I’ve Got a Golden Ticket: A trip to Harbor Sweets

February 14, 2014

Many have lamented the decline of Valentine’s Day: it has become a commercialized holiday focused solely on greeting cards (containing mass-produced soulless poetry) and expensive gifts.  We must take the time to remember the true meaning of today: chocolate.  Sweet, savory, melt-in-your-mouth-yummy-deliciousness chocolate.  We agree with Eliza Doolittle that a good life would mean “…lots of chocolates for me to eat.” Oh wouldn’t it be “loverly” indeed!

Valentine’s aside, this week also marks Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival (February 7-16).  It was timely, then, when we took a trip to Harbor Sweets, which has been described as “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory meets Santa’s Workshop.”  Truer words have never been spoken: our tour of Harbor Sweets was like receiving the elusive golden ticket.  Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly staff member and invited to take a chocolate from the expansive plate of samples.  We were hooked on the first bite.

What began in 1973 as Ben Strohecker’s desire to create the world’s best chocolates has become a New England staple which creates 2 million Sweet Sloops a year and ships nearly 2,000 packages a day during the holiday season.  Did we mention that it’s all done by hand?

Harbor Sweets utilizes original chocolate-making techniques and methods.  This includes slowly melting the chocolate in copper kettles and hand molding, filling, wrapping, and packing all of the chocolates.  During our tour, we watched as the staff patiently and efficiently filled chocolate with caramel centers and dipped Sweet Sloops in crushed pecans (giving the chocolates their delicious outer crunch and texture).  As we learned from Lucy, making chocolate by hand is not easy but the staff at Harbor Sweets are old pros – they’re also terribly friendly and knowledgeable, answering our questions and, at times, letting us know where the best camera shots were.  If there’s any secret ingredient in Harbor Sweets’ products, it’s probably the care that goes into making, molding, and wrapping each chocolate.

Harbor Sweets’ best-known chocolate are Sweet Sloops, almond butter crunch dipped in white chocolate with a dark chocolate, pecan-coated, base (is your mouth watering yet?).  The delicious chocolates were created by accident during a dark chocolate shortage.  President and COO Phyllis LeBlanc (who had worked at Harbor Sweets while a student at Salem State College) has expanded the company’s offerings with the Dark Horse Chocolates (inspired by her passion for horses) and Perennial Sweets (influenced  by her own gardens and love of gardening) lines.  Their newest line is Salt & Ayre (introduced for Harbor Sweets’ 40th birthday in 2013).  We highly recommend the Sweet Sloops, Peanut Butter Sea Biscuits, Marblehead Mints, and Caramel with Himalayan Sea Salt (and will wait patiently as you complete your online order).

Harbor Sweets care and commitment doesn’t end with its chocolate-making.  They give back to the Salem community, supporting local organizations such as the Salem Food Pantry and Boys and Girls Club of Salem and donate a percentage of its profits to these local institutions.

Visiting Harbor Sweets is like visiting a real, live Candyland (minus the scary peppermint-clown-man).  The setup inside the store is pretty open, allowing customers to see the production floor as they shop (this means that the smell inside is heavenly-chocolatey).  Tours are available on most Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am (it is best to call ahead of time – 800-234-4860) and we can’t recommend the tour enough! Can’t make it to Salem?  Harbor Sweets chocolates are available at these shops (click here for full list) or you can order online at www.harborsweets.com.

Thank you so much to Harbor Sweets and to Billie Phillips for giving us such a wonderful tour and so much fantastic information (without which, we couldn’t write this blog)! 🙂