The good news is that dark chocolate is good for you.
The even better news is that you can get all the quality chocolate you want - dark chocolate, milk chocolate, dipped, filled, truffled or clustered - made right here in Lebanon.
Kelly Reetz and his wife Kyla Hague opened the door to Victorian Chocolate Company late last month and the word has gotten around town already.
The shop is open from Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with extended hours during Christmas, Easter, and Valentine's Day.
Right across the street from Ralston Park, at 959 Grove St., Reetz spends his days dreaming up and then creating tantalizing chocolate temptations.
The showcase in the bright purple shop is filled with fresh rhum butter cremes, pina colada chews, champagne truffles, moka dreams and clusters of cashews, almonds or peanuts. If it's chocolate, it's there.
Reetz said he is working on nearly 100 different candy items right now. He plans to offer sugar-free candy in a few weeks.
The most popular item is a cashew dragon claw, similar to the chocolate-covered nut mixture often called 'turtles.' It's chewy, it's sweet, and best of all, it's big.
The odd thing about it all is that as a kid, Reetz never even liked the taste of chocolate. He's still pretty picky about it, and chooses only the best for the confections he makes to sell.
“Chocolate isn't all the same," Reetz explained. “All the same things we learn about coffee is true about chocolate. It can have different flavors depending on where the actual cocoa beans come from. The taste depends on how the beans are roasted, ground and then mixed. Some inexpensive candy makers use inexpensive fillers and chocolate flavored coatings. They can add vegetable oil, which reduces the amount of cocoa butter. That's the fat part of the chocolate that makes it smooth in your mouth. The butter melts at 98 degrees. That's why when you put good chocolate in your mouth, it has that luscious feel."
Reetz uses Belgian, Brazilian and French chocolate, and experiments constantly to find the magic formulas that turn bitter chocolate into a little taste of heaven.
“In fact, I was experimenting with something this morning," Reetz said. “It didn't work out. But this was only step one. It will soon be in
the case, I am confident."
Reetz and Hague owned Kyla's Kaleidoscope in Lebanon for years, and it was there that Reetz's love affair with chocolate began. In 1986, an old candy maker in Albany, Ralph Bateman, convinced Reetz that he should carry candy-making supplies in the store. Bateman was teaching classes on candy making and needed a source for chocolate and specialized sugars. Eventually Reetz signed up for a class and became hooked.
A year later, Reetz bought all the supplies and formulas from a Portland candy company. He combined those recipes with Bateman's, and continues to haunt old bookstores and the internet for long-forgotten recipes that he uses for inspiration.
When Reetz and Hague closed their store in the Lebanon mall in 1988, they moved into the wholesale and corporate side of the chocolate business. They took special orders from large companies and motels, creating baskets of chocolate roses, chocolate fountains for large parties and other items.
A few years ago, Hague's father became terminally ill and Reetz focused all his time and energy on caring for him. In December, the couple decided to return to retail sales.
“Given the economic upturn that Lebanon seems to be coming into," Reetz explained, “we decided we would go back into retail again. I'm enjoying the freedom here of being able to develop some new things."
Reetz works in the large kitchen in the back of the store. There are two large open flame candy stoves, a wide variety of candy molds, huge copper bowls and kettles, metal knives with blades spaced precisely for cutting bars of sweet fillings, and an incredibly heavy table where Reetz creates fillings and brittles. The one-ton table is made of two sheets of steel. It's baffled in the middle to allow hot water to flow through, keeping the table warm enough so brittles come out crisp and thin.
Later the candies are displayed in elegant packaging designed by Hague. Her mother Donna Norton helps out in the store. Reetz uses both dark and milk chocolates for his creations, although his personal preference is the darker variety. He finds that most customers prefer the lighter milk chocolate, but that's changing, he said, with newly released research showing that eating dark chocolate has great health benefits.
According to studies done at the University of California in San Francisco, eating 1.6 ounces of dark chocolate every day lowers high blood pressure. It's a potent antioxidant, researchers say, gobbling up destructive molecules implicated in heart disease and other ailments. That fantastic news is tempered, however, with the warning that chocolate should be eaten in moderation, with the extra calories deducted from other fatty foods in the diet.
But it's not for his health that Reetz - or most people either, for that matter - crave dark chocolate.
“Dark chocolate is just truer to the original chocolate," the candy man said. “The coating on the outside really compliments what's on the inside. If you take a lemon creme filling, the bite of the dark chocolate combined with the lemon seems to intensify the flavor somehow."