The Hudson Valley’s sweetest destinations

5 leading chocolatiers prep for Valentine's Day

Author: Pauline Liu
Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011

The mad rush is on among the region’s confectioners. For weeks, their businesses have been bustling, as they prepare for the sweetest day of all. Valentine’s Day. If the holidays were any indication, the Hudson Valley’s 5 top chocolatiers should do well on their big day. As the new year approached, their stores were packed with customers. The lines were long, but everyone was patient. After all, when it comes to gift giving, fine confections are a sweet deal!

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?

While it’s been said that the way to a woman’s heart is through a heart shaped box of chocolates, the debate over whether chocolate is truly an aphrodisiac continues. Consuming it causes our brains to release feel-good chemicals, called endorphins. Researchers say chocolate does contain the mood-for-love chemicals, phenylethylamine (PEA) and tryptophan, but not in large enough amounts to make it an aphrodisiac. Still, studies have shown that chocolate is the number one food craved by women.

We’ve got the best

Chocolate covered strawberries and fancy boxes of assorted confections will be all the rage for Valentine’s Day. Here in the Valley, there’s no need to travel far to find extraordinary, fine chocolate.The region is filled with fabulously talented confectioners! For some, it’s a family tradition, handed down from generation-to-generation. Others started out as chefs, who went from making glorious foods to exquisite chocolates. Interestingly enough, all but one of them is a baby boomer; all of them take enormous pride in their confectionaries.

Not all chocolatiers are alike

That, however, is where the similarities end. The textures of their confections vary; as do their flavorings and price ranges. Some chocolatiers will only hand-dip their confections, while others machine-roll them, or use molds. To sort out the differences, we suggest you do as we did. Try them all. Your taste buds will be grateful.

Rae Stang: Lucky Chocolates, 115 Partition St., Saugerties.

The village of Saugerties has cornered part of the chocolate market. Not only does it boast of having two chocolatiers, but the 2 separate businesses are both located on trendy Partition St., albeit almost a mile apart. Rae Stang moved Lucky Chocolates from a small storefront on Rte. 212 about a year ago. Her current location is bright and more spacious. Among the area’s chocolatiers, she’s the only woman. Her clever slogan: “Get Lucky.”

Specialty: Truffles, Stang especially loves her lemon truffles.

Distinction: “My thing is that I want my chocolate to have really intense flavors, because I’m a chef. My three things are: intense flavors, all natural ingredients, and they have to be organic.”

Philosophy: “I’m a cook. Making chocolate is creative and spontaneous.

It also makes people really happy.”

Karl Krause: Krause’s Chocolates, 41 South Partition St., Saugerties.

At 45, Karl Krause is the youngest of the bunch, but his family has a long history in the chocolate business. He prides himself on being a third generation confectioner. He uses his grandfather’s Swiss recipes and hand-dipping techniques. His personal favorite is chocolate covered caramels. He has one every morning. Since he makes 10 varieties, he has a lot to choose from. Meanwhile, he’s preparing for the future. Krause is training his 12-year-old son the art of making chocolates according to the secret family recipe.

Specialties: Chocolate covered caramels, peanut brittle & fudge.

Distinction: “My chocolates are all hand-dipped, while some others use machines.”

Philosophy: “I don’t try to force people to like what some French person likes. I try to give people what they want. I give it to the best of my ability, and I make it affordable.”

Oliver Kita: Oliver Kita Fine Confections, 6815 Rte. 9, Astor Square, Rhinebeck.

Oliver Kita is a professional chef, who’s passionate about his award-winning confections. He came to the Hudson Valley to attend the Culinary Institute of America. He loved it so much here that he stayed. Kita says he wants to promote awareness among his customers. He makes a point of telling them that his chocolate is fair-trade and organic. He’s pledged a percentage of his profits to support 1% for the Planet. He’s an admitted perfectionist, who opened his confectionery in late 1997. Kita says business has been great and now he’s looking to expand.

Specialties: Artisan chocolate collections, including Red Swiss Velvet Heart Box & Loveletter Quartets.

Distinction: “I’m Paris trained, so I work with very traditional methods to prepare the bonbons, whereas most of the other chocolatiers are American trained.”

Philosophy: “When people come in, they are spending their money on what they believe in. I want them to be aware of how it’s grown, how it’s processed, and how it’s transformed into confections in my studio.”

John Courtsunis: Commodore Chocolatier, 482 Broadway, Newburgh, 845-561-3960

John Courtsunis is a second generation chocolatier. He learned his craft from his dad, George, a Greek immigrant who opened Commodore Chocolatier in Newburgh in 1935. According to family folklore, the name for the business came from a salesman, who just thought it sounded good. While the website isn’t ready yet, a google search will turn up plenty of other sites offering rave reviews for Commodore. The store has old world charm. Courtsunis and his family are very friendly. You’ll find his wife, Chris, and son, Gus, helping out behind the counter.

Specialties: Chocolate covered caramels, turtles, truffles & ribbon candy.

Distinction: “My chocolates are made 3 different ways: hand-dipped, machine rolled or molded. I’m a traditionalist. I’m not a fan of putting salt on chocolate. I’d rather go with natural crunches, like from nuts.”

Philosophy: “The beauty of this business is not just about the chocolate.

You become part of the people you come in contact with. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Terry Craft: Alps Sweet Shop, 269 Main St. Beacon, 1054 Main St., Fishkill.

Alps Sweet Shop has two locations. It also has the longest history of any of the region’s leading confectioneries. Terry Craft is the chocolatier for both stores. His wife, Sally, handles the retail side of the business.

It sounds like a perfect partnership! Alps Sweet Shop was started by Sally’s Greek immigrant grandfather, Peter Charkalis, in 1922. Her father later taught Craft the family’s confectionery recipes. While Craft also trained with experts in Europe, he proudly calls himself, “The American Chocolatier.” Some of his confections are hand-dipped, while others are machine-rolled. The business’ Valentine’s Day special is chocolate covered strawberries. Last year, the Crafts sold 16,000 of them!

Specialties: Chocolate covered strawberries, Heaven & Earth Truffles.

Distinction: “We insist on use of the finest ingredients available, being conscious of fair trade practices and respectful to tradition.”

Philosophy: “I want people to know that there are excellent American chocolatiers. It used to be that the masters were all European, but that’s not the case anymore. Americans can make great chocolate too.”

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