When Gail van Welsen opened the Chocolat Boutique in Fort Mill, S.C., eight years ago, there weren’t many standalone chocolate shops.
More have appeared since, and as of now, the Charlotte-area chocolate scene is in a sweet spot – not suffering from the over saturation plaguing other trendy food stores (cupcake bakeries and burger joints spring to mind).
It helps that chocolate is one of the world’s most popular sweets. Also, as van Welsen says, one reason chocolate shops are popular is because they offer “affordable luxurious treats.”
I visited four chocolate stores and came out of each with a handful of inexpensive delights, my purchases ranging between $1.75-$7. Here’s a closer look at what I found.
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1012 Market St., Suite 104, Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-802-9980.
As with all the stores I visited, a wide assortment of chocolate truffles is available here (most of them offer 15 to 20 varieties).
This is where it gets fun giving chocolate as a gift, because you can match the truffle to the personality of the recipient.
For the cookie dough lover, Chocolat Boutique has a cookie dough truffle. For the person who’s sweet one moment and biting the next, try the strawberry pepper truffle. Strawberry purée is blended into the inner chocolate core, and the flavor keeps your attention until the very end, when a bit of black pepper pops in the back of your throat.
The Chocolat Boutique also carries handmade toffee and imported Belgium and Swiss truffles.
The Secret Chocolatier
2935 Providence Road, Suite 104; 11318 N. Community House Road, Suite 203; 704-323-8178 for either location.
The Secret Chocolatier has expanded to a second location, but it started selling at farmers markets.
An espresso truffle delivers the expected flavor and then some, but don’t miss out on the decadently fluffy chocolate mousse. It has a chocolate percentage of 55, meaning it’s not too sweet or too bitter. Incidentally, the higher the percentage of chocolate, the more intense and less sweet the chocolate.
Karen Dietz, who owns the business with her husband and her daughter and son-in-law, says hers is a seasonal business. “The summer is kind of slow, but September through Valentine’s Day is crazy.”
Twenty Degrees Chocolates
2820 Selwyn Ave.; 704-332-9910.
The shop – inside of Petit Phillipe, a wine and chocolate tasting room – derives its name from where chocolate gets its beginning: Chocolate comes from cacao trees, which are grown 20 degrees to the north and south of the equator.
Pierce Lusk, the sous chef/chocolatier at Twenty, says while the chocolates pair well with the wines, “they are just nice to have around to eat by themselves.”
The flavor profiles of the Steel Magnolia (sorghum bourbon caramel and pecan) and The Dude (a tribute to the White Russian) truffles are strong enough to shine on their own.
201 E. Trade St.; 704-972-4397.
At $7, the Bar Cocoa Cake was the most expensive of my chocolate purchases. But it’s also a dessert that will keep you occupied, with its complex layers of vanilla cake, chocolate mousse, praline crust and hazelnut glaze. If you order one, be sure to get each component in every bite to fully appreciate the creation.
Simpler (but just as flavorful) are the chocolate chip and double chocolate cookies. The double chocolate is one step away from eating fudge.
Want something lighter? Choose from several varieties of French macaroons, or the truffles – from Florida-based Norman Love Confections.