At My Chocolate Shoppe, the new candy store on the Downtown Mall, daily deliveries are expected. Dark chocolate bars with raspberry filling, colorful jelly beans, and giant Rice Krispies treats fly off the shelves every day. Last week, however, store owner Mary Beth Schellhammer took delivery of a special order that’s inspiring more of a gag reflex in some customers than her standard mouthwatering fare: several hundred creepy crawlies that were farm-raised, baked, and shipped from the West Coast.
Schelhammer’s bug-eating inspiration came last summer during the 17-year cicada cycle when she and some friends hopped on the cicada eating trend. She became convinced there could be an ongoing market for chocolate-covered insects among the adventurous sweets-lovers of Charlottesville. But when the Tupperware containers of crickets, worms, and individually-wrapped scorpions she ordered from HOT LIX Candy Store—a California-based company that specializes in snacks featuring insects farm-raised and baked specifically for human consumption—showed up at My Chocolate Shoppe a couple weeks ago, even Schellhammer was a little icked out about picking up the bugs with her fingers and dipping them in her homemade melted chocolate.
“I didn’t think I would be squeamish,” Schellhammer said as she popped the lid off a container holding more than 100 dried crickets. “But I was at first.”
Now that the idea is less of a novelty—for her, at least—she dips with confidence. The bugs have been wildly popular already, and started flying off the shelves almost immediately upon being dunked, she said. But developing the best dipping method has been trial and error, and she’s settled on a partial dip that covers only half the insect since the thrill of the treat is, in large part, the idea of eating a bug.
As Schellhammer plucked a particularly long worm out of the plastic tub with a pair of zebra-print tweezers, she paused and examined the critter up close.
“Oh, I didn’t realize the worms had little legs,” she said with delight. “And look at his face—you can see his eyes! I’ll make sure you can see those from now on.” She carefully swirled the worm’s bottom half in the chocolate and placed it, face-side up, with its beady little eyes staring straight at me, in a quarter-sized pool of milk chocolate. I shuddered.
Schellhammer insisted that I sample all three buggy varieties, and I’ve never been one to turn down a dare or free chocolate. After snapping a few photos with my phone and posing for the quintessential “What am I about to put in my mouth?” shot, I squeezed my eyes shut, took a deep breath, and raised the chocolate thing—a half-inch long cream colored worm that was probably wriggling around a few short weeks ago—to my mouth. Chomp.
“Well?” Schellhammer asked expectantly.
Surprisingly enough, it didn’t really taste like much. The bittersweet chocolate was by far the dominant flavor, and the hollow airiness of the dried worm gave it a texture similar to Rice Krispies.
By the time I picked a cricket off the plate, a teenage girl and her mom had wandered into the store, and stopped in their tracks when they noticed the treat in my hand. More confident this time, I popped the whole thing in my mouth, and the two customers equal parts gasped, groaned, and giggled, shaking their heads and assuring us that no, they absolutely would not be next.
The crickets are heftier and crunchier than the worms, and after chewing and swallowing, I confirmed that no, Schellhammer was not kidding when she warned me that the brittle, splinter-like little legs would probably get stuck between my teeth.
The scorpions—which cost $3.99 a piece, as opposed to the $0.99 worms and crickets—are by far the most intimidating. Roughly the size of my palm when paired with a slab of chocolate, the third in the insect trifecta (trinsecta?) brought back squeamish memories of discovering a live, angry scorpion in my suitcase shortly after returning home from a high school trip to Costa Rica. At this point I’d already eaten the first two, so clearly there was no going back. The taste and texture weren’t drastically different from the cricket, but there’s a level of badassery that comes with chowing down on something with claws and a stinger.
Schellhammer said responses to her newest delicacies have been two extremes: those who jump at the chance and those who audibly gag.
“Everyone who tries it wants to do it for the novelty,” she said. “Moms come in here and I think ‘there’s no way,’ and then they eat it right in front of their kids.”
And don’t worry—Schellhammer doesn’t let anything go to waste. Once a tub is emptied and nothing but the stray legs, wings, and eyes are left at the bottom, she sprinkles the insect remnants over a sheet of melted chocolate, breaks it up into chunks, and packages it for sale as bug bark.
Gettin’ buggy wit it
Want to try your hand at making creepy crawly candies? Keep an eye on My Chocolate Shoppe’s Facebook page for announcements about chocolate school and reservations for birthday parties.