In a lab in Britain last year, a researcher discovered what might come as no surprise: The buzz we get from allowing chocolate to melt on our tongues can last four times as long as the most passionate kiss.
But a tour of chocolatiers’ showcases from Plymouth to Acton to Rowley confirms something else: Valentine’s Day isn’t just for lovers.
Customers range from long-married couples and newly wed millennials to parents, grandparents, and kids at one local shop, Fedele’s Chocolates in Pembroke. Traditionalists prefer heart-shaped boxes decorated with silk roses and filled with handpicked favorites. Others opt for chocolates arranged in trendier containers with tuxedo motifs and crazy plaids.
Then there’s a widow who returns with an empty box that holds cherished memories.
“There’s a woman whose husband died 15 years ago who brings in her heart [box on Valentine’s Day] for us to refill,” said Ron Fedele, who opened the business in 1987 and operates a second shop in Plymouth.
Fedele produces and sells more than 100 varieties of chocolates, prepackaged or handpicked.
But its signature Valentine treat is a fresh, jumbo strawberry, half-dipped in milk or dark chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate. Sea salt caramels, turtles, and cherry cordials also are big sellers for Feb. 14.
“Very few grumpy customers walk through the door,” Fedele said.
Sisters Christina Bartkus and Lisa Trifone left corporate careers to open Purefections Chocolate in Quincy in 2006, a boutique store that uses a blend of Belgian chocolate to produce its confections.
“It was a lot [of work], but we’re happy,” Bartkus said.
The sisters, who grew up in a family of eight kids, said they learned from their mother, Geraldine Trifone, who was famous for her brownies, now a staple at the shop. They’re fully dipped in milk chocolate, half-dipped in dark chocolate, and secured on a stick like a pop.
For Valentine’s Day, the sisters are making “The Big Smooch,” big chocolate lips cast into a half-pound mold and filled with their signature P-squared, C-squared, which combines peanut butter and potato chips (P-squared) and chocolate and caramel (C-squared). For dramatic effect, the lips are packed in a red box with a pink bow, with two small solid-chocolate lips inside.
Conversation Hearts are another popular pick, particularly with the kids. These milk or dark chocolate bars are studded with the traditional sugary hearts carrying messages, one or two words, that predate texting.
In Sudbury, Tom and Monica Rogan, owners and operators of Goodnow Farms Chocolate since November 2016, have been roasting beans, pressing cocoa butter, and mixing in organic sugar for a collection of premium dark chocolate bars and cocoa blends they sell online and to roughly 70 gourmet shops across Massachusetts.
The Rogans, who discovered craft chocolate about 10 years ago, when they were living in Los Angeles, travel to Mexico and Central and South America to buy beans and develop long-term relationships with growers, a strategy that supports fair trade and sustainable farming. On Valentine’s Day, the couple and their two young children will be visiting a farm in Nicaragua.
“In the big picture, the farmers benefit and craft chocolate [gets] to a broader audience,” said Tom Rogan.
At the Happy Chocolatier in Acton, Paul and Michelle McMahon use a chocolate blend to make their specialty, a signature truffle they’ve named Cubze.
Cubze are packed into silver boxes, while combinations of Cubze and assorted traditional chocolates come in a shiny gold box secured with red ribbons. All chocolates are accompanied by a printed quote, such as “Some pursue happiness, others create it.”
“The presentation factor” is important, said Paul, who left a marketing career to make chocolates. “[We thought] how can we take all that we know about chocolate and take it up a notch and we came up with happy wisdom.”
The recipes for more than 100 types of milk, dark, and white chocolate remained the same for the 32 years Christopher Flynn owned Prides Crossing Confections in Beverly. They didn’t change four years ago when Flynn sold the business to Milissa Oraibi, a former customer, who for years had joked that one day she would take over the shop.
“I had never made a piece of candy,” said Oraibi. “I love chocolate, and in my opinion, I’ve never had anything better than Chris’s chocolate. . . . I couldn’t imagine [the shop] not being here anymore.”
On the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, her showcase in the original Prides Crossing train depot will be filled with traditional handmade chocolates and newer favorites such as chocolate covered bacon, which kids buy for their dads; “I love you” Twinkies dipped in chocolate, another kids’ favorite; raspberry truffles; and Merlot salted caramels.
“Usually two to three weeks ahead is the rush,” said Oraibi, describing a pattern that’s common with other holidays. “Valentine’s Day, they wait until the week. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. [which is closing time] is the real rush on Valentine’s Day.”
Winfrey’s Fudge & Chocolates began in 1979 when Christine and Stuart Winfrey started making fudge from their North Shore home and selling it at local and regional fairs. The couple got their break three years later when Brigham’s Ice Cream made the couple its sole vendor.
Today, the Winfreys’ three kids, Jillian, Mark, and Scott, run the business, which includes a manufacturing operation and retail store in Rowley, and retail shops in Beverly, Stoneham, and Wenham.
Winfrey’s signature fudge, made in more than 30 flavors, remains its top seller and is likely to hold steady on Valentine’s Day. But demand for its traditional, handmade and hand-decorated chocolates remains strong, as well at its individually hand-dipped, long-stemmed, fresh cherries.
A new confection was recently added to the menu.
In December, Winfrey’s rolled out “Wicked Dark, Wicked Good,” a health-conscious line of 72 percent dark chocolate bars that Jillian Winfrey developed. The five varieties include plain, sea salt, almonds-blueberries-coconut, fruit and nut, and granola. All are gluten-free and contain no preservatives.
Chocolate that’s good for you. What a concept.Hattie Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.