate cats. At one point someone brought out a big notebook and consulted a recipe. Although we were told that only four people know all of the ingredients and proportions used in production: the head chocolatier and the three owners.
When we had finally had our fill of watching the chocolate making we were rewarded with one last chocolate: a sea salt and caramel truffle.
The tour is short–about 30-45 minutes–so it won’t take huge chunk out of your day and it is interesting and rewarding (clearly!). I recommend it as one of the best parts of Asheville!
If you go:
The Chocolate Fetish
36 Haywood Street
Tours take place Wednesday-Friday at 1:30. While you do not need to book in advance, they appreciate it if you can. $5/person