Do you like chocolate? Don’t lose your temper

March 10, 2011
Owner Chris Harmes hoists 10 pounds of chocolate next to the Hilliards’ tempering machine. BY BOB YESBEK

As legions of chocoholics descend on Rehoboth’s Chocolate Festival this weekend, it seems as good a time as any to explore the magic hidden within the pods of the Theobroma cacao tree. So here’s the short course: The seeds inside the pod are intensely bitter, and must be fermented to develop that “chocolaty” taste. They’re then dried, cleaned, roasted and ground.

This produces chocolate liquor - no, not that glorious stuff you buy in the pretty Godiva bottle, but actually a thick mass of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The addition of sugar and other ingredients gives rise to different varieties of chocolate.

All that exhaustive research made me hungry, so I moved my quest out onto Coastal Highway. And there it was: Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory! I felt like Willy Wonka after a triple espresso latte. Research suggests that chocolate actually lowers blood pressure, and I’ll admit that a blissful calm came over me as I entered the store. Of course, it could also have been the smiling faces of Roberta Wuttke and Chris Harmes. Roberta owns the store on Second Street in Lewes, and Chris is the proprietor of the one in Tanger Seaside Outlets. Their combined experience covers just about everything there is to know about the pods’ tantalizing elixir.

The chocolate arrives at the store in 10-pound blocks. Some are dark, some are lighter, and some are actually white. Dark chocolate has more cocoa solids, less cocoa butter and sugar. The lighter variety has more cocoa butter, sugar and sometimes even milk solids; hence the name “milk chocolate.” White chocolate is just cocoa butter, sugar and milk without any cocoa solids.

Chocolate is persnickety about how it’s handled, and must be carefully tempered before it can be fashioned into shapes. The blocks are broken up with a hammer and loaded into a Hilliards Chocolate System machine which slowly melts and stirs the chocolate. The device elevates the auburn liquid to a precise temperature and then gradually reduces the heat to the point where it can be dipped or molded into shapes. Any deviation from this tempering ritual will cause the chocolate to “bloom” when the solids and the cocoa butter separate. It still tastes OK, but it’s not shiny anymore. They have to start all over.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory can personalize your cocoa experience. Bring them a bottle of your favorite wine, and they’ll enrobe it in chocolate and decorate it for the occasion. You and your significant other can then don your bunny slippers, pull the little ripcord to release the fragrant shell, pop the cork, and give your endorphins a run for their money.

Chris Harmes uses custom molds, some of which are made in Germany, to make edible shot glasses, decorative containers and clever chocolate disks imprinted with a saying or a design. Local businesses such as Dogfish Head, Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, Outlet Liquors and even Wilmington University have used the tasty little coins to promote their services.

It isn’t just about chocolate at Rocky Mountain. Liquid sugars and heavy cream from Lewes Dairy are blended in copper kettles and bubbled to make caramel. Apples are dipped into the golden-brown potion and then adorned with everything from M&Ms to nonpareils to crushed peanuts. I peeked into the Lewes store late one evening to find Klaus, Roberta’s husband and business partner, crafting tray after tray of caramel apples for a wedding reception. The names of the bride and groom were printed onto chocolate discs and integrated into the decoration. The one-of-a-kind result was remarkable.

Candy is vulnerable to weather, humidity and even the summer sun shining into the store. As Chris recounted horror stories of failed air conditioners and warm days when the front door is constantly opened, she rolled her eyes and said, “Chocolate is a love affair. And it takes a heck of a lot of work!” Truth be told, she didn’t say “heck,” and I could tell she meant every word.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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