Derry Church Artisan Chocolates

John Keats was right when he said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Chocolate, with its ephemeral nature, won’t be around forever; but, once tasted, fabulous wares will inform all future chocolate experiences.

As a reviewer I naturally gravitate towards the best quality product; but, aesthetics also play a part. Beauty is not just limited to the visual, it’s visceral, even karmic. Perhaps, the packaging is artistic, or the farmers are treated with generosity and kindness. Maybe it’s the lack of pesticides, original flavor combinations, chocolate artistry and design, or an unusual mission; all grab my attention. Sometimes, it’s a minimalist concept, like the two plain black boxes from chef Eric Cayton at Derry Church Artisan Chocolates.

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Before I get to my review, I would like to share Chef Cayton’s story, in his own words:

“In 1965, approximately 107 years after the birth of Milton Hershey, another man, with the same burning passion for chocolate, was born in Hershey, PA, at the old Hershey Hospital…..coincidentally, about 200 yards away from the original Hershey Homestead, birthplace of Milton Hershey! His name is Eric Cayton, and he is the Artisan Chocolatier for Derry Church Artisan Chocolates, LLC, named, of course, in honor of the original Derry Church settlement at present day Hershey, Pennsylvania. This is sacred ground in the world of chocolate, and being 5th generation Derry Church, chocolate is ingrained in Cayton’s DNA!

Coming from a small town that is synonymous with chocolate, Chef Cayton found himself fascinated with all things chocolate, even from a very young age (5 or 6)…and much to the amusement of his Mother, he began collecting the wrappers from all kinds of different candy bars, he would beg his Mom to buy him at the grocery store! As a young teen, Cayton began to obsessively read and study about the life and times of his hero and idol, Milton Hershey…feeling it was somehow his destiny to follow in his footsteps and work in the chocolates business.

Chef Cayton began his professional culinary life, in 1980, the day he turned 15, in the Foods Department at Hersheypark. Around the same time, financial tragedy struck, and Cayton’s family lost everything…including the family business, all their property…..even the family home! On the streets as a young teen, penniless, hungry and bewildered, Cayton entered a very dark, dangerous period of his young life, he calls, “the lost years”…..hitchhiking, taking the bus, sleeping on rail cars, in camp grounds, and the couches of strangers, up and down the East Coast from New York City to Key West, FL.

Two years of this hardscrabble existence was enough to convince him to return to the safe harbor of his familiar hometown. Upon his return Cayton was determined to make a new start of things, but he was unable to afford any formal culinary training. He paid for boarding rooms and his meager rations by working for any fast food or casual dining kitchens, in and around the Hershey, PA area that would have him…all the while working side by side, and paying close attention to any of the older boys and young men, that seemed to have more culinary training or knowledge than him.

By the time he was 21, Cayton was already a skilled, and experienced, self-taught chef. Lacking the advantages of a formal culinary degree, he began purchasing culinary school textbooks, diligently studying, memorizing and practicing the skills of the professional chef, he finally landed a 2 year apprenticeship under a cranky old Executive Chef at a local luxury hotel, who, begrudgingly, taught him the ways of the Executive Chef. Working for various luxury hotels, country clubs, and caterers in and around the Hershey, PA area, Chef Cayton opened Cayton’s Catering, in 1996, sub-leasing kitchen space from a local social club. He found minimal success, catering to an affluent clientele, yet he never could forget his chocolate roots……and his dreams as a little boy to emulate his hero, and start a successful chocolates company!”

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My absolute favorite bonbon in this collection, of the eleven I sampled (there are 26 in the range) was the Palermo. The experience made me think I was a synesthete (someone whose senses are intertwined in unusual ways, so they can taste a sound, or see a smell), since the lemon flavor was so primal I almost thought I could taste “yellow.” An homage to lemon, countered with bittersweet chocolate and the crunch of roasted sliced almonds.

Cairo, a triangle of Medjool date paste, aged balsamic reduction, in a bittersweet ganache was also unusually good and unique. The mini disc of jaggery, an Indian sweetener of less-processed sugar that tastes like brown sugar and molasses, added textural interest.

New Orleans was a darkly enrobed Bananas Foster milk chocolate ganache with cinnamon, rum, and bananas. This was sublimely well-balanced, no mean feat, since banana can easily overpower anything it’s paired with.

Rome, a cappuccino milk chocolate ganache in a dark shell, topped with white chocolate mousse and dusted with cocoa was uncontrollably delicious. The mix of flavors and textures made each bite compelling, like a visit to a new country.

Savannah, an elegant rendition of peach crisp piped into a dark chocolate cup, is topped with a bit of cinnamon streusel and drizzled with white chocolate. Unusual, fun, and quite pretty.

San Francisco is a dark square with a puree of organic Black Mission figs, molasses, and roasted walnuts in bittersweet ganache, dusted with demerara sugar crystals. This combination was dense and incredible satisfying.

There are also toffees and caramels of excellent quality, as well as a white chocolate ganache with chipotle peppers that packed some heat.

If it were me, I would stick with anything Chef Eric enrobes in dark chocolate. The shells are all thin, but not so thin you need a micrometer to measure them. Their lovely temper and crisp texture complement every creative interior just beautifully.

Derry Church uses organic cream, butter, and fruit purees. You can taste the way each chocolate is lovingly handmade.

Luckily, we humans have the ability to re-savor things through memory. I will definitely return to that uber lemon ganache with bittersweet chocolate and sliced roasted almonds as the apotheosis of tanginess, depth, and texture. As the Eurythmics used to sing: “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.”

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