The Stuff of Dreams
A dozen children streamed from a school bus and made a beeline directly for a building a few hundred feet away. One by one, they pulled open the heavy front door, darted inside and reached for a tray sitting on a counter. A second later, they skipped back outside, their cheeks full of chocolate and their finger tips smudged with the evidence. This routine seemed well-practiced as each child knew exactly what to look forward to at the Lake Champlain Chocolate factory. In the afternoons, Lake Champlain Chocolates sets aside bite-sized treats for kids to pick up on their way home from school and the activity has become something of a tradition.
Handing out treats to the neighborhood is only one way that Lake Champlain Chocolates has become an integral part of the community. The 30-year-old factory has been passionate about making delicious hand crafted chocolates from fair trade sources and local sustainable products since the day it opened. “We use maple syrup from the same neighbor that we’ve known since Jim Lampman first started the company,” said Megan Fitzpatrick, LCC’s PR and Communications representative. “We use Vermont honey and Vermont milk and butter in all of our products, so we use as many local ingredients as possible.”
In 1983, Jim Lampman opened the doors to Burlington’s soon to be favorite chocolate factory. Jim’s love for chocolate started at a young age when his grandmother served chocolate cake for breakfast. Her reasoning was that chocolate tasted best in the morning when one’s taste buds were most sensitive. When Jim was 15, he took a job working at Country Kettle Fudge shop on the Jersey Shore, where he learned about the magic of chocolate. For a while after that, Jim managed the Ice House Restaurant in Burlington and his only connection with chocolate was buying fancy truffles for his staff every holiday season. One year, the pastry chef proclaimed he could make better chocolates. Jim challenged the chef to his claim and the next day, everyone was tasting smooth, creamy hand-rolled truffles that were above and beyond anything they had experienced before. By the next Christmas, the restaurant had closed and Lake Champlain Chocolates was born.
Now, anyone who walks into the factory or orders through their website can sample dark chocolate truffles filled with raspberry ganache, dark French roast coffee, citrus, and dark chocolate filling. Viewing windows and boxes overflow with milk chocolate truffles filled with hazelnut, fresh vanilla and cappuccino. The Chocolates of Vermont collection instantly wins the hearts of those who crave honey caramel, evergreen mint, almonds and currants, and maple crunch flavors. Each chocolate of Vermont is molded into a beautiful illustration of evergreens, mountains, maple leaves or beehives. Sea salt caramels, chocolate dusted almonds, peanut butter creations, toffees, dark chocolate almond bark, spicy chocolates, hot chocolate and a vast assortment of chocolate bars are also available throughout the year. There is also the Chocolate of the Month Club that sends different collections of chocolates to your door once a month.
It would seem that Lake Champlain Chocolates would be plenty busy with manufacturing myriad chocolates, but it turns out that maintaining the factory is only the beginning. In January 2014, a brand new branch of the business opened its doors just a few steps down the road. “South End Kitchen is brand new!” said Megan, who explained that the new enterprise consisted of three different parts. The first part is a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The second part is an educational kitchen that offers cooking classes, chocolate bar making classes, wine tastings, chocolate sculpting demonstrations and more. The third part of South End Kitchen is Blue Bandana Chocolate maker, founded by Eric Lampman, the owner’s son. “Blue Bandana is a bean to bar chocolate making process. So, he sources the beans directly from Guatemala and Madagascar, and he is very involved in forging relationships with those farmers. It’s about single origin chocolate, but it’s also about direct trade and establishing partnerships for future cocoa endeavors.”
With all of its programs, initiatives and devotion to making outstanding chocolate, Lake Champlain Chocolates has certainly drawn a crowd. Apart from school children stopping by for an afternoon treat, adults have gathered in the evenings to learn about local chefs and culinary creations, families have stopped by on the weekends to craft their own signature chocolate bars, lovers have surprised each other with fresh truffles, co-workers have impressed their partners with lunch hour factory tours, and sustainability groups have applauded LCC’s efforts to become fair trade certified and positively impact communities across the world. Lake Champlain Chocolates has not only demonstrated that chocolate can be made sustainably, it has proven that chocolate can make a difference and even make a few dreams come true.