Loudoun County has already made a name for itself with its longtime wine industry, booming craft brewery and culinary scene, but chocoholics need not feel left out—the chocolate scene is alive and well.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, a selection of chocolate makers and chocolatiers stand by at the ready to fill just about every type of sweet tooth craving.
Art Sweet Art
2A Loudoun St. SW, Leesburg
Those looking to please a few of their senses should make Art Sweet Art in downtown Leesburg a stop on their chocolate tour.
Owner David Mercado and his wife and business partner Susan debuted their gallery’s chocolate offerings in the fall to rave reviews. The gallery offers a selection of Neuhaus chocolates from Belgium, an internationally recognized brand that has been making chocolates since the mid-1800s.
“The Belgian style is known for not being too sweet, never bitter, and super fresh. Neuhaus holds very high standards for freshness, everything comes with a best buy date and we adhere to that,” Mercado said.
Mercado recommends trying out the brand’s Irresistibles line, crunchy chocolates with a nougatine layer beneath the outer shell, or a piece from their coffee and praline collection, which is made with coffee components from Colombia and Brazil.
Art Sweet Art also has espresso to do coffee pairings with the chocolates, and hopes to begin a regular rotation of live music for something to appeal to the ears as well.
Raymer’s Homemade Candies
20364 Exchange St., Ashburn
Few things taste or look the same as they did in the 1800s, but Raymer’s candies seek to break that spell.
Sue Raymer proudly notes that the candies available at her family’s recently opened One Loudoun store are made with the same recipes her father learned as a young candymaker in Wisconsin. Her father was trained by a German immigrant family, using recipes from the 1800s, beginning when he was 12 and he would continue making the candies himself for 60 years. He trained his son-in-law, Sue’s husband, and the Raymers opened their first shop in Doylestown, PA, 17 years ago.
Now, with son Cory, a former Washington Redskin, having planted his family in Ashburn, the Raymer family is excited to expand its candy empire to Loudoun.
The Raymers make their candies with the freshest ingredients, no preservatives, and make them every day. Their selection includes 40 different kinds of chocolates, 30 kinds of truffles, and their signature caramels. Sue Raymer notes that their sea salt caramels are so popular that it is hard to keep them on the shelf.
For Valentine’s Day, customers may purchase a heart-shaped box and fill it with any candies available at the store. For an added treat, pick up a chocolate heart box, where even the box is edible.
1605 Village Market Blvd., Leesburg
Visitors to The Conche restaurant find themselves spectators to the restaurant’s impressive chocolate lab, situated in the middle of the space. There, Chef Santosh Tipturand his kitchen staff create the confections available for purchase and restock as needed. As they use only the freshest ingredients with no preservatives, the chocolates have a shorter shelf life than major national and international brands. The tradeoff is a refreshing taste, full of flavors like passionfruit, raspberry and brandy. For those who like their confections a bit less sweet, Tiptur recommends the caramels.
The Conche is rolling out a special menu for Valentine’s Day, replete with savory dishes that integrate the cocoa beans they import from several different regions. The menu also features an assortment of confections, and the bar staff will be busy perfecting signature cocktails.
Veritas Artizen Chocolates
ChefScape, 1602 Village Market Blvd., Leesburg
Entrepreneur Andrea Howard’s latest business purchase saw her getting up close with the chocolate-making process. Howard bought her chocolate company, which she rebranded to Veritas Artizen Chocolates, about 18 months ago, and began learning for herself the chocolate-making process from bean to bar. She uses the purest ingredients in her chocolate, with no oils.
She has quickly expanded the company’s sweet offerings, and prides herself on Veritas’ specialty barks.
“I add a lot of cool stuff on top, anything you can think of. I started with peppermint and then I thought ‘this is really delicious, I could do this with anything.’ We can do mint, orange peel, nuts and berries,” she said.
Howard recently moved out of her Purcellville space to set up shop in ChefScape’s the new food hall and marketplace in the Village at Leesburg. She also will be hosting an inaugural chocolate festival at that location March 9.
22446 Davis Dr. #174, Sterling
For a personal touch, head on over to Sterling’s Sweet Signatures, where owner Monica Archondo prides herself on her custom orders and personalization for her delectable creations.
She opened her Sterling shop three years ago following years in the dessert manufacturing industry. At Sweet Signatures, she specializes in edible ink printing and creating signature products, integrating preferred colors or designs to match any brand or occasion. Much of her business is made to order, which customers can see for themselves when visiting her shop, which includes a full-service coffee shop.
“I’ve always been a fan of desserts. I started chocolate as a hobby and it escalated from there. I love to work with people and create something specific for them, whatever the occasion is. I get more joy out of that,” Archondo said.
For Valentine’s Day, Archondo is planning to offer chocolate-dipped strawberries, which are hand-dipped and decorated, along with handmade chocolates and truffles.