Story and photography by Jen Janviere
Chocolate needs no special occasion but as the holidays come around, we all indulge our sweet tooth just a little more. Sure, chocolate probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about Wisconsin, but the Midwest is home to a unique variety of chocolatiers, each one bringing a unique individual approach to the confection. So, don’t forget to leave room for dessert!
Indulgence: Old World Tradition Meets Culinary Experimentation
While backpacking through Europe during their honeymoon, Julie and Brian Waterman were inspired by what they describe as the “full experience” of Old World chocolate—candies that were as beautiful as they were delicious. The two were so inspired, in fact, that they started experimenting with their own creations upon arriving home, learning everything that they could about the art of confectionery. In 2007, the couple launched their chocolate-making business from a small kitchen in Waukesha; within a few years, they opened storefronts in Shorewood, Wauwatosa and Walker’s Point (current home to their headquarters and production facility).
Indulgence combines classic tastes with bold flavors, ranging from familiar to adventurous. All products are made by hand with highquality, globally-sourced ingredients. At any given time, Indulgence features over 25 varieties of chocolates and truffles, including staples and seasonal specialties. Julie Waterman and head chocolatier Mariana Cyr work together, brainstorming and developing new truffles every 3-4 months, resulting in an ever-changing array of new combinations. With products ranging from Sea Salt Caramel Fleur de Sel and dark chocolate truffles, to bolder varieties such as Blackberry Espresso, Balsamic Fig, or Coconut Habanero, Indulgence offers something for every palate.
Stepping inside the company’s Walker’s Point storefront, customers are greeted by the full Indulgence experience: inviting smells, and colorfully decorated, artfully arranged bars and truffles. The Walker’s Point location features a wine and chocolate bar where visitors can choose from pairing suggestions or can select their own combinations to try.
As a founder of Local First Milwaukee as well as a chocolatier, Julie is a passionate advocate for community businesses. Indulgence prides itself on being as dedicated to Milwaukee as it is to crafting gourmet chocolates, and frequently partners with local chefs, brewers and distillers for food pairing events around town.
KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates: For the Love of Terrapins
KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates were born out of a simple need: Mr. Kohler, Chairman for Kohler Co., wanted to create the world’s best turtle. The chefs at the American Club rose to the challenge and created the Original Buttery Terrapin, a salty, crunchy, dark-and-smoky caramel confection, that remains to this day, one of the company’s best sellers. The philosophy behind the chocolates matches that of Kohler Co. itself: handmade, with an intention to contribute to a higher level of gracious living.
Anette Righi DeFendi, KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates chocolatier, draws inspiration from all over—family and friends, coworkers, customers, industry trends and directly from Mr. Kohler. When asked about her favorites, DeFendi says she prefers classic flavors with a slight twist, like almond holiday caramel, and can sometimes be caught sneaking caramels throughout the day.
Try the full line of KOHLER Chocolates at the Craverie Chocolatier Cafe. DeFendi suggests you start with the Original Buttery Terrapin. She points out that KOHLER has released a line of new dark chocolate bars—Complex is 70% cacao and Bold is 78% cacao. The Rare Facet line will delight fruit and chocolate lovers, while milk chocolate lovers will find something they love in KOHLER’s Garden Ganache line.
KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates
Omanhene: A Taste of Africa in the Midwest
After living in Ghana as a high school exchange student, Milwaukee native Steve Wallace wanted to find a way to forge a long-lasting connection to the country and its people. Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company proved to be that opportunity.
Omanhene means “chief” and implies the ideas of moral authority and wisdom in the Twi language commonly spoken in the part of Ghana where the company’s products are made. As a proponent of Fair Trade practices, Wallace considers the manner in which his company operates to be as important as the products it creates. Respect for cultural traditions and the people who grow the cocoa and produce the products are at the heart of company values. Through its “Beyond Fair Trade” philosophy, the company maintains ongoing relationships with farmers in order to promote a sustainable business model that benefits everyone involved.
Because everything is made entirely in the country of origin, products are fresher than those made with exported beans and the local producers earn more than they would by simply selling raw cocoa beans for export. The company also reduces its carbon footprint by producing the chocolate where it is grown rather than shipping tons of beans for processing overseas.
Although running operations from another continent can prove challenging at times, Wallace describes the company as a “labor of love.” After over 25 years in business, the investment in the local community in which the chocolate is grown and produced is as strong as ever.
Omanhene chocolates are crafted from start to finish in Ghana, using cocoa beans that are considered by many to be among finest quality in the world. Those trying Omanhene chocolates for the first time will notice a rich, complex taste with hints of fruit. For the uninitiated, Wallace recommends the 48% dark milk chocolate as a good introduction to Omanhene’s products. Because it contains a high percentage of chocolate liquor—the non-alcoholic part of the cocoa bean that provides the rich taste—Omahene chocolate is richer and more flavorful than the average factory-produced bar on grocery store shelves.
The mint hot chocolate is another extremely popular favorite, especially around the holidays. Omanhene products can be found at several grocery stores around the Milwaukee area—including Sendiks and Outpost Natural Foods—as well as at coffee shops Anodyne Coffee Roasters and Colectivo.
Tabal Chocolate: Stone Ground Craftsmanship
It all started with the quest for a great hot chocolate. The search led Dan Bieser to a class in chocolate making, the catalyst that ultimately inspired the former school principal to culinary experimentation with Mexican cacao in his kitchen. From this love for the process of hand crafting chocolate, Tabal sprang to life.
Operating from their headquarters in the city’s Walnut Hill neighborhood, Tabal Chocolate shares a kitchen with neighboring Amaranth Bakery. All Tabal products contain cocoa sourced from countries throughout Central and South America, using varieties of beans regarded for their rich, earthy and complex flavors.
The experience of chocolate is quite possibly best when shared with others, and Tabal chocolate is all about the experience of sharing. Named after the Mayan word for “relationship,” this concept influences everything about the way the company operates, from the fair trade relationships they have formed with farmers to the information about their craft that they share with the community.
Tabal operates around a “bean to bar” philosophy that emphasizes quality and craftsmanship. Built around a belief that the cocoa bean should be the center of the flavor, Tabal maintains a simple combination of ingredients. Chocolates contain only cacao and vanilla beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter. The chocolate is stone ground and hand crafted, resulting in a grittier texture and more intense flavor. Because of its insistence on quality, organic ingredients, Tabal is currently the only USDA organic-certified chocolate maker in the Midwest, and one of only a handful in the country. All products are vegan and gluten-free.
Bieser and his small staff do everything from creating and and hand wrapping their chocolate bars to personally delivering the products to stores throughout the Milwaukee area. The dedicated chocolate makers can be found at events throughout the community, from farmer’s markets to wine and beer pairing events with area restaurants.
As a former school principal, education is close to Bieser’s heart. The chocolate maker loves sharing his craft with others through classes, and also giving back to the community by supporting local artist organizations such as Artworks. Look for their products at grocery store around Milwaukee, such as Beans and Barley, Outpost Natural Foods and Sendik’s.
Jen Janviere is a photographer and multimedia designer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In her spare time, she blogs about Midwest travel at www.whereabout.travel.