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Carbondale’s chocolate craze

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Chocoholics rejoice — Carbondale has a booming chocolate industry with a new chocolate maker and two new chocolatiers.

What’s the difference you ask? Chocolate makers actually make chocolate from cacao beans, while chocolatiers take that chocolate and use it to create their own chocolate confections.

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Mark Burrows, of KDNK Geek Speak fame, has turned from IT to cacao and is soon to open his chocolate company: Pollinator Chocolates. The name comes from Burrows’ other passion, beekeeping. Burrows says craft chocolate fits in well with his interest in sustainable agriculture because, “unlike the corporate giants, craft chocolate makers take care of the farmers.”

Burrows doesn’t quite remember when his fascination and addiction to good dark chocolate began, but he does remember about 10 years ago trying chocolate from Heather Morrow, who owned a boutique chocolate manufacturing company based in Aspen. He thought it was the most delicious chocolate he ever tasted.

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Morrow eventually closed shop, but became Burrows’ mentor, sold him some of her molds, and spent hours working with him. Since then Burrows has taken online courses in chocolate making and the business of chocolate, and is currently taking a course on chocolate tasting, of which he says facetiously, “as you can imagine, the homework is awful.”

Burrows researches where to get the best cacao beans, and now has sourced cacao from 12 different countries including São Tomé (a small island off the coast of Africa), Nicaragua, Peru, and Sierra Leone. “I do a lot of research as to where the beans are from, because that determines the type and duration of roasting,” according to Burrows.

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After roasting the beans, he runs them through a cracking machine to remove the shell and grinds them with a melanger stone grinder. Once it gets to the right consistency—“a delicious smooth creamy texture like silk,” Burrows says — he tempers it and pours it into molds. It’s a lot of trial and error, and currently Burrows is still testing out the different chocolates; if you see him around town, he just might give you a sample.

Abby Mandel, unlike Burrows, was enthralled with making beautiful desserts from a young age. She started baking with her grandmother at the age of three and by eight, she was making fancy three-layer cakes and marzipan creations.

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Her love of  food and baking led her to a Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences, specializing in Taste Perception Science, at Cornell University. In her late twenties, Mandel became interested in chocolate, and about a year ago decided to refine her truffle recipes. She has recently started a chocolate truffle business, Cocoa Tree Chocolates, out of her home in Carbondale. Mandel makes all of the truffle components from scratch and even hand-paints the chocolate shells.

She uses ingredients of the highest quality — chocolate from France and Belgium and local produce and herbs—to develop her frequently changing menu of flavors.

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She currently has nine different flavors as varied as ginger and toasted sesame, banana with walnut marzipan, mango coconut curry, and cinnamon vanilla espresso. Her chocolates tend be very balanced and not too sweet. “I really try to balance out the different tastes and flavors, such as sweet and salty or vanilla and chocolate, to get the perfect combination of flavors and textures,” Mandel says.

Although Mandel is mostly self-taught, having been reading about and testing out recipes for many years, she recently returned from a chocolate course in Las Vegas taught by Melissa Coppel — one of the top chocolatiers in the United States.

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Currently, Mandel purchases her chocolate from a distributor in Oregon. However, she will soon be partnering with Mark Burrows to make a more local line. She will be using his single origin dark chocolates to make truffles for Snowmass Tourism, who have asked her to create a signature flavor for them. She currently makes about 1,000 truffles a week, and loves every minute of it.

“I am really enjoying every aspect of the business so far. I love that I can combine my artistic side with my scientific background and also keep work and family balanced,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt that my husband and kids are also really into it too!”

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Another chocolatier in town, Lea Tyler, is not a full-time chocolatier like Mandel, as she has a bookkeeping as well as a pottery and sculpture business, but is making chocolates to sell for the holidays.

Spoken like a true artist, Tyler says, “I’ve been fascinated with chocolate as a medium since I was a child, and my grandparents would take us to the Green Mountain Chocolate Company in Vermont.”

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The exquisite chocolates made by a Swiss chocolatier got her hooked. She has since been making chocolate truffles, caramels, peanut butter cups, and more for years to give to friends for Christmas.

This year, when she found out that Burrows was starting a chocolate company, she got so excited that she could buy chocolate locally, she decided to try to ramp up her confections and sell them. Her company, TylerWARE Truffles, will only be making and selling chocolates through the end of December.

You will be able to see, taste, and purchase some of these chocolates in the next few weeks and months. Burrows, Mandel, and possibly Tyler will be at the Deck the Walls event at the Launchpad starting on Nov. 21 And Mandel and Burrows bring pop-ups to Batch on Oct. 30 and Nov. 27, respectively. You can also order from Burrows at Mark@PollinatorChocolate.com, Mandel at CocoaTreeCarbondale.com, and Tyler at www.Tylerware.com.

As Burrows says, “The craft chocolate market has exploded in the past few years.” And Carbondalians are lucky to be able to join in on the craft chocolate craze and buy delicious locally-made chocolates.

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