According to the National Confectioners Association, a little more than 80 percent of Americans will give the gift of something sweet this Valentine’s Day. About three-fourths of those people will be giving chocolate, whether it’s in an elegant bow-wrapped box, or snatched hastily off a store shelf in a last-minute shopping frenzy.
Chocolate has long been associated with Feb. 14, but any chocaholic will easily tell you that not all varieties are the same. Luckily, Centre County and the surrounding areas have much to offer in this department, and there’s no need to settle for second-best.
You’ve probably seen one of the handful of Gardners Candies retail shops, either right here in State College, or in nearby Altoona. The brand began in Tyrone in 1897, when the founder, James Gardner, opened up a small shop downtown while also selling his much-beloved treats from a horse-drawn wagon. Now, the name has expanded to 10 stores within the state, with other retailers stocking their locally famous chocolates as well.
But you might not be aware that Gardners helped kick off one Valentine’s Day tradition that’s spread the world over.
“Gardners Candies was one of the first companies in America to put candy in a heart-shaped box, and it is still everyone’s favorite,” said Sam Phillips, president of Gardners.
“It has become a tradition to give a heart filled with our famous Peanut Butter Meltaways,” he said, adding that the original family recipe for the creamy peanut butter dipped in milk chocolate is his favorite.
You can further explore Gardners Candies’ 120 years of history at the original candy store, ice cream parlor and candy museum in Tyrone.
In Boalsburg, Chocolates by Leopold is offering up a tradition of chocolate all their own. One of two branches stemming off the original in Montrose, the charming shop boasts creations from Leopold himself, a master confectioner with an impressive resume, as he turns what most would deem simple chocolate into intricate works of art. Beyond this, there are two other things the company prides itself on — its prized fourth-generation German chocolate recipes and its customer service. Walk inside any Chocolates by Leopold location, and it’s easy to see that those greeting you are going to ensure you leave with exactly the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your loved one.
“I think that Valentine’s gifts are better if they are targeted at an individual’s tastes,” said Michelle Depue, Chocolates by Leopold business developer. “We ask our customers what the person to whom they are giving the gift likes. For example, a child will most likely want something different than a girlfriend or a grandfather.”
“If someone came into the store, however, who didn’t know the taste of the recipient, I’d suggest a heart box, combined with a Bear with Heart pop and perhaps a PB Truffle Heart. This would cover all the possible bases. Depending on budget, the person could select a heart box that has simply ‘Happy Valentine’s’ on it or upgrade to the fanciest of boxes,” Depue said.
As for her own favorites, Depue knows her stuff.
“In the morning, I normally start off with an Espresso Buttercream,” she said. “Before lunch, I like to nibble on whatever is coming off the enrober at that time. But, this time of year, the Cinnamon Nonpareil is my absolute favorite. I eat it multiple pieces at a time.”
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something thoroughly unique and one of a kind, Cheri Christian, the owner of Sweet Tooth Bakery & Cafe in State College, has you covered. While the cafe sells a large quantity of their chocolate-covered strawberries in white, milk and dark chocolate, Christian insists that what sets the bakery apart is its custom work. Using state-of-the-art technology, they print perfect photos onto your chocolate selection, along with a name and date.
Currently, each of the local chocolatiers is offering something special for Valentine’s Day. At the Sweet Tooth Bakery, you can purchase a personalized, photo-printed chocolate and forgo the $10 scan fee for a limited time; Chocolates by Leopold has brand-new Valentine’s Day-themed products available in stores and online; and Gardners Candies is offering free shipping for any Valentine’s Day order of $39 or more.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.