When archeologists found remnants of hot cocoa mugs in Honduras, it officially confirmed that humans have been addicted to chocolate for over 3,000 years. But it wasn’t until chocolate touched the unsuspecting taste buds of Spanish conquistadors that it quickly became one of the world’s most popular foods. Quantity and quality, however, are two very different things, and no one knows it better than Durango chocolatier Carley Felton.
Felton, who opened the Animas Chocolate Company in 2011, specializes in handmade and single-origin chocolates.
“The artisan chocolate industry is really taking off,” Felton says. Over the last fifteen years, independent artisan chocolate shops have cropped up around the country. Artisan chocolatiers pride themselves on using higher-quality ingredients and having the ability to educate their customers about where their chocolate is sourced and how it’s created. Though there is little threat of the artisan industry ever replacing mass-market chocolates, we may begin to see a greater acceptance and demand for handcrafted sweets.
Felton likens it to another very familiar success story. “I would personally love it if the [artisan] chocolate industry became like the craft brewery industry.”
Felton’s story proves there is a place for handcrafted chocolate in a competitive marketplace. Her big break came at the 2012 Durango Chocolate Fantasia, where she beat out the big boys – like the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – with a creamy, drive-in movie inspired malt truffle.
“It kind of legitimized us. It was a big confidence booster,” Felton says.
Felton moved to Durango a week after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. By 2011, she was managing the Leland House & Rochester Hotel, but was quickly beginning to feel restless.
“You get that itch when you want to be your own boss and I guess it came early for me,” she remembers. “When I was looking at [starting] different businesses, chocolate really struck me because you could be creative.”
Felton was making goodies in the kitchen as early as high school, but had never seriously considered making chocolate as a living. “I never thought in a million years I’d be doing this, but it feels so right.”
After taking an online chocolate-making course through the Canadian Ecole Chocolat, Felton began mixing and creating her own flavors with French and Belgian chocolates. Many of her truffles, inspired by places along the Animas River, feature local ingredients, like the mint-flavored GrassHopper Creek and honey Mudslide.
Felton has also begun experimenting with one of the latest trends in the artisan world. “Single-origin chocolate is like flavors of wine coming from a specific area,” she explains. “They have a more pronounced flavor.”
During the summer months, Felton can be found at the Durango Farmer’s Market. She will be opening a new, larger storefront on Main Avenue this fall.