Sins Squared

Island Chocolates Hosting Choc-tail Hour in July and August

If you’re a chocoholic, a visit to Island Chocolates in the village of Victoria-by-the-Sea is no doubt a pilgrimage you make each summer. If it’s not, it probably should be, especially since the long-established chocolate shop is upping the ante this year. Known for hosting wine and chocolate pairings, Island Chocolates is adding a weekly Choc-tail Hour to their offerings in 2017. So, if you like chocolate and booze you should block one (or all) of your Saturdays in July and August for a visit.

Choc-tail Hour (actually an hour and a half long) will showcase a different spirit each week. You’ll learn about the respective liquor/liqueur, and more importantly will have the chance to experiment with chocolate-centered syrups and infusions to create your very own Choc-tail. A non-alcoholic version of each Choc-tail will also be available. Various live music acts will make the experience all the more entertaining. The tranquil backdrop of the red sandy shoreline and the quaint village of Victoria will put you into full summer vacation mode.

Island Chocolates in Victoria-by-the-Sea.//Photo Credit: Jessica L. Fritz

Those curious about how a little village on the south shore of a small island ends up becoming home to a chocolate shop need to take a trip back in time to 1988. Ron and Linda Gilbert had moved from BC to PEI only a couple of years earlier, having fallen in love with the Island after visiting friends, when they decided to open a chocolate shop in the tiny village of Victoria, which was and remains home to many artists and artisans. The couple had already developed a passion for and knowledge of chocolate-making and chocolatiering while living in BC, and were ready to import their unique skills to the Island. So the family business was born.

“I was 11 when they started. It was awesome. A great place to grow up,” said Eric Gilbert, one of the couple’s sons.

Fast forward to today and Linda, the chocolate matriarch, is running the shop together with her children, Eric and Emma. While enjoying a variety of the shop’s sweet creations and admiring its carefully-restored interior, I ask Gilbert if he always knew that he would be part of the family business. The answer is simple, but powerful: “I am working with my family. We are in our cool little chocolate shop. Life is good.”

Eric Gilbert of Island Chocolates.//Photo Credit: Jessica L. Fritz

Life wasn’t always good. In 2007, when Ron Gilbert passed away, the family had to come together to divvy up the responsibilities of running a chocolate shop in a different way. Today, Linda focusses on events such as Choc-tail Hour, Emma creates the cream fillings and hand-dips the little chocolates, and Eric works with the molds. The siblings followed in their parents’ footsteps and learned the chocolate-making craft from scratch, so both have interchangeable skillsets that can come in handy throughout the season.

A visit to Island Chocolates can be an educational experience as well as a tastebud-tantalizing one. I like chocolate and always have. I would have called myself a fairly well-versed chocolate consumer. For example, I know that dark chocolate is a healthier choice compared to the not-so-real white ‘chocolate’ (admittedly, that doesn’t mean that I never crave the oh-so-sweet unhealthy cousin!). But during my conversation with Gilbert I learned a lot more about the world of chocolate.

First off, there’s a big difference between a chocolate maker and a chocolatier. The former transforms cocoa beans into chocolate; the latter makes things out of chocolate. Tasty things. Seductive things. While you can indulge in the masterpieces of Emma’s and Eric’s chocolatier skills in the shop, it is the chocolate-making process that truly stole Gilbert’s heart. Forget nose-to-tail and farm-to-table—bean-to-bar is where it’s at!

Photo Credit: Jessica L. Fritz

Every winter when the shop is closed, Gilbert travels to South America and Latin America to meet the farmers that grow the cocoa pods, harvest the beans, and ultimately allow those of us living in developed nations to satisfy our sweet tooth. However, similar to coffee production, those farmers are seeing the least of the profits and many lead a hard life. Gilbert’s mission is to involve them in the chocolate-making process to a further degree by actually teaching them how to make their very own chocolate out of the beans they harvest. It is a give and take—while they teach him how to take care of the trees and harvest the pods, he repays the favour by offering his knowledge on everything from fermenting (I had no idea!) to drying, husking, and grinding cocoa beans. And voilà—chocolate that’s ready for sale and enjoyment.

Working in partnership with these cocoa farmers, Gilbert can be assured he’s bringing back the best quality product in the form of 100% cocoa bean bricks. These bricks will serve as the foundation for the creative chocolatiering process to start in the back of their PEI shop. Don’t be fooled by the old-fashioned appearance and charming ambience of the shop: in the back is a super-insulated and climate-controlled room suited to making the most exquisite chocolate creations possible.

Eric Gilbert works with cocoa farmers to ensure a fair trade of knowledge and skills.// Submitted photo

And quality doesn’t stop there. Island Chocolates’ creations contain local ingredients from folks with a similar, quality-driven mindset. There is a brewery edition of chocolates infused with beers from Barnone, Upstreet Craft Brewing and PEI Brewing Company; Rossignol’s, Matos’ and Newman’s wines are featured in some of the ganaches; peppers from the makers of Maritime Madness Hot Sauce are to be found in pralines with a hint of spice; and the summer fruit fillings are grown by Eric and Emma’s brother, Miles. Some of the Choc-Tails will be prepared with various Deep Roots’ liqueurs.

The Choc-tail event series brings it all together—taste local goods, talk and learn about chocolate, and socialize with the like-minded.

Community is an important piece of the puzzle in Island Chocolates’ success story. “It’s a labour of love. This is my home. I am tied to PEI. It might be a little harder. But it’s good here,” said Gilbert, speaking of the old building that houses the chocolate shop started by his mother and father almost 30 years ago and everything that comes with the family business.

Submitted photo.

About Jessica Fritz

Jessica is “from away” in the truest sense of its meaning: her roots are in Germany. She immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 2010 and only recently moved to PEI. As a passionate home cook Jessica likes to explore different types of cuisines including her native one. “Thinking globally, buying locally” is her foodie mantra and growing her own veggies will be her next big adventure. Putting words on paper has always been a way to express herself. Hence, writing for Salty combines her love for food and the written word while at the same time discovering PEI’s thriving culinary landscape.

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