The North Fork Chocolate Company’s new shop in Aquebogue is a really delightful addition to our wine and food trail. It’s a treat just stepping through the doors, into the quiet, cool space filled with luxury sweets and toiletries, all made in the region.
There’s a lot more than chocolate here, but taking pride of place is a large counter, lit like a stage. Carefully arrayed behind glass are rows of handmade chocolates. They’re decorated with swirls and patterns, pretty little flowers and dots, like precious bijoux that look too delicate to touch, let alone eat. Each is hand-made of Belgian chocolate, and filled with an imaginative filling made from local ingredients. Woodside Orchards and Briermere apples, local merlot, cabernet franc, port and sparkling wines, Sag Harbor Rum, Long Island Spirits Lemon Sorbetta, Long Ireland Breakfast Stout beer, Goodale Farms goat milk, Aldo’s coffee, Sep’s Farm strawberries, Hamptons Honey and even ginger from Mar-Gene Farms — anything can become a filling. A craft root beer is reduced to syrup, and even ice cream itself is turned into a ganache.
“If it’s local and of good quality, I like to try to find a way to use it,” says Steve Amaral, who owns the company with partner and general manager Ann Corley. “Ideas just seem to keep coming to me. It’s actually a lot of fun.”
We’re in the small production facility in the back, where the magic happens. Amaral is pouring molten mousse into pie cups for a dessert order. It smells wonderful in here, of course, and it’s all definitely a little Willy Wonka-ish, with so many projects going on at once. Talk about temptation — there are pots of gooey chocolate just asking for someone to stick their fingers in, jiggly slabs of pâté de fruit, metal racks of fresh-baked cookies as big as plates, broken piles of chocolate barks and chilled trays of the fine, small chocolates being dusted with local sea salt. Thin sheets of chocolate “tattoos,” made of a corn starch base, hang in fascinating array — touch them on the wrong side and they are ruined. On the fence outside, big bunches of mint are drying. They were just dropped off by a friend, and will be powdered in a spice grinder to go into mint ice-cream.
Amaral and Corley met five years ago; both had careers in food and hospitality, and both wanted to create something new, exciting and a little different, says Corley. They also wanted to be part of the local wine/farm/food economy, and stay out on the North Fork. So they decided on chocolate and desserts. The Stony Brook University Incubator at Calverton gave them their start, and they made their first retail foray at the Tanger Outlets in Riverhead. They knew they wanted to be on the wine trail, Corley says, so when this space on Route 25 in Aquebogue became available, it was perfect. They’ve grown fast. Behind the scenes, a big part of the business now is wholesale dessert; internet orders are brisk and a new collaboration with 1-800-FLOWERS will make their boxed sets of fine chocolates part of that gift service.
That evening, I tasted some of the chocolates Corley chose for me. All of them, actually, because I have a strong work ethic.
That evening, I tasted some of the chocolates Corley chose for me. All of them, actually, because I have a strong work ethic. I took a little nibble of each, and then re-nibbled just to make sure I was getting all the nuances. First, the Amore strawberry heart; it tasted just like ripe strawberries, not jam or candy. The Fleur de Lis, with local raw honey that was wild and strong, and milk ganache, was my favorite; it was heavenly. The Cup O’Joe was coffee, of course. The bean on top had been subjected to a heavy roast, bringing out rich coffee flavors. This is very Aldo; when a gorgeous cloud of coffee smoke blankets Greenport Village, we all know that Aldo’s roasting.
And the Radical, made with local ginger — yes, the plants are taken indoors in the winter — had a nice kick. The Pine Barrens Whiskey one was very grown up, and the dark chocolate Blackberry Merlot was luscious and definitely says North Fork. The Tiny Bubbles, made with sparkling wine, was light and adorable, the prettiest of the bunch.
And I hear that just this week, Amaral’s local ice cream project has come to fruition, and handmade ice creams are now available in all kinds of flavors. They’ll be made from local milk, eggs, fruits and herbs, and ice cream tastes will be offered in flights, like wine. It’s a brilliant idea. I have more work to do.