In last week’s Valentine’s 101, we covered the psychological pitfalls of Valentine’s Day, the made-up holiday that we love – or love to hate. This week, let’s get down to the heart of Valentine’s – chocolate candy.
While Halloween opens its arms to the whole spectrum of candy, and Christmas has evolved into a celebration of candy canes, peppermint bark and all manner of cookies and cakes, Valentine’s hits the true sweet spot. Heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates were introduced for Valentine’s Day in 1866 by the second generation of the Cadbury chocolate family. (Our debt is immeasurable.)
While the old adage holds that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” it’s almost universally acknowledged that women have a weakness for chocolate. Yes, there are exceptions, and plenty of males enjoy chocolate, too. But while FTD was trying to get everyone to “say it with flowers,” the confectionery companies of the world launched a campaign of seduction using the power of chocolate.
Heart-shaped Valentine’s boxes show up in stores before retailers have even removed the commercial signs of Christmas. That’s fine for an afterthought. But if you really want to impress your intended recipient, you need to step up your game.
The handcrafted movement doesn’t stop at beer, coffee and doughnuts. Chocolate benefits from a handmade touch as well. Locally, we are fortunate to have the Knoxville Chocolate Co. and Schakolad Chocolate Factory.
Knoxville Chocolate Co.’s delicacies are sold at the eponymous location at 29 Market Square downtown as well as at Bradley’s Chocolates & Gifts at 141 N. Peters Road. While Schakolad, 10933 Parkside Drive in Turkey Creek, is a franchise, it is also a family-owned business at the local level that makes its European-style chocolate fresh on the premises.
Bradley’s, founded in 1995 by Brad Hamlett (who later bought South’s Finest Chocolate and reinvented it as Knoxville Chocolate Co.) and his father, has an overwhelming supply of chocolate treats for Valentine’s, with enough red, pink and white decorations to make any heart run over: solid chocolate hearts, miniature present-shaped chocolates, chocolate-covered krispy treats, chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate-covered gummy bears, peanut butter hearts, almond-butter crunch, “I Love You” bars, white chocolate pops, chocolate sea-salt caramels, white chocolate giant pretzels with red drizzle, chocolate-covered popcorn.
Don’t forget Scruffy City Chips: “Ruffles potato chips dipped in milk chocolate or dark chocolate – perfect if you’re doing dinner and a movie,” says Joy Hamlett, who married Brad in 2002 and took charge of expanding the gift area. “And the Tennessee Walking Stick, a pretzel dipped in caramel, pecans and chocolate. It’s heavenly.”
For “the kiddos,” Hamlett recommends smiley-face hearts and the chocolate-covered gummy bears. For sweethearts, she likes variety: an assortment in a Bradley’s signature box, either pre-boxed or your own selection, and, of course, truffle hearts – in dark raspberry or milk-chocolate champagne. She says nearly everything but the truffles is made on site.
Bradley’s has milk chocolate or white chocolate strawberries available Feb. 13-14, first come, first served. Standard sizes are a half-dozen and a dozen.
Schakolad Chocolate Factory has been in Turkey Creek for about 11 years. Andrew and Keli Scott bought the store six years ago on Feb. 18 – they’d hoped to take possession before Valentine’s Day, but the process dragged on.
Fortunately, “we’ve seen growth every year,” Keli Scott says. Christmas and Valentine’s alternate as their highest sales season.
The Scotts and their staff make their chocolates on site, and they have many of the traditional goodies that chocolate connoisseurs expect. But they also have shapes and themes to appeal to families and folks with a good sense of humor.
Not only can customers purchase classic Valentine’s assortments, they can also get sets specifically targeted to careers and interests. There are chocolate manicure sets, tool kits, doctor and nurse instruments, fishing tackle, tractors, guitars, pianos, ballet shoes, “sports balls” – including golf balls, apples for teachers and #1 Teacher bars. There are also “chocoholic diet pills” (made of chocolate) and chocolate frogs – kiss one, and it may not turn into a prince, but it will taste delicious.
For the ultimate chocolate lover, Schakolad makes edible heart-shaped boxes out of chocolate and filled with chocolates, in three sizes (so you can really prove the level of your love!).
For new relationships, “Chocolate-covered strawberries are probably the most popular things for Valentine’s Day, and it’s not something that’s too serious,” Scott says. Of course, long-married couples buy them, too. “Everybody loves chocolate-covered strawberries.”
Schakolad will have milk, dark and white strawberries by the half-dozen or dozen, all dipped fresh at the store – with extra help.
“Our family comes in,” says Scott. “We need it.”
Their strawberries are available Feb. 12, 13 and 14 and can be pre-ordered and pre-paid to pick up by appointment.
Schakolad usually offers tours on Monday nights, but they are on hold until Feb. 18. Reservations are required.
Schakolad will be in the Tasting Room at this Saturday’s Chocolatefest at the World’s Fair Exhibition Hall, 935 World’s Fair Park Drive. The event benefits the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Knoxville.