This Sunday, the New York State Museum opens its doors for the seventh annual Chocolate Expo and Holiday Gift Market.
Not only will visitors be able to take in the rich heritage of New York state, they’ll be able to sample and purchase locally and regionally made sweet and savory items and one-of-a-kind hand-crafted goods.
The museum started the expo when it hosted “Chocolate: The Exhibition,” detailing the history of the food. It was so popular that they decided to continue it. It remains wildly popular today, drawing thousands of visitors from the Capital Region.
Chocolate Expo and Holiday Gift Market
WHERE: New York State Museum, Madison Avenue, Albany
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday
HOW MUCH: $3; under 12 free; discount tickets available at Price Chopper for $2
MORE INFO: 474-5877, www.nysm.nysed.gov
“It’s a unique experience because you can purchase locally crafted items as well as visit all our exhibitions,” said public programs coordinator Nicole LaFountain.
Fountains of flavor
More than 40 vendors will be set up in the first floor exhibition halls, and We Do Fondue of Albany will be on hand in Metropolis Hall with two 44-inch-tall chocolate fountains, which it donates to the event for visitors to enjoy free. Price Chopper supplies the dipping items, such as strawberries, pineapple, pretzels and marshmallows.
“The moment the museum opens up, the line forms for the chocolate fountains, and the line never ends until the event closes,” said We Do Fondue owner Craig Wander. “These towers are like a magnet.” One is Swedish dark chocolate and the other, from the same company in Sweden, is white chocolate. Wander uses more than 100 pounds of chocolate during the event.
The Village Chocolate Shoppe from Bennington and Arlington, Vt., will be on hand with chocolate turtles, butter crunches and novelty items that are good for stocking stuffers, like chocolate pops featuring Santa Claus on a motorcycle, all of which are made by this family business.
The store also sets up a chocolate craft that visitors can make for a small fee. This year it will be a yule log made from a chocolate-dipped pretzel and ready to decorate with chocolate as the “glue” with which to attach decorations.
Isn’t It Sweet Handmade Chocolates and Confections of Albany will be selling its signature chocolate barks, white chocolate party mix, holiday pretzels, chocolate-dipped candy canes and snowmen dishes filled with M&Ms (the dish itself is made of chocolate). “People will be overtaken by the creativity,” said co-owner Brian Bennett. “They think the dish is ceramic, but you can eat the whole dish.”
Children will have the opportunity to make cake pops at noon, 1 and 2 p.m. in the Student Center.
Besides the sweet, there will be savory items, too, all regionally made, specialty items. Fortuna’s Sausage Company, a mail-order company based in Sandgate, Vt., appears for the first time at the event, bringing a variety of its nitrate-free dried, cured Italian sausages made from recipes brought from Italy 130 years ago by owner Patti Fortuna’s grandparents.
Fortuna will also bring some of the company’s dry sausage sampler packages in gift boxes, $1 of whose sales gets donated to the Make a Wish Foundation. Visitors will be able to sample some of the sausages.
Albany-based Our Daily Eats will be selling its roasted nuts, seeds, granola and pesto. “People like to wander through and stop and taste and get a sense of the types of unique local producers that are out there while enjoying the exhibits that are present at the New York State Museum,” said co-owner Paul Barrett.
In addition to edibles, there are vendors who bring hand-crafted items for sale that make unusual gifts for the holidays. Hilary LaFountain’s goods look like you could eat them, but they’re actually detergent-free, hypoallergenic soaps shaped like slices of pie. Her Etsy-based business, PINX: A Slice of Sudz, offers soaps made to look like blueberry, apple, pecan, key lime and chocolate cream pie, to name a few.
LaFountain, who also likes to bake, discovered the idea of homemade soaps by accident when she was using a round silicon cake pan as a soap mold. She found that she could cut the discs up in slices. “I began layering to make them look like different pies, and it just kind of exploded from there,” she said.
Linda Woods of Saratoga Llamas in Saratoga Springs brings her spinning wheel to spin yarn and explain the history of spinning during the expo. She also shares photos of the llamas that are a favorite of kids, and brings some llama hair. “They get to put their hands in it, provided they’re chocolate-free,” Woods said. Some of the offerings available for sale include scarves, hats, mittens, and yarns spun from the farm’s llamas with the “donor” llama’s name on the yarn.
Glass maker Kate Cohen of Bella Bijoux in Schenectady will be bringing some of her spiritually inspired jewelry. She makes glass beads and fused glass beads using a torch or by cutting glass. “My whole objective is color and wearable art, so, for me, it’s more about art than it is about jewelry,” she said.
She’ll have necklaces, bracelets, rings, pendants and glass plates, all hand-made and in her own style. “I do it when I’m feeling a lot of joy,” said Cohen, who sees this as an important aspect of her work.
Whatever the item, all of the goods offered for sale are regionally made and highly creative. “Every vendor there, it’s something that they personally produce,” Woods said. “It’s less commercial, more personal and more unique.”
Cohen likes the variety that the expo offers to visitors. “They will love the diversity, the crafts, and all the different kinds of foods,” she said. “There’s something for everyone there.”
With each paid admission, visitors receive a raffle ticket for a basket filled with items from the expo’s vendors.
After the expo, many people will head to the Empire State Plaza for the holiday tree-lighting celebration.