A dozen children streamed from a school bus and made a beeline directly for a building a few hundred feet away. One by one, they pulled open the heavy front door, darted inside and reached for a tray sitting on a counter. A second later, they were skipping back outside, their cheeks full of chocolate and their finger tips smudged with the evidence. This routine seemed well-practiced as each child knew exactly what to look forward to at the Lake Champlain Chocolate factory. Each day, Lake Champlain Chocolates sets aside bite-sized treats for kids to pick up on their way home from school and the activity has become something of a tradition.
Handing out treats to the neighborhood is only one way that Lake Champlain Chocolates has become a beloved part of the community. The 30-year-old factory has been passionate about making delicious hand crafted chocolates from fair trade sources and local sustainable products since the day it opened. “We use maple syrup from the same neighbor that we’ve known since Jim Lampman first started the company,” said Megan Fitzpatrick, LCC’s PR and Communications representative. “We use Vermont honey and Vermont milk and butter in all of our products, so we use as much local ingredients as possible… it was the best tasting stuff and it was right down the road from us.”
In 1983, Jim Lampman opened the doors to Burlington’s soon to be favorite chocolate factory. Jim’s love for chocolate started at a young age when his grandmother served chocolate cake for breakfast. Her philosophy was that chocolate tasted best in the morning when one’s taste buds were most sensitive. When Jim was 15, he took a job working at Country Kettle Fudge shop on the Jersey Shore. There he learned about the magic of chocolate. For a while after that, Jim managed the Ice House Restaurant in Burlington and his only connection with chocolate was buying fancy truffles for his staff every holiday season. One year, his pastry chef proclaimed he could make better chocolates. Jim challenged the chef to his claim and the next day, he was tasting smooth, creamy hand-rolled truffles that were above and beyond anything he had experienced before. By the next Christmas, the restaurant had closed and Lake Champlain Chocolates was born.
Now, anyone who walks into the factory or orders online can sample dark chocolate truffles filled with raspberry ganache, dark french roast coffee, citrus, and dark chocolate filling. Viewing windows and boxes overflow with milk chocolate truffles filled with hazelnut, fresh vanilla, and cappuccino. The Chocolates of Vermont collection instantly wins the hearts of those who crave honey caramel, evergreen mint, almonds and currants, and maple crunch flavors. Each chocolate of Vermont is molded into a beautiful illustration of evergreens, mountains, maple leaves or beehives. Sea salt caramels, chocolate dusted almonds, peanut butter creations, toffees, dark chocolate almond bark, spicy chocolates, hot chocolate and a vast assortment of chocolate bars are also available throughout the year. There is also the Chocolate of the Month Club that sends different collections of chocolates to your door once a month.
Caption: The South End Kitchen and Cafe
Cacao (ka-cow) is the term for a raw bean.
Cocoa (co-co) is the term for the bean after it has been roasted and processed into butter, powder, liquor or nibs.
It would seem that Lake Champlain Chocolates would be plenty busy with manufacturing myriad chocolates, but it turns out that maintaining the factory is only the beginning. In January 2014, a brand new branch of the business opened its doors just a few steps down the road. “South End Kitchen is brand new!” said Megan, who explained that the new enterprise consisted of three different parts. The first part is a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The second part is an educational kitchen that offers cooking classes, chocolate bar making classes, wine tastings, chocolate sculpting demonstrations and more. The third part of South End Kitchen is Blue Bandana Chocolate maker, founded by Eric Lampman, the owner’s son. “Blue Bandana is a bean to bar chocolate making process. So, he sources the beans directly from Guatemala and Madagascar, and he is very involved in forging relationships with those farmers. It’s about single origin chocolate, but it’s also about direct trade and establishing partnerships for future cocoa endeavors.”
With all of its programs, initiatives and devotion to making outstanding chocolate, Lake Champlain Chocolates has certainly drawn a crowd. Apart from school children stopping by for an afternoon treat, adults have gathered in the evenings to learn about local chefs and culinary creations, families have stopped by on the weekends to craft their own signature chocolate bar, lovers have surprised each other with fresh truffles, co-workers have impressed their partners with lunch hour factory tours, and sustainability groups have applauded LLC’s efforts to become fair trade certified and positively impact communities across the world. Lake Champlain Chocolates has not only demonstrated that chocolate can be made sustainably, it has proven that chocolate can make a difference.
There’s more to LCC than You Think:
Lake Champlain Chocolates
With dozens of tempting chocolates to choose from and a Fair for Life certification, Lake Champlain Chocolates guarantees that every bite is fair trade certified. All ingredients that can be grown in Vermont are sourced from small organic farms in Vermont. LCC is also working to fund a World Cocoa Foundation Scholarship that is designed to empower women and educate youth on the Ivory Coast.
Factory tours are offered every day and include a special viewing of the factory floor, a demonstration on the chocolate-making process and a sample at the end. Arrive on a Saturday and enjoy a free chocolate tasting seminar.
Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker
On one side of South End Kitchen, visitors can watch how sustainably-produced, authentic chocolate bars are made from behind a glass wall; from sorting and roasting raw beans to pouring liquid chocolate into molds and wrapping each bar in paper, the entire process is completely transparent and available for all to view. Blue Bandana began as a dream thought up by Erik Lampman in 2012. Lampman wanted to make the best chocolate bar possible and so he set out to Guatemala to learn from the best. The first group of bean farmers he found was the Fundalachua, a group devoted to evaluating and improving tree selections and fermentation processes. It wasn’t long before Lampman discovered more small farming associations in Laguna Lachua National Park in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala as well as Madagascar. After two years, Blue Bandana was buying six metric tons of cacao beans. In 2014, Blue Bandana won a Good Food Award for its Madagascar Wild Pepper 70% and Madagascar 70% Dark Chocolate bar.
South End Kitchen’s Cafe is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacks and even dinner a few nights a week. Enjoy a gourmet egg sandwich, a stack of pancakes with Tanzanian chocolate sauce or huevos rancheros. Cravings for macaroni and cheese, vibrant salads and burgers are also satisfied on a regular basis, as well as cravings for all things chocolate.
Kitchen: Chocolate Bar Making Classes
Join a small class of adventurous individuals and learn what it takes to make your own signature chocolate bar. This is a great activity for children and adults alike. Weekly classes are available upon registration.
Kitchen: Chef Dinners
Chef Dinners are an exciting series where local chefs are brought in from nearby towns and asked to cook an entire meal in front of a small audience. The Chef explains what she or he is doing and why. Each dish is paired with a wine and the wine producer is present to explain why the pairings were chosen. The vegetable farmers are also present to explain how everything was grown, what sustainable steps were taken to grow them, and what kinds of challenges arise when growing organic produce. Each guest describes what it is like to work together to come up with interesting dishes and to grow things in new ways.
“We always say there are 6 steps to tasting chocolate. A lot of people just chow down on the chocolate and don’t really think about it, but if you slow down and really taste it and smell the chocolate first and let it melt in your mouth and think about the flavors that are happening, it’s a whole different experience.”
– Megan Fitzpatrick
How to Taste Chocolate Like a Pro:
Step 1: Smell the chocolate. Does it smell sweet or earthy? Are there hints of other ingredients such as citrus, peanut or caramel? What does it make you think of?
Step 2: Break the piece in half; it should have a really good snap to it.
Step 3: Bite into the chocolate and let it melt in your mouth a little.
Step 4: Swallow slowly and let it coat your tongue. What flavor does the chocolate have? Can you tell how concentrated it is, what percentage of dark chocolate it has in it? Does it taste different than it smelled?
Step 5: Study the aftertaste. See what flavors linger. Does the sweet rich flavor of cream from the milk chocolate linger or does the hint of orange or spice dominate the palate? What flavor does 70% dark chocolate leave behind?
Step 6: Repeat.