Bryan Graham’s passion for chocolate is so strong you can almost taste it. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, he began working as an assistant pastry chef at the Bear Café in Woodstock while still in high school, and was promoted to pastry chef at the tender age of 18. Five years later, he left to pursue a formal education at the Culinary Institute. “I just fell in love with working with chocolate and making confectionery products,” Graham says. “It was there that the seed was planted to eventually start a chocolate business.”
After graduation, Graham began to experiment with making chocolate, roasting beans in his home oven, and turning out little five-pound batches of the stuff. He quickly realized he not only wanted to make chocolate candies but also to make the actual chocolate.
This “bean-to-bar” approach is a rarity among confectioners — 99.9 percent of chocolatiers in the US purchase their chocolate pre-made and melt it down to turn it into bars, candies, and other confections. But relying on someone else’s chocolate would leave entirely too much to chance for Graham’s taste. “We do everything from sourcing the cacao beans to roasting, sorting, winnowing, refining, conching, and then turning it into solid bars of chocolate or filled confections,” says Graham.
Fruition Chocolate founder Bryan Graham (left) and one of his most popular creations: chocolate-coated marcona almonds with rosemary and honey
In 2011, after six months of scouting possible locations across the country, Graham and his wife and business partner, Dahlia Rissman Graham, a Woodstock native, landed in her parents’ guest cottage. A few months later, they opened Fruition Chocolate in a 1500-square-foot shop on Route 28 in Shokan. “We’re primarily a wholesale operation but decided to do a little retail out of the shop on the weekends. It was slow at first, but it’s become a bit of a destination as more people have found out about us. People will try our chocolate at Bread Alone in Boiceville or The Phoenicia Diner and head up Route 28 to check us out in person,” says Rissman Graham.
The couple sources their cacao beans from fair trade, organic growers in the Caribbean and Central and South America, often traveling to visit new farms and meet the farmers. Their insistence on quality is equaled by their insistence on sustainability and fairness, “We either check the operation out ourselves or partner with growers who are certified Direct Trade by our friends at Taza Chocolate. All the farmers we buy from get better than market rates,” says Rissman Graham.
Although cacao must be imported, Graham works with local farms to get the best Hudson Valley fruit, maple syrup, honey, spirits, and dairy. “One of our best-sellers is a brown butter bourbon caramel — a dark chocolate shell made with 68 percent Hispaniola, a Dominican cacao — with a fluid caramel filling made with brown butter from Ronnybrook Farm in Ancramdale and Hudson Valley Baby Bourbon from Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner,” says Graham.
Another favorite is the dark milk bar with flor de sal made with cacao beans from the Tumbes region in northern Peru and salt from the warm springs saltpans in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Straddling a delicious line between dark and light, the chocolate has a subtle flavor of toasted walnuts. Graham’s unexpectedly addictive dark-chocolate-coated, jalapeño-dusted corn nuts have also developed a cult following and are a popular bar snack at Stockade Tavern in Kingston.
Fruition Chocolate imports its savory cacao beans from the Caribbean and Central and South America. Above right: Fruition’s famous filled chocolates
In addition to these and other goodies, Fruition is offering an assortment of dark and milk chocolate eggs with a variety of fillings for Easter. “In honor of spring, we offer some brighter fruit flavors as well as things like a simple salted caramel and a house-made marshmallow filling,” says Graham.
Fruition will be opening a small, sleek retail space in the heart of Woodstock this spring and is also planning to move to a larger production space soon. “Our goal is to continue to make really delicious chocolate and to get it out into the world as much as possible,” says Graham.