We get a lot of questions about our Red Hen chocolates (which we serve as a meal-finisher along with the check). People can't believe we were able to find a hen so closely matched to the one on our logo. What they don't realize is it actually IS the hen on our logo.
The Red Hen chocolates, you see, are made here in town by our friends at Cocoa Mill Chocolatier. They created the mold from our logo. (If you have any doubts, compare the hen on the Red Hen sticker--which you also get with the check--to the hen on the chocolates. There is a shadow under her wing that shows up as a depression in the chocolates.) And these chocolates are the bomb: sixty-three percent cocoa to be exact. That is the percentage Cocoa Mill feels produces the best taste--an intense chocolate flavor with just the right balance between the sweet and the bitter. And we trust their judgment on this, because when it comes to chocolate (and candy-making in general), they are the experts.
In fact, last week we paid them a visit just to remind ourselves how truly extraordinary they are. Chocolatier Mike Mayo was downstairs in his Willy Wonka workroom. Mike has extensive training in candy-making. He has done an apprenticeship in chocolate-making, taken courses at several confectionary schools, and attends yearly conventions to keep up his craft. (He is so knowledgeable that he even teaches a lesson in candy-making for one of the chemistry classes at Washington & Lee University.)
As Mike was busy at work, we talked to his wife, Sarah. Her family owns Cocoa Mill. We asked her what makes good chocolate. "The fewer ingredients, the better," she said. "We use no preservatives, waxes, artificial flavors or additives. It makes the shelf-life shorter, but it's a better product."
Most of Cocoa Mill's confections are offered in both milk chocolate and bittersweet (i.e. dark). Some, however, are only offered in bittersweet. Their "Limoncellos" are an example. They are a limoncello fondant covered in dark chocolate. Ditto their brandied cherry cordials (which take fourteen days to make because Mike has to cure the brandied cherries in the fondant). If you use milk chocolate for either of these confections, Sarah says, it would all become too darn sweet. That said, the chocolate-covered pretzels are offered only in milk chocolate, because the pretzels are dry and salty, and the milk chocolate is sweeter and creamier because of the dairy in it.
What Cocoa Mill is famous for, however, is truffles--their best-selling product. They make all sorts of them. And, boy, is it fun watching them being made. Check out Mike's assistant Kim, who's got the process down to a fine art:
Voila! The finished product:
Candy-making is a precise endeavor. The smallest change in ingredients can throw off the entire process. For example, if the sugar companies change where they get their product, it can affect the graininess of the sugar which can, in turn, affect the melting point. Likewise, a change in the cows' diet can affect the butterfat content of the milk and throw things off. And atmospheric humidity is always changing and must be taken into consideration. So Mike has to constantly adjust his recipes.
Given all that, it is pretty darn amazing the perfection Cocoa Mill is able to achieve:
What else can we say about Cocoa Mill? Chef Matt sums it up best, "I think we've lucked out having them in our town doing the quality that they do."