Guide to Local Chocolatiers

Madison chocolatiers employ inspiration from all over the world in their sweet, savory creations

Feb 25, 2009

Deep in the Mesoamerican rainforest, the ancient Mayans uncovered an obsession that would come to dominate the dessert topping tirades, the flavor feuds and the candy crusades. Somewhere in the wars of which confection reigns king, chocolate came out on top (only surpassed by the cherry on your ice cream). Mesoamerica (now known as Central America and parts of Mexico) is thousands of miles away from Madison—and yet chocolate has surely traveled from the heart of the rainforest to the heart of the Midwest. Our city is home to a handful of skilled chocolatiers from a variety of backgrounds. These cocoa connoisseurs take their divine inspiration from everyday life and have picked up their recipes from the countries that chocolate passes through on its voyage to Wisconsin.

Chocolatier: Gail Ambrosius, Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier

Background: Gail was designated chef in a family of ten children, but first fell in love with chocolate on a high school trip to Paris. After ending her career as a cartographer, she returned to her passion by studying with several French families back in Paris, and opened up her own store in Madison in 2004.

Inspiration: Witnessing the pride and care that goes into artisan chocolate creations. In Paris, Ambrosius saw people taking time out of the middle of the day to stop and have a cup of coffee or a nice piece of chocolate. She wanted to bring some of that happiness home to Madison.

Favorite piece: Ambrosius’ specialty is dark chocolate. “It’s better for you, it has much better flavor, and the depths are just incredible. It’ll make your head swim.”

Average price: $4.25 (2-piece box) to $40 (24-piece box)

Find it: 2086 Atwood Ave. 249-3500.


Chocolatier: Cherie Diamond, Maurie’s Fine Chocolates of Madison

Background: Diamond says she loves that chocolate is such a responsive medium. Having studied food science and fine arts in college, making chocolate allows her to combine her love of both subjects, using chocolate from exotic locales like Oucumare, Machu Picchu and Belgium.

Inspiration: As a second generation chocolatier, she believes in “taking the ordinary and elevating it to the extraordinary.” Her inspiration comes from “touching people’s lives with appreciation, expertise and whimsy in every piece and in every box.”

Favorite piece: Diamond’s newest creation, Lucy, is a lemon cardamom leaf truffle. Others include Aztec Gold, a Mayan spice infused dark chocolate truffle, and the Avalon, a Bergamo essence-infused dark chocolate truffle.

Average price: $1.65 (1 piece) or $15–37 for multiple piece boxes.

Find it: 1637 Monroe St. 255-9092.


Chocolatier: David Bacco, David Bacco Chocolats

Background: Though largely self-taught, Bacco has studied in Kentucky and Madison under the guidance of prominent local chefs and then went on to the French Pastry School in Chicago to study with a Belgian chocolatier. He’s also worked with professionals from France, Switzerland, Spain and Las Vegas.

Inspiration: The world around him—both near and far. Inspiration for a chocolate flavor or design may come from nature, minerals, crystals, photos of the Milky Way, a simple walk, an alchemy book, from practicing tai chi and yoga; and certainly, from food. Favorite piece: Bacco has a favorite from each of the five elemental categories and can’t choose just one. Earth—Honey Lavender (the violet floral flavor adds dimension to the chocolate) Air—Hazelnut Praline (he enjoys the texture and aroma of hazelnut) Fire—Saffron Truffle (he enjoys the subtle orange zest) Water—Pomegranate-Malbec (Bacco likes the health properties of this chocolate, with high-antioxidant bittersweet chocolate and pomegranate) Spirit—Yin + Yang

Average Price: $28 (Sweet 16 & heart chocolate box). Gifts range from $4.25 (2-piece box) to $65 (24-piece bento box).

Find it: 550 N. Midvale Blvd., 233-1600.


Chocolatier: Nilda Molina, Nilda Chocolates Toffee and Chocolate House

Background: The shop is named after a common family name, “Nilda,” which originates from Puerto Rico, but her chocolates are inspired by various foods she’s tasted from different cultures. Inspiration: Molina is inspired by flavors that remind her of her childhood and her love of sweets. The contentment people express in trying her chocolates for the first time makes her want to continue creating new and exciting chocolate flavors.

Favorite piece: Though she says that toffee is her best-selling item and represents her as a chocolatier, Molina says naming a favorite is “like asking to name your favorite child. I love them all!”

Average price: $3 (2-piece box) to $18 (toffee gift tin).

Find it: 2611 E. Johnson St., 819-0414


Chocolatier: Josie Pradella TerraSource Gourmet Chocolates

Background: Another self-taught chocolatier, Pradella uses local, organic and fair trade fruits that are rarely found in chocolate, including rhubarb, blackberry, blueberry, cranberry walnut and brandied pear. All of her chocolate is vegan with few additional flavorings.

Inspiration: Pradella is inspired by the flavors from nature and green packaging for a sustainable planet.

Favorite piece: “The Aronia is the most interesting and intriguing flavor—kind of tart, hard to nail down, yet very satisfying. And it’s very healthy with three times the antioxidant benefit of blueberries—and that’s an added benefit beyond memorable taste.”

Average Price: $4.95 to $21.60 for hand-crafted and eco-friendly boxes.

Find it: No storefront.

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