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The Chocolate Capital

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Each of McHenry County’s six independent chocolate shops bring something sweet and decidedly unique to the table.

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate,” wrote designer Linda Grayson. McHenry County is second to none when it comes to “friends with chocolate.” We are home to not one, not two, but six unique, independent chocolate and candy makers. This extraordinary group runs the gamut from a family that’s honed the craft of chocolate making for nearly a century to a duo new on the scene whose organic, artisan truffles are gaining momentum.

Learn more about our sweet cottage industry, and be sure to make these stores destinations whether you are looking for a memorable dessert assortment for your holiday party, a gift for the chocoholic on your list or want to treat yourself to something decadent.

Anderson’s — Traditional, Handmade and High-Quality

Staunch attention to quality, plus nearly 100 years of practice, has paid off for Anderson’s Candy Shop in Richmond. “We use the good stuff,” said Katie Anderson-Tedder, fourth generation candy maker. “Since many of our recipes are from nearly 100 years ago, we cook our caramels, buttercreams and toffees with whole cream, pure cane sugar and Grade AA butter. We always use the best-available ingredients from our triple-distilled peppermint oil and pure Madagascar bourbon vanilla to our organic crystallized Australian ginger.”

If the shop can’t find an ingredient that lives up to its high quality standards, it makes its own.

Anderson’s process is also a differentiator. “The flavor and presentation of our candy is reminiscent of a bygone time,” Anderson-Tedder said. “Everything is handmade and hand-dipped and hand-packed, and every single employee and family member involved in the process truly cares about what they are doing and how happy it will make each of our customers.”

Many of those customers are third- and fourth-generation Anderson loyalists, she said. “Since we have been in business since 1919 [1926 in McHenry County], we have been a part of family traditions for nearly 95 years,” she added. “The holidays are exciting for us at the candy shop because it is like a family reunion with customers. We catch up over the phone and learn how their families have grown while we take down their special orders.

“My father, Leif Anderson, takes the task of being part of people’s traditions very seriously. Last year, he drove up to Milwaukee on Christmas Eve just to deliver one single candy bar that was inadvertently left out of a mail order that went out earlier in the week. The candy bar was extra special as it was to be shared with the family in honor of the father of one of our customers who had passed away earlier that year.”

The Anderson family invites customers new and old to stop by to pick up a box of chocolates, Snappers, English toffee or candy bars this holiday season. The company has a second store in downtown Barrington.

Ethereal — An Artisanal Confectionery

Founded in 2011, Ethereal Confections on the Woodstock Square is a fairly new venture in chocolate, and one whose niche is “off the beaten path,” according to Dani Peterson, event planner and public relations coordinator.

“Not only do we have bean-to-bar chocolate [fewer than 100 U.S. companies, including the big ones, do this], but we are also an artisanal confectionery,” she explained. “That means we are held to a higher standard, not only by our customers, but by ourselves. All of our confections are handmade and very carefully cultivated to get the best, highest-quality flavor possible.”

Known for its truffles, Ethereal is centered on reconnecting people with food. Owners Mary and Sara Ervin labor over each individual detail and constantly strive to improve their craft. “We envision and then taste, tweak and package everything by hand,” the sisters-in-law said. “We are committed to using organic ingredients, no preservatives and creating amazing flavors.”

Wicked — The Finer Things in Life

Wicked Chocolates in Algonquin embraces the best of all worlds in the chocolate business by “respecting the classics while still thinking outside the box,” said owner Cyndi Green.

The idea behind her brand, she said, is “crossing the threshold of chocolate indulgence — we associate our chocolates to the finer things in life.”

One example of this is how the company infuses wine into its fillings to give its Wine Chocolate collection an unexpectedly bold, yet aromatic finish. “It’s a true complement to the most expensive wines,” Green explained.

From fine wine to comfort food, Wicked is full of surprises. “Our Diners and Dives collection is a test of willpower [as it taunts] your taste buds with a vanilla-shake-and-fries combination, and blueberry crumb cake, to name a few,” she said. “Our imagination is always working to bring new and interesting combinations as well as some classics.”

Like her contemporaries, Green makes all of her chocolates in small batches, right on location. And she invites folks to linger. “Wicked Chocolates offers a modern environ-ment café that features lighter-fare cuisine,” she said. “You can indulge from our ‘high tea’ menu or just sample a single piece of chocolate.”

Best-sellers include raspberry, butterscotch caramel crème, dark chocolate box, English toffee and turtles. Its best-selling pastry is chocolate éclairs.

Riverside — Made with Love

If you’ve found yourself at the corner of Route 120 and Chapel Hill Road in McHenry, you’ve undoubtedly seen the quaint, pointed Victorian building on the corner. That’s Riverside Chocolate Factory, which opened its doors in McHenry nearly 30 years ago.

“We’re a handmade chocolate company using the finest chocolate coatings and quality ingredients that we consider to be eco-friendly, organic and supportive of locally owned small businesses,” according to Riverside’s founder and patriarch Bob Hunter. He and wife Diana founded the company and help during the holiday rush. Currently, their daughter Tabitha Deibler .

“Tabitha would say that the ‘secret ingredient’ [of our chocolate] is love — made with loving hands,” Hunter said.

Customers are encouraged to try River-side’s best-seller: fresh chocolate-covered strawberries. Chocolate-covered bacon (aka pigs in mud) is quickly becoming a favorite, particularly among the guys. “Dads around McHenry County can’t resist this bacon treat,” he said.

Mellie’s – New Kid on the Block

Melanie Hiser recently took the helm of a former candy store  at the corner of Williams Street and Crystal Lake Avenue. Her shop, Mellie’s Chocolate & Co., invites kids of all ages to “take a step back into the past with everything made fresh and homemade.

“Our candies are made here on the premises, guaranteed to make your taste buds soar,” Hiser added.

Morkes— Smooth, Creamy and Delicious

Morkes Chocolates (pronounced “mork-ess”) in Downtown Huntley says the creaminess and taste of its chocolate set it apart. Founded in 1920, people all over the world have enjoyed Morkes as gifts from Belgium to India to China, according to owner Claudia Kendzior. “The comments are always the same — ‘It’s the smoothest, most delicious chocolate ever.’”

Sea salt caramels are a big hit. “Your mouth is flooded with such good taste, people can’t believe it,” Kendzior exclaimed. Morkes’ five types of toffees, including English toffee, are crowd pleasers, she added.

The Morkes experience is made sweeter due in no small part to great customer service, Kendzior added. “We have a willingness to help people find exactly the gift which they would like to give,” she said. “From great, exceptionally pleasant staff to our packaging and presentation to our price points, we are known for being accessible and extremely helpful to all our customers.”

Morkes has a second location in Palatine.

Party Ideas

  • Try a 1-pound tub of English Toffee pieces to pass around and share or set out in a pretty dish or try box of Snappers (bite-sized chocolates made of divinity, caramel and pecans capped top and bottom with chocolate). Both go great with red wine and will vanish from any party table they are set out on. ~ Anderson’s
  • Truffles are the perfect way to go. You can get a little of everything, that way all of your guests feel as though you’ve thought of them specifically. ~ Ethereal
  • We recommend something from our full line of chocolates, plus pastries, cookies and cakes fresh for your order to complete your dessert table. ~ Wicked
  • We are well-known for our party trays and gift towers. Our holiday assortments “speak to the season,” meaning you just might see Frosty or Santa in the box of goodies, as well as those chocolates we have become famous for. Also try Diana’s Famous English Toffee, mint meltaways, sea salt caramels, turtles, fresh strawberries and homemade fudge to name a few of our many offerings. ~ Riverside
  • Our sea salt caramels are the best — they have been compared and taste-tested to many others, and are always everyone’s favorites. We also offer a fruitini, a small, thimble-size cup of chocolate topped with a fresh raspberry. They are a perfect complement to any gathering, and will always generate many compliments for the host. ~ Morkes

Gift Ideas

  • You can’t go wrong with a 1-pound box of Deluxe Assortment (creams, caramels, chocolate-covered fruits, etc.) or a box of our famous chocolate-covered caramels with sea salt. You can also design a custom-packed box filled with the giftee’s favorite chocolate or chocolates. You can also give the gift of healthcare to those in need by purchasing the Give Back Box of gourmet chocolates — 25 percent (that’s about $4 per box) goes to Crystal Lake-based Family Health Partnership Clinic. ~ Anderson’s
  • Our chocolate ambrosia makes a delightful gift, as do our meltaway bars. We even have little stocking stuffers in the form of our Nom Noms, which are our answer to peanut butter cups. All of our confections are hand-wrapped in beautifully designed packaging. ~ Ethereal
  • We have a wide variety of gift-giving ideas from prepackaged chocolates and uniquely made boxes for teachers, friends and family. We can also make customized gift baskets. ~ Wicked
  • Our holiday assortments are extremely popular, keeping our elves busy packing the boxes every day until Christmas. ~ Riverside
  • We always have beautiful chocolate items available in price from under $10 up to a six-piece tower for more than $175! ~ Morkes

Seasonal Favorites

  • We offer a variety of holiday-themed solid chocolate novelties like snowflake and gingerbread man-shaped chocolate suckers and solid chocolate Santas. We also have a 4-pound solid snowman for the major chocoholics. Our chocolate-dipped ginger is a fun, spicy holiday favorite, as well. ~ Anderson’s
  • We offer different flavors and treats every season, and our dessert bar menu changes with the season. ~ Ethereal
  • We love making our winter favorites like Christmas cookie crème, eggnog cheesecake and candy cane crunch. This season leads us into Valentine’s Day where we shine with our champagne rose petal crème and Bailey’s caramel crème — and, of course, chocolate-covered strawberries. ~ Wicked
  • Our seasonal packaging catches the eyes while the taste “catches the lifetime customer.” Liquor-filled chocolates can be found on the shelves, as well. ~ Riverside
  • We offer our delicious, buttery brittle — peanut, cashew and pecan. Our candy makers are some of the few left still making sponge candy. Also known as fairy foam or angel hair, it is a very old-fashioned confection made with molasses and baking soda — sweet and delicious.We sell it plain or covered in chocolate. ~ Morkes

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