As interest in gourmet chocolate grows, so does the number of people entering the sweet scene.
By Christianna McCausland
Jennifer Hauser has one thing to tell you about that Snickers bar in your hand: It's not chocolate. Not real chocolate, at least. Not like hers. “You look at labels today and they've got all this crap in things and everyone wants everything instant and fast—we got frustrated,” she says. “We want to slow down and reintroduce people to what chocolate is supposed to taste like. It's a true passion, as a chocoholic, to show people what it's all about.”
Jennifer and her husband Ben are so serious about this, they've quite literally put their money where their mouths are, creating a little taste of Europe amid the monotonous strip malls and homogenous eateries that mark the York Road corridor. In a small light-industrial park in Timonium, the couple makes all-natural, handmade, Swiss-influenced chocolates at their shop, Glarus. Named for Ben's father's hometown in Switzerland, Glarus produces high-end chocolate truffles and candies based on the recipes and techniques Ben's father used when he was making chocolates in Europe in the 1950s.
Inside, the store is a veritable playground for the grown-up chocolate addict. The walls are painted the color of cocoa powder; warm wood and glass cases filled with truffles and candies evoke the Old World feeling of a European chocolatier. No-frills, brown paper-wrapped boxes stamped with Glarus' trademark Swiss cow are neatly stacked, waiting to accommodate a customer's selection of treats. It smells like warm chocolate, vanilla, and toasted nuts. A large window looks into the kitchen, where Ben and Jennifer create all the chocolates by hand.
The kitchen is conspicuously free of equipment. There is a dry-heat warming tray that keeps melted dark, milk, and white chocolate close at hand. There are a bevy of stainless steel bowls for hand-tempering chocolate and molds for creating the shapes.
Jennifer, now 29, and Ben, 34, met in 2003; at the time, Jennifer was considering opening an artisanal bakery, but Ben convinced her to go into the chocolate business with him. In addition to apprenticing under Ben's father, who is now in the candy business in New England, the two studied in Montreal with global chocolate-making giant Barry-Callebaut.
The couple married shortly after Glarus' December 2004 opening. "When we met, we realized we shared the exact same views," says Jennifer. "We wanted to be very straightforward, back to basics, and make everything by hand—basically to bring back the quality from years ago."
It's a crusade that's attracted a lot of new members lately, both nationally and locally; in fact, just a few miles from Glarus, Larry McGlinchey is waging his own one-man campaign to put the bon back in bonbon at his store, Cacao Lorenzo Chocolatier. Tucked into the lower level of a small office building, the chocolate shop is as diminutive as the fast-talking Irish-American chocolate maker himself. It looks like the inside of a music box; there are pale striped walls and whimsical shelves covered in chocolate wares, and it is just big enough to hold a handful of people. When Cacao Lorenzo opened in May 2005, it was the culmination of McGlinchey's life-long interest in chocolate and the platform from which he hopes to change the way Americans look at chocolate—and the way others look at American chocolatiers.
"We're known as the junk chocolate shop of the world," says McGlinchey, 54. "Most Americans were raised on junk chocolate so they don't know the real thing. Once you've had the real thing, you don't need a cultured palate to tell the difference."
He scoffs at the big-brand American chocolate makers who take out the cacao butter and pack their product with palm oil, preservatives, and excess sugars. "I don't like the reputation that Americans can't do this [make chocolate], and I'm trying to turn that attitude around," he says.
McGlinchey's interest in chocolate began while he was working in international medical sales and marketing. He fell in love with European chocolate while traveling, and began taking classes for fun. Eventually, he started making his own chocolate out of his home and gave it to his accounts. "People started calling me more for my chocolate than for medical supplies," he laughs.
Like the Hausers, McGlinchey wants to bring back the old techniques and quality ingredients that were used here 100 years ago. He crafts his truffles and chocolate candies with chocolate imported from France. He lists all his ingredients on his boxes so his customers know exactly what they are consuming. He works with unique flavors—the Basque square is made with Port-soaked figs, the India features a chocolate ganache with five spices, and the Lavender Flowers use imported French lavender. One of McGlinchey's specialties is his Medianoches, roasted hazelnuts wrapped in dark chocolate through a process called "panning." Chocolate is ladled into a special round pan that rotates slowly. The process of coating takes two and a half hours, but according to McGlinchey, it's worth the time.
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"Thanks so much for the wonderful chocolate. ‘Superb’ as an adjective, doesn’t even approach how wonderful it was."
– Bob Allen
Reporter, Towson Times
"This is our Valentine’s stop for the Beltway Gourmet. The Chocolate (is) outstanding."
- Dave Durian