Raising the (Chocolate) Bar

New to the scene, LiL chocolates says Wisconsin in a big way

For a medium-sized Midwest city, Madison is rich in chocolate. From those longtime pillars of chocolate, Candinas and Gail Ambrosius, to James J and DB and several other small, artisan producers and chefs, we’ve got our sweet tooth pretty well taken care of here. 

GA readers know we’re very interested in well-conceived, value-added products and the increasingly large role they play in the modern food movement. So we were pretty excited to come upon just such a producer, selling handmade chocolates no less, at the Westside Community Market at Hill Farms on a recent Saturday morning. Lisa Nelson had a couple of display boxes of her LiL chocolates on her small table. We were instantly taken by the idea that here she was at the farmers’ market selling chocolates she made incorporating ingredients from her farm near Wisconsin Dells. 

“LiL stands for Life is Like,” Nelson tells us. “Life is Like chocolates is a name which I feel matches my life on the farm and the ingredients I add to my products.” 

Nelson’s path has a familiar ring for many: She lost her job in the corporate world and at a critical decision point made a discovery. For her, it was her love of chocolate. 

Nelson describes herself as a proud, fourth-generation owner of her family farm, and a big supporter of sustainable, organic-minded farming. “Using locally sourced ingredients including seasonal fruits from my orchard, herbs from my garden, and honey from the farm bee hives provides unique taste profiles and truly fresh ingredients. You will also find me foraging the nearby forests for wild edibles in the fall.  You never know what might show up in my chocolates and confections!” 

The boxes we’ve tried so far have included raspberry and balsamic vinegar, lavender flowers and honey, and Wisconsin microbrewed beer with pretzels on top. She’s also making Brew Brittle, a not-so-sweet brittle using barley in place of nuts though with a similar nutty taste. 

“Using locally sourced ingredients just makes sense to me,” says Nelson. “The farm provides me with a unique opportunity to use products grown directly on site. I’ve never really considered conventional farming, so expanding the farm with value-added ingredients for my chocolates and confections continues to be my goal.” 

Nelson’s place at the farmers’ market is also part of that goal. “I feel it is important as a farm owner and chocolatier to connect with people and speak with them directly about my business and my products. When people stop at my tent at the market and ask me where my store is, I say, ‘You are at it. Welcome!’”  

Which is exactly how Nelson feels. “I am so grateful with how well my products have been received! I love the Madison markets and the friendliness and acceptance of yet another chocolatier in the area.”

Of course, one of those other chocolatiers is, as we mentioned, Gail Ambrosius. Gail’s success goes beyond her business to her generous role as a community partner. Recently she agreed to contribute to a project at the Goodman Community Center: She will create four chocolates a year using fillings made with local fruits and nuts, ingredients that will be made by young people trained in preservation techniques at the Goodman Center.    

Ambrosius makes no secret of her interest in community partnerships. And Nelson says she is “continually looking for other small businesses to partner with to see how we can help each other.” Both are raising the—chocolate—bar for genuine articles.

 

Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to genuinearticles@madisonmagazine.com.

 

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