Enjoying a Chocolate Tasting Class at Ethel M Chocolates
I’m not the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day but I do love one aspect of it – chocolate! I’ll take a heart shaped box of the good stuff any day. One of my favorite chocolate companies is Las Vegas’ Ethel M and I make sure to enjoy some every time I’m in town. I just so happened to be in Vegas this past weekend so I made some time for an extra special treat – a complimentary chocolate tasting at the factory in nearby Henderson.
Ethel M is a chocolate company with an interesting history. Ever hear of the Mars Bar? The Milky Way? M&M’s? All of these are made by Mars which began as a candy factory in Tacoma, WA way back in 1911. Forrest Mars, son of the founder Franklin, played a significant role in the company developing the Milky Way in 1923. In the late 1970’s Forrest retired to Las Vegas but soon became bored and decided to start a premium chocolate line called Ethel M after his beloved mother.
Since then the company has thrived and become a Las Vegas staple. For years they’ve opened up their factory to visitors and my family took a tour when I was young. Since that time I’ve mostly grabbed boxes at hotel gift shops and the airport but decided it was time to pay the factory another visit.
Located about 15 minutes (and a world away) from The Strip it’s tucked away in a quiet industrial park. A beautiful botanical garden makes up part of the campus thanks to Mr. Mars long time love of desert flora. Inside is a large gift shop offering a wide variety of products as well as a glimpse of the inner workings of the factory (at this time they are currently remodeling and the windows are covered). Adjacent to the gift shop is the Tasting Room offering Chocolate Tasting Classes for a nominal fee (mine was complimentary).
The Chocolate Tasting Class was the very reason for my visit and on a Saturday evening I joined a small group to learn all about the story of chocolate and the Ethel M brand.
Our instructor was Tammy Jo, a longtime employee who’s love of chocolate shone through. Sweet and knowledgeable she taught us all about the chocolate making process from pod to bean to bar. We learned so many interesting facts about the fruit (Tammy Jo was adamant we consider it that) and even got to hold an authentic pod.
Did you know cocoa trees only grow 20 degrees North and South of the equator? That there’s only one bug, called the midge, that can pollinate the plant? Or that you can eat the pulp of the pod as well as the bean and that it tastes a bit like mango? We learned all this and more before we started the best part of the class – the tasting!
Tammy Jo taught us all about the different kinds of chocolates Elthel M produces from truffles to caramels to satin cremes. We learned a special way to taste the chocolate (you’ll have to take the class to find out!) and discovered all its various flavor profiles. Afterward we received special certificates making us honorary chocolatiers.
The certificate also acts as a coupon for the gift shop and you can be sure I took full advantage of it! Afterwards, I headed back to the garden for a very special Valentine’s display called Lights of Love.
Every year for the holiday Ethel M outfits the garden with over 500,000 lights creating a romantic atmosphere perfect for the Valentine’s couple. With no admission fee, it’s also a lovely atmosphere for families and friends and I enjoyed strolling around looking at the various displays.
Ethlel M Chocolates is a true Las Vegas treasure. If you’re not so into gambling, like me, it’s a lovely respite from the chaos of The Strip. Even if you do love casinos it’s still a perfect break from all the action – plus you can fuel up with their chocolates! Either way, it’s a great place to visit and I’ll definitely be heading back next time I’m in town.