Business and Operations
Focus on P.E.I. chocolate
Small shops with big flavours and a hint of nostalgia
February 27, 2023 By Karen Barr
Driving around Prince Edward Island on a beautiful day, you will wander through small towns with inviting shops. Here, you will always find something sweet to eat, with a hint of nostalgia.
Island Chocolates, founded in 1987, is a family-based business in the tiny tourist village of Victoria-by-the-Sea. With a population of just 139 residents, it is located halfway between Charlottetown and Summerside.
Linda Gilbert and her late husband Ronald learned the art of chocolate making from Charlie and Joan Sigvardsen of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, in British Columbia, before opening Island Chocolates. Today, their two adult children are also part of the business. Emma attended the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Belgium, while Eric attended in Montreal. Then, he learned the entire craft of chocolate making, from seed to final product, by volunteering at the Kallari co-operative in Ecuador.
When it comes to chocolate production, Linda says, “Quality is more important to us than the brand, but we do use a lot of Callebaut. We hope to increase the in-house production of our Ecuadorian chocolate, so it will be a larger source of chocolate for us.”
Moulded chocolates featuring sea-themed creatures are a hit. Think lobsters, fish, seashells and Catch of the Day bags containing an assortment. Chocolate boxes crafted in milk or dark chocolate are also popular. “We have lots of antique moulds, many of which are still used. Most of the moulded items are from new moulds, including some that have been custom-made for us,” Linda explains.
Hand-dipped chocolates are also part of the mix. “This method allows 30 per cent more chocolate-to-filling ratio than enrobed chocolates, and the dipping technique allows us to identify the centre with a distinct marking. We only make flavours we like,” Linda says. “Eric is always experimenting and loves making one-of-a-kind batches.”
What are the top sellers? “Lemon-lime, and seasonal fresh fruit including raspberry, blueberry, and cranberry, as well as salted caramel and peanut butter.”
When it comes to chocolate bars, Linda says, “Our single-source semisweet bar with Ecuadorian chocolate is our most popular bar, but supply is always limited. We also do a Christmas bar with dark chocolate and crushed candy cane pieces.”
Be sure to visit on Sundays. Island Chocolates offers chocolate waffles with local honey butter syrup, warm chocolate, fresh fruit and real whipped cream.
The Very Best Candy
The Very Best Candy is a two-person e-commerce candy business in the oceanside town of Summerside, with a population of 15,000. Run by Jean and Michael Sullivan, the business is based on just two types of candy. The first is the almond crunch candy using California almonds, Swiss dark chocolate and Prince Edward Island butter.
“The recipe is from an old cookbook we received as a wedding gift almost 50 years ago,” Jean says. “I’ve adapted it over the years.”
To make the almond crunch candy, roasted almonds are set on a baking sheet and caramel sugar is poured over top. Next, comes a layer of chocolate, followed by a liberal sprinkle of crushed almonds. Once cooled, the candy is flipped over and the topping is repeated.
“The recipe is from an old cookbook we received as a wedding gift almost 50 years ago,” says Jean Sullivan of The Very Best Candy. “I’ve adapted it over the years.”
September to December is the busiest time when the couple, now in their seventies, spend two days per week producing small batches of almond crunch candy. The total weigh-in is 25 pounds. “That’s enough work and we aren’t interested in expanding our business,” Michael says.
The Very Best Candy also creates melt-in-your-mouth buttery caramels. Flavours include classic caramel, chocolate, chocolate mint, cappuccino and licorice.
Maritime Marzipan/Fritz Chocolate
German-born Jessica and Mike Fritz moved to St. Peter’s Bay in 2016. The town with a population of 250 residents is located 45 kilometres north of Charlottetown. Baking and creating sweets with marzipan is common in Germany. Enter Maritime Marzipan.
What sets Maritime Marzipan apart is the company’s commitment to making marzipan from scratch. “We only use key ingredients like almonds, sugar and natural flavours where applicable,” Jessica explains. The product is stabilized with natural preservatives only, invert sugar, sorbitol and invertase. Every natural flavour has its own shape. For example, the orange blossom flavour is in a flower shape, and rose water is in the shape of a heart. Our marzipan potatoes are dusted with cocoa powder. Very fitting for Prince Edward Island.”
Most of the company’s marzipan confections are chocolate covered. “That is more accessible to Canadian customers who often don’t know what marzipan is.”
Working with chocolate-covered marzipan led to a second small business when customers started asking if they had anything made just in chocolate. The result was Fritz Chocolate featuring hand-made Belgian chocolate bars and confections.
“The special appeal of our chocolate bars, in addition to the high-quality chocolate we use, is the fun packaging with puns, Jessica says. Top sellers include the artfully named Mermaid’s Kiss, a semisweet chocolate bar with sea salt; Udderly Delicious, a classic milk chocolate bar; and Hazey Days, a milk chocolate bar with whole hazelnuts.
Just east of St. Peter’s Bay lies the town of Souris, with a population of 1,173 residents. This is where Oh Fudge, an artisan fudge shop, is located. Patricia McLean Ettinger opened the shop four years ago. Today she also has an outpost at Founders Food Hall in Charlottetown. Intriguingly, the fudge is made with Prince Edward Island potatoes.
“Potato fudge is an old recipe. My grandmother made fudge from mashed potatoes and icing sugar. I wanted to make a healthier option,” Patricia says. “My fudge does not have sugar added to the pureed potatoes. Instead, it is sweetened with just good-quality chocolate. I use dark, milk or white chocolate depending on the final fudge flavours I am making,” she explains. “Blending potatoes and chocolate makes a smooth fudge that is rich and creamy. It’s lower in sugar and calories. It’s almost all gluten-free except for the gingerbread and the cookies and cream.”
There are over 25 flavours of fudge such as chocolate cheesecake, lemon-cranberry and even maple. “My favourite fudge is lemon pie,” Patricia says. Other top flavours include sea-salted caramel, chocolate sea-salted caramel and chocolate mint. ‘We make seasonal flavours like pumpkin spice, candy cane and coconut key lime pie.”
The Traditional Mix box includes chocolate, white chocolate, marble sea-salted caramel and chocolate sea-salted caramel. The Party in a Box is alcohol infused. Think brandy, rum runner, moonshine and fireball whiskey.
Oh Fudge makes between 80 and 100 pounds of fudge per week depending on the season or holidays. Everything is produced in a small production kitchen with a dedicated space for packaging. “During the summer, I have 12 employees. Right now, I have four employees full time.”
A leisurely drive around the island will reveal that Canada’s smallest province is full of small towns that are big on flavour.
Karen Barr writes about arts, culture and cuisine. She is a graduate of George Brown College and a Red Seal pastry chef.
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