A delicious tour of Madison-area chocolatiers
Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier
The dark side of chocolate is nowhere to be found at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier—unless you’re referring to flavor. Owner Gail Ambrosius focuses exclusively on French-style dark, hand-dipped and single-origin chocolate from Central and South America.
Single-origin means the cacao is produced from one farm, country or plantation, in uniform conditions. “It’s just like wine, each country has its own flavor,” Ambrosius explains.
Amid dark truffles, find chocolate-dipped fruit, bars and even miniature chocolate sculptures from frogs to turtles to a Buddha filled with a jasmine green tea ganache. But Ambrosius’ personal favorite, Rica Organica brings it back to the basics. Produced from Costa Rican cacao, there’s no extra flavor. “I’m just letting the chocolate shine through,” she says.
This summer, Ambrosius took her venture outside; the fresh mint truffle is made from a chocolate mint plant from her garden. Upcoming seasonal fall flavors include pumpkin, apple cider and cranberry.
Gail Ambrosius earned the gold in our Best of Madison poll this year and has been coined the “Holy Grail of Chocolate” by Food Network’s Alton Brown.
Price: Starts at $1.95 for a single truffle and extending to $44 for a twenty-four-piece box. Boxes also sold in increments of two, six and twelve.
2086 Atwood Ave., (608) 249-3500, gailambrosius.com
One part artistry, one part science, one part love. With such a potent equation, how could chocolate go awry?
Candinas focuses on truffles, and truffles only. Ever-popular flavors include caramel and hazelnut, but even founder and owner Mark Candinas can’t pick a definite favorite. “[The truffles are] a collection of my favorites. One day I feel like raspberry, the next the elderflower truffle, the next something with nuts,” he says.
Seasonal flavors are not specifically in the business’ repertoire, according to Candinas. “We do different chocolates whenever the whim or fantasy gets us, not just for seasons,” he explains. Changing flavors is more difficult, however, because customers get used to having certain staple flavors. Adding new flavors means omitting time-old varieties.
Overall, the mission of Candinas lies in the last part of their motto: love for chocolate. “Anybody can become a chocolatier and it’s not like astro-physics,” he says. “But you can take anything to the extreme and we like to think we take it [chocolate] to an extreme. Chocolate should be lighthearted and fun.”
Candinas earned the silver ranking in this year’s Best of Madison Awards and has been nationally recognized.
Price: Truffles are sold in boxes, with the smallest a box of two for $3.80. The largest box holds thirty-six truffles and runs $49, the price of a pound of Candinas finest.
2435 Old PB, Verona, (608) 845-1545, candinas.com
DB Infusion Chocolates
This chocolatier follows a four-fold mantra: an infusion of color, flavor, texture and aroma. Finding the balance is no easy feat—the infusion process for the ganache centers can take anywhere from two to five days.
Here, chocolate comes in truffle, bar and even liquid forms. The drinking chocolate line is available hot or iced in four flavors: Mayan (bittersweet chocolate with cinnamon and chiles), Madras (milk chocolate with curry, pepper and cinnamon), Naturale (bittersweet chocolate with sugar and Ceylon cinnamon) and White Violet (white chocolate with violet and orange undertones).
Summer truffle flavors include lychee-orange blossom and mojito truffles. Both have white chocolate shells and are infused with their respective flavors.
President Ann Culligan’s favorite indulgence is the vanilla crème brûlée truffle—an adapted miniature French delicacy.
Madisonians awarded DB Infusion the bronze ranking in this year’s Best of Madison poll.
Price: Truffles start at $1.95, with the largest box ringing up at just under $50 (with twenty-seven truffles).
550 N. Midvale Blvd., (608) 233-1600, infusionchocolates.com
James J Chocolate Shop
Primarily a mom-and-pop shop, James J Chocolate Shop reaps rewards from past generations’ time-old recipes—some close to the hundred-year mark. The fully stocked candy shop sells homemade hard candies, brittle and, of course, chocolate.
Owners Jim and Lori Jarnigo started in 1987 on Old University Avenue, moving to a new location two years ago. Jim makes all of the candy from scratch, down to roasting the nuts for nut clusters and making his own candy canes for the holiday season.
Jane Baker, one of the shop’s few employees, recommends the almond butter toffee. But she also offers a more adult suggestion: the rum truffle. “If I can only have one piece of candy, it will really satisfy my sweet tooth,” she says.
Sugar-free chocolates are also available.
The shop has been previously recognized in Best of Madison polls, but that’s only the beginning of praise. “At least a couple times a week customers give us their unofficial award, saying it’s the best candy they’ve ever had,” Baker says.
Price: $32 per pound, molded chocolates range from $.35 to $80.
1310 S. Midvale Blvd., (608) 278-4243, jamesjchocolateshop.com
Maurie’s Fine Chocolates
The full gamut of chocolate— from truffles to chocolate shoes—is available at Maurie’s. (Though edible, the custom-designed heels are sold with a complimentary box of truffles.)
Owner Cher Diamond recommends the “pure effect of plain dark chocolate almond bark” and the Lucy truffle, a leaf-shaped lemon cardamom-infused truffle, but her favorites change.
Diamond’s dedication to pure cocoa shows up in the shop’s philosophy of achieving subtle flavor. “[Our chocolate] just graces your palate as opposed to something that you go, ‘Oh, interesting,’ but you don't want to eat it,” she says.
Price: Truffles start at $1.75, with boxes of all sizes and shapes available.
1637 Monroe St., (608) 255-9092, mauriesfinechocolates.com
Who better than the Belgians for chocolate? This chocolatier, with stores across the Midwest, sources its cocoa straight from the motherland. Bon-bons (commonly known as truffles in the United States) dominate their case, with a minimum of forty-five varieties available at all times.
The coveted bon-bon filling recipe has remained a secret since 1913, with owner Ton Stom and his nephew, the chocolate-maker, being the only current secret-holders.
Middleton store manager Robert Strohmayer recommends the dark chocolate bon-bon with raspberry filling, which is both non-dairy and gluten-free. His excuse to indulge? “To have something that’s as close to healthy as chocolate gets,” he says.
This fall, Chocolaterie Stam plans to add ten novel flavors, including a cinnamon bon-bon for some seasonal spice.
Here, the guilt monster is a little lighter. Stom marched in the Madison Scouts during his youth and chose to give back to the community by donating all profits to the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Core.
Price: $1.50 per piece, or $23.95 per pound.
1651 Deming Way, Suite 114, Middleton, (608) 819.2290, stamchocolate.com
Photos courtesy of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier, DB Infusion Chocolates and Maurie's Fine Chocolates.