Friday, February 26, 2010

Derry Church Artisan Chocolates

Hershey, Pennsylvania, a.k.a. Chocolatetown, U.S.A., has long been known as the epicenter of American chocolate. But it wasn’t always known as Hershey. Originally named Derry Church, it was the birthplace of Milton Hershey, who launched his chocolate company there at the beginning of the 20th century. They changed the name of the town to Hershey in 1906, a testament to Milton Hershey’s prominence and success as a businessman and benefactor. 
Derry Church Artisan Chocolates was founded over 100 years later by another Hershey, PA native, chocolatier Eric Cayton, who named his company to honor the original Derry Church settlement. When he was a teenager, Cayton’s family had a reversal of fortune, and lost everything, including the family home. Cayton ended up living on the streets for two years, “hitchhiking, taking the bus, sleeping on rail cars, in camp grounds, and the couches of strangers, up and down the East Coast from New York City to Key West, FL.” He ultimately returned to his hometown and worked in various restaurant jobs, eventually opening up his own catering business in 1996. But Milton Hershey’s influence on Cayton remained a strong one, and he continued to nurture a passion for chocolate. Cayton eventually turned his passion into a business, opening Derry Church Artisan Chocolates early last year. Made with locally-sourced, organic Pennsylvania creams and butters, the handmade chocolates are all named for towns and cities. Classic flavors include Derry Church (soft caramel in milk chocolate); Milan (hazelnut liqueur flavored milk chocolate ganache in a dark chocolate cup) and Paris (strawberry jam and white chocolate buttercream in a bittersweet chocolate shell). Exotic flavors include Berlin (dark beer in a milk chocolate ganache); Kandahar (pomegranate molasses in a white chocolate ganache); and Oaxaca (chipotle peppers in white chocolate ganache). These chocolates are certainly in a different league than the ones Hershey’s produces. In the interest of full disclosure, I must reveal that Eric Cayton sent me an assortment of his chocolates, and I enjoyed them thoroughly. They are pretty, but not self-consciously so. I would describe them as honest. No elaborate transfer sheet or colored cocoa butter designs—the emphasis here is on flavor, and Eric Cayton’s passion for chocolate comes through in every bite of his finely crafted line of artisan chocolates.