American Chocolate Week Gives the Go-Ahead to Indulge

This wedding cake might not look like chocolate, but it is –

Dark, milk or flavored, chocolate gets the spotlight
By Julie Engelhardt, Special to South Valley Newspapers

There’s no question about it: We’re a nation that loves to celebrate any and every occasion with food – especially sweets.

Halloween gives us license to gorge on lollipops and licorice. November and December mean pumpkin pies and sugar cookies. Then comes Valentine’s Day, tempting us with heart-shaped boxes of goodies.

Now it’s March, and the most we have to look forward in the way of holiday foods are the corned beef and cabbage of St. Patrick’s Day.

But there’s a nifty little loophole to save those with a sweet tooth – the third week of March is American Chocolate Week.

That’s good news for Hollister resident Erika Kaye, who readily admits she has a thing for sweets.

“I love chocolate, mostly dark, ever since I read that it is rich in antioxidants,” she said. “It’s more of an excuse to indulge.”

Eating a candy bar once in a while might not be such a bad thing, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. Research conducted throughout the past decade has identified that flavonoids, which are found in cocoa and chocolate, have beneficial physiological and antioxidant effects. The association also reports that chocolate isn’t high in cholesterol – the cocoa butter in chocolate contains stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on cholesterol levels and is not recognized as a source of trans fat.

So, where can one go to celebrate American Chocolate Week? There’s no need to head north to San Francisco’s famed Ghirardelli Square – there are plenty of candy-makers nearby. Hollister is home to three: DeBrito Chocolate Factory, Marich Confectionery and Isabella Zanger Chocolate Factory. The companies’ gourmet treats can be found in various locations throughout South Valley, online and in specialty shops, but customers also can go right to the factories to sample and purchase everything from crunchy candy-coated apples to chocolate-covered dried fruit.

The Gilroy Premium Outlets also has its share of chocolate vendors, including The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Harry and David’s, Jelly Belly and Le Gourmet Chef. And if you’re looking for a different spin on chocolate, try The Garlic Shoppe, which sells garlic chocolate candy.

“The candy looks like Reese’s peanut butter cups, but they do have garlic in them,” said store owner Joyce Balanesi. “They sell quite well.”

The store also sells chocolate and vanilla garlic ice cream, chocolate-covered sesame seeds, chocolate pasta and chocolate frosting. But the obsession with chocolate doesn’t stop with food. The Garlic Shoppe also carries chocolate body paint as well as chocolate thong underwear for both men and women.

If you prefer something a tad more reserved, then tap into your inner child and spend the chocolatey week at your favorite ice cream parlor.

Baskin-Robbins ice cream stores can be found throughout the United States, and there are locations in Gilroy, Hollister and Morgan Hill. The company has been a staple of the ice cream industry since 1945 when Burt Baskin and his partner, Irv Robbins, set out to create delicious ice cream concoctions with loads of ingredients and fanciful names. Even though Baskin-Robbins is known as the home of “31 flavors,” it has actually created more than 1,000 different types of premium ice cream.

And they do have chocolate. There’s good old chocolate, chocolate chip, Jamoca almond fudge, mint chocolate chip, Oreo cookies and cream, peanut butter and chocolate, and Winter White Chocolate, to name only a few.

If the weather is still too chilly for ice cream, celebrate American Chocolate Week with a decadent chocolate brownie, chocolate croissant or chocolate-dipped strawberry from the Morgan Hill Bakery. One specialty is the bakery’s decadent chocolate truffle cake, said owner Debbie Hernandez.

“It’s a dark chocolate cake filled with a thin layer of raspberry jam, rich chocolate ganache and a thick layer of creamy chocolate mousse,” Hernandez explained. “It’s then iced with chocolate mousse and covered in chocolate ganache.”

The bakery also sells chocolate mocha petite fours, and last year Hernandez began making chocolate fudge, including plain or with walnuts, peanut butter or rocky road.

Celebrate American Chocolate Week, but pace yourself: Easter is just around the corner.