For a select few in the Berkshires, chocolate is too important to leave to the big companies to create. At Chocolate Springs in Lenox, and Catherine's Chocolate and H.R. Zeppelin in Great Barrington for example, the secret to tasty chocolate is individual attention. Here, talented chocolatiers put hours of time and attention into crafting the perfect truffles, barks, bars and ganaches.
You might even say that chocolate saved Doria Polinger's life. Originally an art teacher in New York City, she moved to Stockbridge to send her daughter to Berkshire Country Day School. Shortly after the move, a car accident left her needing intensive physical therapy.
Chocolate brought healing. Polinger did not think of herself as inclined toward the kitchen, she said. But in 2008, she discovered she loved the art of chocolate making. She worked from a Hershey's instruction book, teaching herself until she had the recipes down. It reminded her of painting because she could make up a piece as she worked. It was an exercise in acceptance.
And her friends and family loved eating the chocolate. More and more people were sending in orders. She catered some large events for corporations. After four and a half years of making choclate by private order for a loyal customer base, she decided it was time to open into a storefront. H.R. Zeppelin opened in July 2013.
"Yes it's a business, but it's more than that," she said. She works with local businesses like Berkshire Mountain Distillery, Guido's Market, High Lawn Farm and many others in order to find the perfect ingredients.
People come in to ask her to cater their weddings. A writer sits at the stool by the window to work on his novel. Tourists discover the shop on their own. Polinger offers the customers a variety of choices: homemade Oreos, caramel sea salt truffles and florentines.
Polinger works carefully by hand, and she is not alone. Joshua Needleman, creator and chocolatier of Chocolate Springs Café, has studied at the Culinary Institute of America, Wheatleigh Hotel in Lenox, and La Maison du Chocolat in New York City.
Chocolate Springs has become a haven for chocolate connoisseurs since it opened in September 2003. People sit in the 30-seat shop, talking over the steam of a Serious Hot Chocolate or a plate of flourless chocolate cake. They can look through a window to see Needleman carefully crafting his specialty chocolate flavors, like Berkshire bourbon, rose tea and tangerine ginger.
And chocolate is a family operation at Catherine's Chocolates, where the owner, Matthew Sinico, is the great-great nephew of the shop's founder, Emile. Catherine's Chocolates first opened in New York City in the 1920s and was named after Sinico's grandmother. At Catherine's, visitors can find truffles, butterkrunch, and chocolate-covered Twinkies. They have non-chocolate sweets, too, like fruit marzipan and peanut brittle.
There are other nearby chocolatiers, too: I Got Goodies in North Adams, Vermont Confectionery in Bennington, the Chocolate Barn in Shaftsbury and Richardson's Candy Kitchen in Deerfield. All offer sweets made by hand.
At H.R. Zeppelin, Polinger explained close attention is required to make a truffle.
"What makes them so special is each and every chocolate is made by hand," she said.
She estimated she goes through eight different steps before a truffle is done. Sometimes she wishes it didn't take so long; she wants to give people the chocolate they love as soon as they ask for it.
These chocolatiers can send orders anywhere in the world. But visiting the shops and seeing the artisans crafting their chocolate -- seeing the look of satisfaction when they watch someone enjoy the truffle they worked so carefully to create -- makes the joy that comes with supporting local artisans almost as sweet as the chocolate itself.
If you go ...
Catherine's Chocolate Shop,
260 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington
55 Pittsfield Lenox Road, Lenox
70 Railroad St.
I Got Goodies
73 Main St., North Adams
The Village Chocolate Shoppe
471 Main St., Bennington
The Village Peddler
261 Old Mill Road, E. Arlington