Pushing away from corporate chains mechanically mass-producing their chocolate, Forte Chocolates takes a step back, continuing to handcraft their world-renowned sweets.
Turn the corner and walk closer. The smell of hot chocolate hits you first, drawing you inside. Go ahead — sample Forte’s decadent hot chocolate mix. Make sure you don’t miss other samples placed around the store.
Visit Forte, and you get to do more than shop. You get to taste a wide variety of their chocolates before you commit to a purchase. Good thing, because you pay more for quality. Forte’s truffles are $4 apiece, same for one of their award-winning, dark-chocolate sea-salt caramels. Can’t decide? Get the assorted box of both for $25. Forte chocolate bars start at $8 (for a 1.5-ounce bar) and barks starts at $20 (7-ounce bar).
Visitors can expect to find several different chocolate styles. Some are unusual, some familiar.
There’s the lemon-pepper and dark chocolate truffles, peppermint bark; caramels; strawberry-lemonade chocolate squares; even “sipping chocolate” — to-die-for melted chocolate and crème. At Forte, there is something for every chocolate lover.
“I have a one-inch small canvas to work on and it has to be not only beautiful, but it has to be eye-catching enough to capture your interest in a food orientation,” owner and operator Karen Neugebauer said. “And then inside, it has to be as beautiful as it tastes. It can’t just be a plain, chalky interior.”
After injuring her back in 2006 and having to take a year off work, Neugebauer, a master chocolatier, decided to follow a life passion and learn how to cook. After taking just one class in chocolate-making, Neugebauer fell in love with the art of chocolate crafting, seeing it as a “warm hug” she can give to people. In 2013, Neugebauer won World Gold at the Academy of Chocolate in London for her rosemary caramel, placing her, for the first time, on the world stage. To become a master chocolatier, you must prove your knowledge in a variety of different chocolate styles.
“When you start competing and you start winning constantly, people start viewing you differently. I’ve won high honors in not just one category, but in multiples,” Neugebauer said. “I know how to make caramels, I’ve mastered truffle making with different types of chocolate, bar making, sculptures, along with taking on several apprentices. Your work needs to push the chocolate industry forward.”
While the chocolates may seem intense, the atmosphere of Forte is happy and light, with phrases like “celebrate life with chocolate” adorning the wall. The employees of Forte are there to answer any questions you have. Neugebauer wants to bring happiness to people through the chocolate she creates.
“If anyone has any questions or wants to learn, we open our doors,” Neugebauer said. “We are 100 percent open to sharing everything that we have.”
Neugebauer also offers a variety of chocolate-making classes at her main kitchen in Mount Vernon. These classes range from truffle making, to chocolate bar creation, to full on chocolate sculptures. Even if your truffles, bars or sculptures don’t turn out how you wanted them to, you will still leave with a box full of tasty treats.
Neugebauer says that her chocolate is so good not only because it’s handmade, but because she uses some of the best ingredients from around the world, including a type of cacao she says was thought to be extinct for close to 200 years, named Fortunato No. 4, after the Peruvian farmer whose land this rare cacao grows on. Combining rich flavor with an artist’s flair, the jewel-like Balsamic Fig Truffles or the deep red, cherry almond truffles are worth a try. You won’t find a $2 chocolate bar at Forte, but you’ll discover a taste and flavor you cannot find anywhere else.
1 Bellis Fair Parkway #424, Bellingham
360.306.3065 | fortechocolates.com