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6 crave-worthy chocolate shops in Northern New England

Mendiant Bar chocolate from Byrne and Carlson in Portsmouth, New Hampshire Mendiant Bar chocolate from Byrne and Carlson in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. | Photo by Brian Smestad / Elepix

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,” said Forrest Gump, famously quoting his mama. With apologies to Mrs. Gump, we loathe those mystery sampler boxes. Better to know in advance that you’re biting into, say, a vanilla truffle, as opposed to a jalapeño cream, no?

None of us can predict what life will hold, but we can sweeten the journey with chocolate. At Northern New England’s best chocolate shops, there’s no mystery, just mastery. Think small-batch confections created by perfectionist chocolatiers using the world’s finest cacao and superfresh local ingredients like butter, cream, maple, and blueberries—even Maine potatoes. Come with us to discover a sampler of Northern New England’s best artisan chocolatiers.

1. Ragged Coast Chocolates

869 Main Street, Westbrook, Maine. 207-887-9763; raggedcoastchocolates.com.

Maine mint chocolate truffle at Ragged Coast Chocolates in Westbrook, Maine | Photo by Ari Kellerman

Maine mint chocolate truffle. | Photo by Ari Kellerman

Launched in a home kitchen in Isle au Haut in 2007, this gourmet purveyor has been winning hearts—including Martha Stewart’s—one chocolate frog at a time. These days, owners Kate and Steve Shaffer operate a modern production facility in Westbrook, and Kate has published two cookbooks with a third on the way. But they still hand-select fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, and edible flowers from Maine farmers and gardeners. Using single-origin, sustainably grown chocolate, the team creates signature items such as peanut butter peepers, pumpkin pie truffles, award-winning Maine mint chocolate truffles, and luscious drinking chocolate (try the Dirty Chai version.) Adventurous flavors—strawberry-balsamic and black pepper–blueberry—are a specialty. The totally toothsome Flagship caramels incorporate local honey and Maine sea salt. And if there’s a cuter bite than their vegan almond-date chocolate hedgehogs, we haven’t seen it.

2. Dancing Lion Chocolate

917 Elm Street, Manchester, New Hampshire. 603-625-4043; dancinglion.us.

Fire and Water Egg from Dancing Lion Chocolate in Manchester New Hampshire. | Photo by Kristin Boudreau

Fire and Water Egg. | Photo by Kristin Boudreau

Dancing Lion Chocolate labels one of its collections “survival chocolate,” a sure sign that this chocolatier understands that chocolate is one of the four major food groups. “We make chocolate as art,” says Master Chocolatier Richard Tango-Lowy, a former physicist who opened the shop in 2007. One of his creations, long gone, was macadamia nut fudge made with 70 percent dark chocolate with hints of allspice and candied blood orange. Dancing Lion’s creamy chocolate is as gorgeous as it is delectable. Witness the 6-inch-tall dragon egg, a multilayered confection hand-painted by artist Victoria Sager that wouldn’t look out of place in the movie Avatar. Tango-Lowy sources cacao from small farmers across the globe, and he and his crew temper the chocolate by hand. They’ll make a bonbon recipe only once, rarely more than 100 pieces, and then retire it. “Our customers recognize the passion here,” says Tango-Lowy. No wonder Lonely Planet named Dancing Lion one of the world’s 150 top chocolate experiences.

3. Byrne and Carlson

Two locations: 121 State Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-559-9778; and 60 State Road, Kittery, Maine, 207-439-0096. byrneandcarlson.com.

Burgundy Assortment chocolates from Byrne and Carlson in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. | Photo by Brian Smestad, Elepix

Burgundy Assortment chocolates. | Photo by Brian Smestad / Elepix

Comparing a typical candy bar to a Byrne and Carlson chocolate bar is like comparing fast fashion to haute couture: They occupy entirely different realms. The latter’s artisan bars look embroidered, studded with colorful bits of dried cherry, candied orange peel, and candied violets and pansies. Owners Ellen Byrne and Christopher Carlson opened their Portsmouth shop in 1999 and now have a second one across the river in Kittery, Maine. Inspired by European chocolate houses, these chocolatiers specialize in classic treats like fresh cream truffles and marzipan bonbons that ooze with flavor. Their pates des fruits (pure fruit jellies), made with fresh fruits, fruit zests, and purees, are like gourmet gummi bears for grown-ups. If you like a bit of heat with your sweet, don’t resist their smoky chipotle palets, featuring Venezuelan bittersweet chocolate spiced with chipotle pepper and dotted with smoked sea salt.

4. Rabble-Rouser Chocolate and Craft Company

64 Main Street, Montpelier, Vermont. 802-225-6227; rabblerouser.net.

Maple toffee with pistachios. | Photo by Rabble-Rouser Chocolate and Craft Company

Maple toffee with pistachios. | Photo by Rabble-Rouser Chocolate and Craft Company

This worker-owned chocolate factory and café is all about community, but its soft, gooey center is pure chocolate. Among their wondrous, diet-busting creations are “Magic Chunks” (chocolate-covered granola), chocolate bars, and a swoon-worthy maple toffee with pistachios. Made with Cabot butter and maple sugar, enrobed in 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate, and studded with roasted salted organic pistachios, this toffee is the stuff of a chocoholic’s dreams. When the pandemic ends, we hope Rabble-Rouser brings back Bacon Thursdays, when they serve hot bacon slices with dippers on the side: local caramel, maple syrup, honey, peanut butter, and—of course—melted chocolate.

5. Laughing Moon Chocolates

78 S. Main Street, Stowe, Vermont. 802-253-9591; laughingmoonchocolates.com.

Laughing Moon Chocolates peanut butter cup.

Peanut butter cups. | Photo by Leigh Williams

Sample Vermont’s local bounty here in sweet, tiny bites. There’s maple, of course, but chocolatier Leigh Williams also incorporates local beer, apple wine, chamomile, and lavender in her truffles. She even includes Bayley Hazen blue cheese from Jasper Hill Farm. Her Vermont Creamery chèvre–chamomile-lavender truffle tickles taste buds you didn’t know you had. Local vodka extends the products’ shelf life. But you don’t need a sophisticated palate to appreciate these small-batch, copper-kettle-cooked confections. If you’re a peanut butter cup fan, consider Laughing Moon’s over-the-top version, or try a dark chocolate–coconut-caramel-almond cup, a study in raging deliciousness. And if you think chocolate-covered Oreos are just for kids, wait until you sample these. All you’ll need is a glass of fresh Vermont milk, and you’re a (deliriously happy) kid again.

6. Monica’s Chocolates

100 County Road, Lubec, Maine. 207-733-4500; monicaschocolates.com.

In a former sardine-canning town near the Roosevelt International Bridge to Canada, Monica Elliott turns out handmade chocolates that make visitors swoon. She’s helped put tiny Lubec on the map, creating classic Maine treats such as Coffee Brandy truffles (hello, Allen’s Coffee Brandy!) and Maine Needhams, made with mashed potatoes, coconut, and powdered sugar. Dried Maine blueberries star in her line of chocolate-dipped fruits; they’re the perfect foil for bittersweet chocolate.

The shop's molded chocolate line celebrates Pine Tree State symbols like moose, lobsters, and bears. Cute caramel-filled chocolate sea urchins are a favorite. Nodding to her native country, Elliott uses traditional Peruvian filling in her bonbons, something you won’t encounter at a typical chocolate shop. It is the rare visitor indeed who leaves town without a box of Monica’s Chocolates in hand.

Co-authors of more than two dozen travel books, New England–based writers Diane Bair and Pamela Wright cover food and travel for several publications and are weekly Boston Globe correspondents. Bair craves chocolate, while Wright prefers salty-crunchy.

AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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