Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but who says it needs to be a special occasion for you to treat yourself to some chocolate?
It’s finally here. A Downtown shop devoted entirely to chocolate. It’s as if it were custom made to satisfy my cocoa-infused taste buds. If there is anything in this world I positively could not live without, it’s chocolate. Fudge? Nutella? Chocolate dipped strawberries? Handfuls of M&Ms? My fellow chocoholics know exactly what I’m talking about, and My Chocolate Shoppe sets out to be the fulfillment of our dreams and desires. Literally.
Located on the second to last block of the Downtown Mall, My Chocolate Shoppe has moved into the old Painting & Prose gallery and bookstore, nestled between the Old Dominion Bookshop and The Young Mens Shop.
Owner Mary Beth Schellhammer has filled the new store with 29 types of handmade chocolaty treats, ranging from subtle flavors like pineapple ginger and rosemary mint to classics like caramels and truffles. The chocolatier’s path to her career was not linear, and she found herself running a chocolate business almost by chance.
“I worked in the corporate world selling office machines and I did that for 15 years,” she said, sitting in the back of the shop just days before the February 8 grand opening. Corporate America could only hold her attention for so long, though, and she craved a career that combined her love for cooking, flavor creation, and contagious positive energy. She enrolled in a personal chef course at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland, cooked meals for busy families in Fredericksburg, catered wedding receptions and dinner parties, and, as if that weren’t enough, began making her own desserts. One of these desserts was a rosemary-mint chocolate.
“People were asking me ‘Do you have other flavors, where can I get this? How can I get more chocolate?’ So before I knew it, I had a chocolate company,” Schellhammer said.
After opening her first shop in Fredericksburg two years ago, she began experimenting with original caramel and fudge recipes.
Provenance of the cocoa and the uniqueness of the products are essential components of a successful chocolate shop, and Schellhammer has taken both to heart. She uses 100 percent pure Belgian chocolate, shipped and delivered to her door—2,500 pounds at a time. And when those materials arrive by the ton, they go into small, controlled batches, with recipes Schellhammer is proud to call her own.
“My caramel recipe is mine and is not going to taste like anybody else’s caramel,” she said. “I also make my own peanut butter cups. It’s all about quality ingredients and everything is done in small batches.”
Schellhammer treats chocolate with assertion and firm fondness.
“Chocolate is very temperamental. It’s much harder to work with than what people think,” she said. “But I love the way it makes people smile. No one comes here mad, or if they do, they all leave happy.”
And not only do her chocolates induce instant bliss, but they’ve won two major state awards. In 2008, her grapefruit-lavender chocolate won Best New Food at the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo, a trade show sponsored by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In 2010, her Mexican Chiapas coffee bean-infused chocolate won the same category.
After these victories, Schellhammer posed herself a serious question: Should she keep going strong wholesaling her award-winning chocolate to Europe and start manufacturing, or should she switch gears and open a boutique retail store in Virginia?
“I decided mass producing was not where I wanted to go,” she said.
If you want to see for yourself, Schellhammer invites the public to come in and observe as she mixes, melts, and dips her chocolates and fudge. And while you’re there, you’ve got to try the ultimate sweet and salty combo: chocolate-dipped bacon. That’s right, bacon. The slices slathered in milk or dark chocolate are her best seller, and a perfect example of the balance of flavor she strives to achieve.
Speaking of balancing flavors, how about the classic s’more with…some more chocolate?
“There is never enough chocolate in a s’more,” Schellhammer said. “So we dip the entire thing in chocolate. I think it really balances everything out.”
Eventually, Schellhammer hopes to turn the back of the store into a chocolate school and event venue. Her vision is to hold workshops and classes for aspiring chocolatiers, and use the space to host birthday parties and other formal events.
And to all milk chocolate lovers out there, Schellhammer has a challenge.
“I will convert anybody in this town who doesn’t like dark chocolate,” she said. “My dark chocolate is not bitter, doesn’t have the aftertaste. Dark chocolate has so many health benefits and it’s a blank canvas. You can do so much more with it.”
I’m ready. Bring it on.
One thing you won’t see much of
in the new shop is white chocolate. Candy-makers have a tendency
to use too much sugar in their confections, Schellhammer said, but she tries to strike a balance between sweetness and other flavors.
“A lot of people will add so much sugar to chocolate and it makes it so overly sweet,” she said. “White chocolate is all sugar, and that’s why I don’t do much with it.”