Vicuna Chocolate Factory & Café

One bar at a time in Peterborough

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a craft chocolate revolution going on in America.

While Hershey’s makes 80 million chocolate kisses every year, there is a slow-but-rising tide of individuals dedicated to introducing the world to chocolate made by hand, one bar at a time.

Like wine or coffee or cheese, chocolate naturally takes on the flavors and aromas of its terroir, and the distinct personality of the person crafting it.

Like coffee beans, cocoa beans may roast to a different flavors. Many believe the artistry and skill of the roaster is where the magic of chocolate making occurs.

Neely Cohen, the owner of Vicuna Chocolate Factory & Café in Peterborough, graduated from Conval High School and recently found herself winning Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” in 2013. She also spent half a year in Peru learning how to make chocolate from scratch. Now she is the owner of a chocolate factory and café in Peterborough — a dream funded in part by a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign.

Cocoa beans are seeds taken from pods. Neely gets her beans are from one cocoa farm in Bolivia where they harvest the heirloom beans by hand, ferment them and sun-dry them. In Peterborough she hand-roasts the beans then stone-grinds them, adding back in the cocoa butter in increments so that the paste takes on a smoothness and personality. Finally tempering, molding and packaging them into bars takes two to three labor-intensive weeks for one batch to be processed.

Up front in the café, she sells her fresh chocolate bars, pastries and cocoa husk tea and sipping chocolate. Neely’s bars are 70 percent from a single source in Bolivia, made only from chocolate, sugar and other flavors.

Chocolate lovers will find their way to Vicuna for the calming and soothing chocolate tea. They will come for the intense flavors of the chocolate bars and baked goods. And they will come to meet Neely, who may just be a modern-day expression of Ixcacao, the Mayan goddess of chocolate, loved as a compassionate Earth goddess of abundance, seeing to it that everyone was fed — and happy.

My last word: The cocoa nib brownies she makes and sells in her café are the best I have ever had. Ever.

Categories: Restaurant Reviews