The Chocolate Lady on the plaza in historic Old Mesilla buys at least 800 pounds of pecans from local growers every year for its rich turtles, toffee, bark and other handmade treats.
The small shop is among 13 stops on one of the state’s newest culinary trails, the New Mexico True Chocolate Trail, which features chocolatiers who make their own confections right here in the state, particularly those who’ve added a New Mexico twist – chile, piñon or pecans, for example.
“People really do crave authentic flavors in something that is already so beloved as chocolate,” says New Mexico Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham. In fact, people in New Mexico have been loving chocolate for a long, long time; archaeologists have traced chocolate use back 1,000 years at Chaco Canyon.
The Land of Enchantment also boasts the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, the New Mexico Ale Trail and the Breakfast Burrito Byway. Like the others, the Chocolate Trail is designed to draw tourists to destinations around the state.
“We’ve seen such tremendous success with all our trails and we know they’re very useful with trip planning and trip inspiration,” Latham says.
Ready to expand
The Chocolate Trail has been around informally for a few years but was revitalized earlier this year with a new online map to make it more user-friendly. For the green chile cheeseburger and breakfast burrito trails, diners voted on which restaurants should be included.
But there are so few chocolatiers in the state that there’s room for everyone on the Chocolate Trail, and the Tourism Department plans to add new chocolatiers as it learns of them.
“There’s nothing I’d like to expand more than the Chocolate Trail,” Latham says. “We want to be sure they’re all included.”
Mesilla’s Chocolate Lady makes chocolates by hand in the European tradition but also offers such things as a sweet and spicy chile-pecan bark, says chocolatier assistant Lucy Rathgeber.
The shop also puts pecans and its popular pecan crunch candy into icy treats.
“In southern New Mexico it’s hot, so we also make homemade ice cream,” Rathgeber says.
At Joliesse in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, husband-and-wife chocolatiers Troy and Grace Lapsys also make European-style chocolates by hand.
“We are French tradition, New Mexico character,” Troy Lapsys says, adding they are the only French-trained master chocolatiers in the state.
They try to merge flavors and use local produce such as lavender that is grown within half a mile of the shop, New Mexico pecans and chipotle, Hatch and habañero chiles. A lavender sea salt caramel is among the specialties at Joliesse.
Joliesse also has a dessert and wine bar where chocoholics can sip the Wicked coffee brew made with espresso beans, 70 percent dark chocolate and handmade chile syrup.
“We do wine and chocolate pairings quite often,” Lapsys adds. “You can really experience the back and forth of how chocolate and wine interact with one another.”
He also has partnered with local breweries to put on beer and chocolate pairings.
Other Albuquerque shops on the Chocolate Trail are:
• The Chocolate Cartel, where flourless chocolate cake and Mayan-style hot chocolate made with red chile and other spices are hot commodities along with other goodies made with Venezuelan chocolate known for its dark, cherry-roasted flavor.
The Chocolate Cartel is run by master chocolatier Scott J. Van Rixel and his brother Tim.
• The Chocolate Dude offers its own versions of Oreos, graham crackers and Rice Krispies treats, plus freshly made truffles, fudge, brittles, chocolate-covered fruit and coffee and chocolate drinks.
• Theobroma, where molded chocolate comes in every shape imaginable from sports-themed pieces to chile peppers and fish.
In Santa Fe
The chocolate tradition also flourishes in Santa Fe.
• Chocolate Smith uses organic dark chocolate and pure flavors such as cinnamon, coconut and cherry to craft such treats as butter caramel with pecans, piñons or sea salt.
• Kakawa Chocolate House specializes in “drinking elixirs” with recipes from historical sources, including intensely flavored Colombian drinking chocolate spiced with native herbs, flowers and chiles, as well as contemporary creations. The artisanal chocolate shop aims to balance the traditional with the cutting edge and uses fresh and seasonal ingredients to make such things as agave caramels.
• Todos Santos Chocolates is famous for its gold- or silver-leaf covered chocolate Milagros.
• C.G. Higgins coffeehouse offers handmade chocolate drinks, all-natural truffles, toffees and chocolates.
• Specialties at Señor Murphy include piñon brittles, rolls, tortugas, fudges and toffees as well as chile-infused candies and chile-dusted nuts.
• Although it is primarily a bakery cafe, Chocolate Maven also is known for its rich chocolate fudge, Mayan chile hot chocolate, chocolate croissants and chocolate cakes and cookies.
Two unexpected entries on the trail in Santa Fe are Terra at the Four Seasons and Santa Fe Brewing Co.
“They are taking it one step farther,” Latham says.
Terra offers red-chile-infused chocolate desserts and drinks while Santa Fe Brewing turns out an Adobe Igloo beer with dusty raw cacao nibs and red chile flakes for a unique twist on a traditional winter brew.
Also on the trail are two festivals. “Why stop with just storefronts?” Latham says, adding that fairs and festivals are strong motivators for travel.
• Chocolate Fantasia brings the best of Grant County’s confectioners together in February in historic downtown Silver City to offer a taste of their homemade gourmet chocolates.
• The Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest held in March in Albuquerque touts itself as “the nation’s largest consumer festival for chocolate, coffee and gourmet foods” and includes chocolate eating contests, live music, cooking demos and more.