Hands-On Chocolate Lessons at The Cocoa Belt

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Classes, Danvers, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Learning a new skill is always a pleasure, and if that skill involves chocolate, you’ve pretty much hit the jackpot. And hit it we did, last Friday afternoon at The Cocoa Belt in Danvers. We had set up a private chocolate class with owner Theresa Whitman for ourselves and three enthusiastic youngsters.

The class was held in a large workshop behind the retail store. It started with a brief presentation by Whitman on the origins of chocolate, allowing us to see the stages of chocolate making, including the raw pod, nibs, chocolate liquor, and pure cocoa butter. We also tasted a number of bars with various percentages, starting from 100% chocolate and moving down to dark, semi-sweet, and milk.

Then we each got a parchment-lined tray, cups of almonds and peanuts, and a bowl of warm, tempered milk chocolate from which we made clusters. Next we learned to hand-dip items like caramels, pretzels, and creams (it’s harder than it looks, but oh-so-satisfying). Our final work with milk chocolate was using small funnels and a tray of multi-colored sprinkles to make nonpareils of all sizes and shapes.

We set all our treats to dry in front of a fan and moved onto truffles. First we learned the ratio and technique for making ganache, then dug into ganache that was ready to be formed (the adult bowl was flavored with Chambord), learning to shape it into balls, lightly coat it with semi-sweet chocolate, and roll it in cocoa.

We had requested a lesson in tempering chocolate at home (no machinery involved), and Whitman graciously complied, explaining the science behind this sometimes-tricky process and giving us all manner of tips for success. We then packaged up all the chocolates we had created.

Throughout the class, Whitman was relaxed and patient, making the entire afternoon a joy. She told us how she learned to hand-dip chocolate from her great-aunt (of the well-known Nichols family), encouraged us to eat as much as we wanted as we went along, and happily answered all of our questions.

The 2.5 hour class cost $30 per person, a great value considering the knowledge we gained and the amount of high-end chocolate we each took home. Classes are for a minimum of four people, can be set up for any day but Sunday, and can cover topics such as making caramels and decorating finished chocolates.

The Cocoa Belt
58 Maple Street, Danvers
(978) 774-4332
www.thecocoabelt.com/The_Cocoa_Belt_Workshops.html

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Super Saturday

Posted: February 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Drinks, Event, Marblehead, Newburyport, North Andover, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Never mind the Super Bowl on Sunday—it’s Saturday we’re interested in. Of all the weekends to be out of town, we had to pick this one, but the rest of you have a myriad of taste treats in store. We’ve put together a quick list for your perusal.

Did you know that Shubie’s in Marblehead has been around for 62 years? It’s true! And to celebrate their anniversary on Saturday, they are going all out with food sampling, wine tasting, product demos, and a 20% off sale storewide.

If you haven’t already got tickets to the chocolate and wine tasting that kicks off the Salem’s So Sweet Festival, you’re out of luck, because it’s sold out. However, there is still plenty of fun to be had, with gorgeous ice sculptures and local businesses offering tasty specials. You can download the brochure here.

If you’re looking for other ways to indulge your sweet tooth on Saturday, head over to Cherry Farm Creamery in Danvers where they have proclaimed National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. (Hmmm…why didn’t we think of that?) They will feature special menu items like coffee and donuts ice cream and cereal mix-ins, with all proceeds from 8:00 to 2:00 being donated to the North Shore United way.

Also on Saturday, the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover is hosting a Grand Tasting from 12:00 to 5:00. They will not only have more than 50 wines to sample, they will also feature Tom Grella from the Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star,” who will be on hand to cook up tasty bites for you.

Both Grand Trunk Imports in Newburyport and Foodie’s Feast in Marblehead will also be pouring the wine on Saturday. Grand Trunk will feature new arrivals in the “value department” (excellent wines for under $12 a bottle) and will be opening up bottles from Spain, France, and Italy from 2:00 to 6:00. Foodie’s is spotlighting the Chateau Haut-Sociondo Cote de Blaye, which they are pouring from 12:00 to 5:00 on Saturday and offering at 10% off all weekend.

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Home-Town Favorites for Valentine’s Day

Posted: January 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Danvers, Gloucester, Marblehead, Marketplace, Salem, Sweets and Treats, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Looking to score extra points on Valentine’s Day? Skip that box of prewrapped chocolates from the drugstore and head to one of these North Shore favorites. You’ll get better quality, more interesting choices, and personalized service—all while supporting your local chocolatier.

Harbor Sweets
If your sweetie likes all things nautical, you cannot go wrong with Sweet Sloops, an addicting confection of toffee, pecans, and white and dark chocolate. There are many other sea-themed chocolates available from the tiny Harbor Sweets factory in Salem, and they can be purchased in almost every North Shore town, including Shubie’s in Marblehead, Henry’s in Beverly, The Partridge Tree Gift Shop in Danvers, Connolly’s Pharmacy in Hamilton, Bruni’s in Ipswich, LuLa’s Pantry in Rockport, and Valentine’s in Newburyport.

85 Leavitt St, Salem
(978) 745-7648
www.harborsweets.com

Pride’s Crossing Confections
This converted train station on Route 127 is the place to go if you need gifts for a variety of tastes. The shop is jam-packed with everything from bags of chocolate covered potato chips and pretzels to cases of fudge, truffles, soft-centers, and white chocolate-covered confections. Don’t miss the famous turtles (seven varieties) and buttercrunches, all hand-made on premises.

590 Hale St, Prides Crossing
(978) 927-2185
www.pridescrossingconfections.com

Stowaway Sweets
It doesn’t get much more charming than this tucked-away shop in a former mansion, where the chocolates are extremely high quality and you can select each piece that goes in the box. Do not, under any circumstances, skip the meltaways.

154 Atlantic Ave, Marblehead
(781) 631-0303
www.stowawaysweets.com

The Cocoa Belt
This elegant shop is a new favorite, both for its selection of delicious truffles in sophisticated flavors like black forest, cappuccino, and champagne and its ability to improve on perennial favorites like peanut butter cups and scotch kisses.

58 Maple St, Danvers
(978) 774-4332
www.thecocoabelt.com

Turtle Alley
Known for its luscious turtles, this local maker also stocks an impressive supply of fruit slices, caramels, and fudge. We are especially fond of the kicked-up versions, including spicy peanut butter cups and almond chipotle turtles.

91a Washington St, Gloucester
(978) 281-4000
Museum Place Mall, Salem
(781) 740-0660
www.turtlealley.com

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On a Lark

Posted: December 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Gloucester, Lark Fine Foods, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

“All of life is a dispute over taste and tasting.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Gloucester resident Mary Ann McCormick and her daughter Nicole Nordensved enabled us to enjoy quite a dispute over taste recently. In 2007, McCormick started Lark Fine Foods, a purveyor of fabulous “grown up” cookies, and they have been growing in popularity ever since. These are sweet and savory wonders chock full of real butter and quality ingredients, made without preservatives or genetically modified ingredients.

On a recent stop at Shubie’s in Marblehead, I met Nicole, a Salem resident who works for her mom a couple days a week and was handing out samples. I was immediately fascinated with some of the taste combinations. Chocolate and chili? Shortbread with rosemary and sea salt? And what the heck were olive wafers? These are definitely not your kid’s cookies.

I brought a bunch of flavors back home and invited Jill to share them for a taste test. The next day, I received an e-mail from her outlining her response. Her favorites were the Polenta Pennies, bite-sized lemony cookies that feature golden raisins. She had also enjoyed the Coco Locos, toasted coconut butter cookies, but felt some of the others were too strong.

Her assessment made me laugh out loud, because it was the exact opposite of mine. While the sweeter cookies were good, I found the spicy ones much more memorable. The rich chocolate Cha-Chas with their hot spicy kick and the tangy Mighty Gingers were both terrific.

Lark also features two cookies with sweet and savory combinations; the Scourtins, a traditional French-style wafer made with olives is the most unusual in their repertoire, and the Salted Rosemary Shortbread, which was my absolute favorite of all the cookies. The organic rosemary and the sea salt make the buttery shortbread sing with subtle flavor.

Lark’s products, which are headquartered in Gloucester and baked in Essex, can be found in specialty food stores and markets throughout New England, helpfully listed on their Web site. You can order online as well. Whether you go for spicy or mild, if you try these unconventional treats yourself, let us know your favorites in the comments—and remember that disputes over taste can be seriously fun.

Lark Fine Foods
5 Way Rd., Gloucester
(978) 768-0012
www.larkfinefoods.com

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Sweet Times in Danvers

Posted: November 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cocoa Belt, Danvers, Goodies Ice Cream, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Wandering around Danvers Square last weekend, we were surprised and delighted to discover two terrific places for after-lunch treats, one newly expanded and one new to us.

Goodies has been serving up ice cream for six years, but we’d never been inside and were delighted to find a 1950s-style décor with a wonderful selection of ice cream, soda-fountain drinks, and desserts. In addition to flavors like chocolate peanut butter chip, falcon crunch, and chocolate walnut, there is yogurt, sugar-free, soft service, and sherbet, plus fun candy toppings. We tried two seasonal flavors, including pumpkin (think pie) and apple crisp (with great caramel flavor). Prices range from $2.59 for an itty bitty to $4.61 for a large.

We’re planning a return trip to sample some of the shop’s other offerings like freshly filled cannoli, churros, chocolate-chip-cookie sandwiches, and, of course, the fried dough sundae.

Just down the street The Cocoa Belt is newly expanded, run by Theresa and Mark Whitman. Theresa was there with her adorable four-month-old the day we visited, and she couldn’t have been more welcoming. The shop features a line of fresh-made, hand-dipped chocolates ($21.95 per pound) that we found top quality and delicious, especially the coffee cream and the chocolate dipped fudge. The shop is known for delighting patrons with almost-lost traditional confections like scotch kisses as well as new traditions like black forest truffles and cranberry clusters.

Theresa, whose love for chocolate might have something to do with growing up in the Nichols family, makes the chocolates in the couple’s Essex home and packages them in a workspace adjacent to the shop. The workspace is also where she holds birthday parties and candy-making classes for children and adults.

In addition to Theresa’s confections, the shop features Lake Champlain bars in a variety of cocoa percentages and a line of letterpressed, hand-made cards. Both Whitmans are looking forward to their first holiday season in the new space, and we are looking forward to returning to support this talented entrepreneurial couple.

Goodies
46 Maple St, Danvers
(978) 762-4663
www.goodies-icecream.com

The Cocoa Belt
58 Maple St, Danvers
(978) 774-4332
www.thecocoabelt.com

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November: A Month of Mouthwatering Events

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Drinks, Essex, Event, Italian, Lynn, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Snow storms and seventy-degree temps in the same week? Welcome to October in New England. Even though we’ve had some beautiful days lately, the weather is getting colder, and all those wonderful outdoor fall food events are coming to an end. The good news is that as we head indoors, so do some upcoming chances to eat, drink, and be merry.

102209Starting things off, Matt O’Neil at Blue Ox is offering another cooking demo and dinner on Tuesday, October 27. Just in time to wow your Thanksgiving guests, the class is on making spicy pumpkin soup. A three-course tasting menu with the soup as the first course will follow the demo. If you haven’t been to one of Matt’s classes, they are worth checking out. You may recall we had a ball learning how to make gnocchi. The dinner is $29 per person, and reservations are required. Past demonstrations have sold out quickly, so if you’re interested, call soon.

On November 5, Italian vintner Matteo Ascheri will take you on a tour of the Alps with a Piedmontese wine dinner hosted by Sixty2 on Wharf. Chef Tony Bettencourt will inspire your senses with his food pairings designed to complement each pour. If you’re like us, one look at this menu and you’ll be drooling.  Tickets are $85 per person. To reserve your seat, contact Jonathan at (978) 744-0062 or e-mail him at jbrackman@62onwharf.com.

A few events we previously mentioned but are included here for the sake of completeness: Cooking with Sweet Sloops at Harbor Sweets on November 7 and the November 12 Grand Wine Tasting hosted by Salem Wine Imports.

If you’re a food history geek, The Essex Shipbuilding Museum has just the thing for you. On November 13, go back in time to experience Tavern Fare in 18th and 19th Century New England with Bean Supper, featuring noted food historian Joseph Carlin. The dinner will include baked beans, fish cakes, cole slaw, and desserts by Laurie Lufkin, and the discussion will center on what and how early Americans in the area ate. Admission is $12 in advance or $15 at the door.

102209cIf beer is your beverage of choice, you’ll be happy to hear that it, too, receives the gourmet dinner treatment in November. Check out this terrific Burgers and Brews dinner coming up on the 17th at Finz. Each course features a beer from a different country and is accompanied by an inventive “burger and fries” pairing, ranging from a hearty Black Angus American to an inventive French burger made with beef and duck confit, brie, melted mushrooms and leeks, and truffle fois gras aioli. Tickets are $40 per person for this little trip around the world.

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What’s Cooking at Harbor Sweets? You Are!

Posted: October 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

That’s right, on November 7th from 12 pm-2 pm, Harbor Sweets will be hosting their first-ever cooking event at their factory in Salem, and you’re invited. The focus will be on recipes that use crushed Sweet Sloops, their famed chocolate-covered butter crunch candy, including one for Pad Thai!

Chef Bill Collins, a graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, who has cooked up goodies at places ranging from the old Ritz Carlton to Harbor Sweets, will lead the class. You can read more about him at chefbill.com, where he also blogs and shares recipes.

The event is free and is appropriate for age 12 and up, but there is limited seating available. Reservations are required, so if you’re interested, give Harbor Sweets a call or stop by to reserve a seat.

Harbor Sweets
85 Leavitt Street, Salem
(978) 745-7648
www.harborsweets.com

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North Shore Food Finds

Posted: October 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Asian, Bakery, Beverly, Bistro, Deli, Gloucester, Marblehead, Marketplace, Peabody, Revere, Rockport, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Everyone has their favorite restaurants, from the one you look forward to visiting on special occasions to the one you turn to when you can’t even think about cooking. But what about those favorite dishes and treats you’ve discovered in your neighborhood or on your travels? We’ve put together a list of ours in the hopes that readers will be inspired to respond in kind. If you’ve got a North Shore food find to add to the list, let us know in the comments, and we’ll be sure to check it out.

Bouchon, A&J King
Talk about addictive. This little cake looks simple, but it’s not. It’s rich and not too sweet with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a wonderful hint of almond. One of the best chocolate experiences on the North Shore. Oh, and they have great bread, too. ($2.25)

House Dumplings, Sugar Cane
We love dumplings of all sizes and shapes, but these are our favorite. The dough is thin and wonderfully crispy, the inside is flavorful, and the accompanying ginger soy sauce puts these little gems over the top. ($6)

Tiger’s Tears, Floating Rock
This dish has it all: spice, citrus, and crunch. Thin slices of marinated beef are served cold and paired with sliced red and green bell peppers, onion, basil, red pepper flakes, and ground roasted rice. If you like spicy food, you will love this—but don’t be scared off, we found the balance of heat and citrus just right.

Chicken Salad, Henry’s Market
We’re picky when it comes to chicken salad—no large chunks or odd ingredients, thanks. Henry’s makes it just the way we like it: finely ground, super fresh, and perfectly seasoned. We like it made into mini-sandwiches on the top-knot rolls baked fresh in the store daily.

Guacamole, Cielito Lindo
Made fresh and served in a molcajete (a stone bowl for grinding), this guac is the perfect antidote to a long day and just one of the things we love about this often-overlooked Mexican restaurant in Beverly. Grab a tortilla chip and dive in—you’ll be amazed at how quickly the generous serving will disappear. ($8)

Fresh-Baked Cookies, Shubie’s
These are the kind of cookies you could easily pass off as homemade (not that we would ever do that, of course). They’re baked fresh in the store every day, and while the peanut butter and oatmeal raisin ($8/pound) are terrific, the larger kitchen-sink cookies are the stuff of dreams, packed with dark and white chocolate and cranberries ($1.75 each).

While you’re in the store, be sure to check out the cheese counter, which has one of the largest selections of New England cheeses we’ve seen. Selections include several from Vermont Butter & Cheese, Cabot clothbound cheddar, Jasper Hill blue, Blue Ledge Farm crottini, Ploughgate Creamery willoughby, Spring Brook Farm tarentaise, Maplebrook Farm mozzarella, Shy Brothers Farm Hannabells, and cheddars from Shelburne and Grafton Farms.

Strudel, Helmut’s Strudel
What is it about apples and pastry that makes us swoon? We don’t know, but this place is the gold standard for the combination. Sweet, gooey apple filling and a crunchy, flaky not-too-sweet shell come together for the perfect mouthful. Folks, there’s a reason this tiny Bearskin Neck shop stays in business selling nothing but strudel and croissants. ($4 per slice)

Hot Cookie Dough Topping, Terry’s Ice Cream
If you like your cookies just barely cooked and hot from the oven, you get the idea here. Even better than hot fudge on top of ice cream, this is decadence in a cup. Go ahead, indulge; we’ll never tell.

Toasted Iggy’s Bagel, Foodie’s Feast
If you’re a fan of Montreal-style bagels (thinner and more flavorful than New York style), you’ve got to try Iggy’s, which are very similar. Our favorite way to enjoy them is to let the nice counter folks at Foodie’s toast one up and serve it alongside a steaming mug of joe. They’re also available at Whole Foods in Swampscott.

Truffle Paté, Crosby’s
This mousse-like spread is the perfect addition to your holiday cheese platter. We like to serve it on lightly toasted baguette slices or water crackers. It’s so good, you may want to buy two for your next cocktail party and forget to put the second one out.

Ribs, Smokin’ Jims
If you’ve never heard of Smokin’ Jim, you might be tempted to drive right by his parking-lot location on East Main in Gloucester. But these ribs are the real deal: smoked on oil-drum cooker until they just about fall off the bone. Side dishes like cole slaw, beans, and corn bread are available, too. There are picnic tables nearby, or you may want to drive over to Stage Fort Park. Hours vary seasonally, so check the Web site before visiting.

Marissa’s Salsa, Whole Foods
You’ll never want to go back to that stuff in the jar once you try this fresh version, packed in ice in the produce section and featuring a heavenly balance of heat and cilantro. Even better, it’s made in small batches by Nahant resident Marissa Salomon.

Potato Chips, Mandrake
We like the well-built drinks, reasonably priced food, and friendly bartenders at this downtown Beverly spot. Add the freshly made potato chips served as bar snacks, and you’ve got the start of a beautiful relationship.

We had a lot of fun putting this post together, and we look forward to hearing from readers who try one of our “finds” and those with a special treat to contribute…

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DownRiver: Best Ice Cream on the North Shore?

Posted: August 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Down River Ice Cream, Essex, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Honestly, the things we won’t do for you people. The other night, we were reading about DownRiver Ice Cream, and were compelled to get out our comfortable deck chairs and see for ourselves if it lived up to the hype.

It does. This was some of the best ice cream we’ve ever eaten.

Yes, this is quite a statement, and, yes, Richardson’s and Dick and June’s have terrific ice cream. But DownRiver outdoes them with its creaminess. Try it for yourselves and see if you agree. (If you’ve already tried it, let us know your favorite flavor.) The store opened at the beginning of the summer on the Essex/Ipswich line.

We had a cup of Deer Tracks, with toffee ice cream, peanut butter truffles, and fudge. The ice cream had a strong toffee flavor, and the fudge was to die for—abundant and seriously decadent.

We also had a cone of Willy Wonka, which has vanilla ice cream, M&Ms, peanut butter cups, Heath Bar, Snickers. The vanilla flavor really come through, the candy was packed in, and the cone was a crisp waffle (no extra charge).

DownRiver charges $3.50 for a regular cone and $4.25 for a large. A cup is $.25 extra as part of the shop’s sustainability efforts (we didn’t see the sign in time). Those efforts mean everything served to customers either goes in the recycle bin (drink cups, napkins, and sundae bowls) or the compost bin (biodegradable ice cream cups, spoons, and straws).

On our next trip, we may try one of the simpler flavors; we’re curious to see how the ice cream makers do with something like strawberry. Or we might start with vanilla and make our own flavor with mix-ins ($.85). There are also several gelato flavors that sound interesting. Then of course there’s Mill River Mix (fudge, coffee ice cream, and Heath Bar) and Clam Flats (chocolate ice cream with white chocolate and macadamia nuts) calling our names.

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

DownRiver Ice Cream
241 John Wise Ave, Essex (Rt. 133)
(978) 768-0102
Downriver Ice cream on Urbanspoon

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Harbor Sweets Chocolate Factory: No Golden Ticket Required

Posted: June 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Harbor Sweets, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

We didn’t see any Oompa Loompas, but there is a working chocolate factory just a few blocks from Salem center, complete with vats of chocolate, copper kettles full of hot sugar, and a (small) waterfall of white chocolate.

Many North Shore residents are familiar with Harbor Sweets, makers of the famous sailboat-shaped Sweet Sloop: a triangle of almond buttercrunch covered in white chocolate and dipped in dark chocolate and crushed pecans. But few are aware that the company offers free tours of the factory on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 to 12:00. The company is also happy to accommodate groups (like Girl Scout troops) almost any time with a reservation.

One of the great things about the tour is that despite having been in business for 36 years, Harbor Sweets is still a very small operation. So rather than viewing production from a catwalk above a factory floor, you get an up-close look at the cooking, tempering, molding, wrapping, and packaging of the company’s sweet treats, which is done mostly by hand.

Our tour started in the best way possible, with a platter of rich chocolates to sample. Sweet Sloops are in the middle, at the bottom are Sweet Shells (dark chocolate with an orange crunch), and around the edges are a sampling of Dark Horse molded chocolates. While munching, we watched a short film about the company, which Ben Strohecker began in his basement—he challenged himself to create the best piece of candy in the world, regardless of cost.

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We progressed on to a room filled with vats of melting chocolate (dark, milk, and white) and saw where batches of caramel for Sand Dollars and almond buttercrunch for Sweet Sloops are mixed by hand in copper kettles as they cook. The caramel is dispensed in dollops on large table, and when the temperature is perfect, a ringing ship’s bell calls all nearby workers to quickly press on pecan halves before they’re completely cool.

Another room holds the production line for finishing their signature candy. Triangles of cooled almond buttercrunch receive a coating of white chocolate top and bottom, and the sail is created by hand with an iced tea spoon. Finally, the pieces are dipped in dark chocolate and crushed pecans to become Sweet Sloops.

Finished chocolates are fed into one of three antique foil wrapping machines and packaged into bags or boxes by hand. The tour ends at the factory’s small store where you can purchase boxes of chocolates as well as individual bars, ice cream toppings, and Sail Mix.

Not only are Harbor Sweets’ chocolates something special, the people behind the candy are as well—warm, welcoming, and very enthusiastic about creating a quality product. Everyone we met was happy to share the experience with us.

Production varies due to season (late fall through Easter is the busiest time), so if you go during the summer, we suggest calling ahead to find out what’s happening on that day— although the facility is fascinating to see any time and truly a New England original.

Harbor Sweets
85 Leavitt Street, Salem
(978) 745-7648
www.harborsweets.com

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