When you open the door of Peterbrooke Chocolatier in Lake Sumter Landing, you are enveloped in the luscious aroma of chocolate. For this special season, when chocolates make the perfect Valentine for the one you love, Style visited in the kitchen with the staff of Peterbrooke.
“The process in the kitchen begins every day with tempering the chocolate,” said Sarah Bowersox, confectioner for the candy store. “Just to temper the chocolate takes an hour and a half every morning. That’s the process of pouring it and heating it to the proper temperature so it’s presentable.”
The glossy, firm finish you see on premium chocolates and candy bars is the result of tempering. Time and temperature differ for tempering dark, milk, and white chocolate.
Sarah said chocolate tastes good no matter how it looks because nothing alters the flavor. “When you [work with it] out of temper, it can be very streaky or speckled,” Sarah said. “It doesn’t look pleasing to the eye. You have to temper it right to get it to look right so that it cools properly.”
Passionate about the candy the store offers, Sarah takes her responsibilities very seriously. Each day brings a new set of activities that she finds enjoyable and rewarding.
Peterbrooke Chocolatier built its foundation on recreating the look and taste of fine European chocolate with only the best ingredients and Old World techniques to create the perfect complement with American comfort food such as popcorn and Oreo cookies. The chocolate ships to the stores directly from the factory in Jacksonville, but Sarah prepares and creates many of the items sold on site.
Owners Veronica and Roger Barnes came to the area at the suggestion of her parents, who live in The Villages.
“My parents lived here, and when we decided to open the store, they said we needed to see Lake Sumter Landing,” Veronica said. “At the time, we lived in the Heathrow area. We’re both Christians, and when we saw it, we felt like God was telling us, ‘This is the place.’”
Veronica said people warned them it would take six to eight months to get the business up and running, but they did it in three. “We opened in March 2008 right before Easter. I’ve never made so many bunnies in my life.”
Prior to opening the chocolate shop, Veronica worked as a convergence engineer, where she combined voice and data networks in information technology.
“It took some adjusting for me to work here because I just wasn’t used to this environment after working in an office for so long,” Veronica said. “It has been an amazing journey.”
Each season brings a new focus for molds, gift baskets, and original designs.
“I do more than 80 percent of the chocolate in the store,” Sarah said. “There are just a few items I don’t do. I do the ginger, all the pretzels, the orange peels—pretty much everything except the bin items up front, which come from Jacksonville.”
Sarah’s work in the kitchen requires careful attention to detail. Her artistic side comes out, especially when working on novelty items like the ladies’ high-heeled shoe or purse, unique gifts with corporate logos on them, seasonal items, and the ever-popular popcorn and array of chocolate assortments. Almost anything you’d like covered with chocolate is accommodated in this kitchen, including wine bottles.
“Everything is prepped differently, so it takes different time to prep,” Sarah said. “I have two temper machines now so I can do two at a time. If I do both, I do more than 60 pounds of chocolate a day. That takes about six to seven hours a day, not including tempering.”
Veronica originally learned the process with representatives from the Jacksonville factory. Sarah began her career working the floor of the store. She demonstrated an avid interest in the preparation process, much to Veronica’s delight, and now keeps the kitchen running smoothly.
“The people who work for me are a huge blessing,” Veronica said. “A lot of them have been with me seven years plus and I’m just grateful for every one of them. I’m also extremely grateful for those who support us.”
Oreo and Nutter Butter are among the most popular cookies. However, you can get them encased in the creamy Peterbrooke milk or dark chocolate. “If I’m doing the enrober line with the cookies and crackers, that doesn’t take as much prep work because the cookies are premade,” Sarah said. “We use Oreos and Ritz crackers. However, we do make the turtles and peanut butter Ritz back here, which is great but very time consuming.”
Enrobing is the process of covering a cookie, pretzel, cracker, fruit, or other item in creamy chocolate. Sarah said the machine has taken considerable time off this process. Hand-dipping each item made it a lengthy process.
Chelsea Riley works on the floor, and when asked if she gets overwhelmed with chocolate, she just smiled and said, “I have days when I really want chocolate and some days when I don’t. I really love the chocolate here because it’s so good. The dark sea salt is my favorite and it’s a favorite of Villagers, too.”
Buying a candy assortment always leaves you vulnerable to that one person who pokes a finger in the array to see what’s in the middle. With Peterbrooke Chocolatier that won’t be a problem. You’ll not only be able to choose each piece to go into your box, you’ll be able to pick the perfect box. There are the traditional heart-shaped boxes along with others of various sizes and designs.
“We also have a box that looks like a little book,” Sarah said. “When you open it, there are your truffles.”
But there’s more…
“One special thing we do for Valentine’s Day is the strawberries,” Sarah said. “Customers can call us or come in the store, and we do a preorder, maybe a week before Valentine’s Day, and they’ll get a discount.”
Keep an eye on peterbrookethevillages.com for details.
PHOTOS: Fred Lopez