While the cacao tree has been around some 3,500 years, chocolate as we know it came much later. We can thank the Aztecs for much of that. They would roast and grind the cacao beans and then mix it with things such as chili pepper and honey. Explorers from Spain and Europe wrote about this amazing cocoa drink that was frothy, warm, and delicious. Thomas Jefferson even once predicted it would be the preferred drink over tea and coffee.
Today we can get it in any form, from chocolate bars and chocolate-covered fruit to chocolate wine and beer. And no matter how much we get, it still doesn’t seem to be enough. In fact, we love it so much we celebrate it year round. So as a salute to our favorite sweet treat, we rounded up a few Southern festivals that show appreciation for our beloved chocolate.
- Dallas Chocolate Festival—Dallas, TexasThe workshops and lectures at the Dallas Chocolate Festival range from the more serious science of chocolate, to how-to’s for amateur chocolatiers (photo courtesy of DallasChocolate.org)Each fall, chocolate lovers unite in Dallas to taste the best of what Texas has to offer. National and International chocolate makers and chocolatiers show up with their best, too, with their chocolate boxes ready for the hordes of chocolate lovers awaiting samples.The festival is hosted by DallasChocolate.org, an organization that promotes artisan chocolate in the Dallas area. Founder Sander Wolf didn’t just want to introduce locals to a higher level of chocolate, but he wanted to educate them about the complex process that goes into each bar enjoyed. The first Dallas Chocolate Festival featured just two bean-to-bar makers and exploded from there. In addition to the numerous vendors, the festival features experts of the chocolate world lecturing on topics ranging from bean sourcing to chocolate science. And, of course, plenty of how-to’s for the burgeoning chocolate enthusiasts.
- The Festival of Chocolate—Orlando, Tampa, and Miami, FloridaFlorida’s Festival of Chocolate is held in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami, and features amateurs, pros, and everyone in between that make the chocolate culinary world so deliciously sweet (photo courtesy the Festival of Chocolate)If a chocolate-induced coma is what you are looking for, Florida has you covered with this statewide festival created to appease chocolate lovers from two to 102. It’s hosted in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami on different dates, but 2015 festivals were held in January and April.One of the most popular Southern festivals, the two-day event is jam packed with anything and everything chocolate. Seriously. Saved candy wrappers become elegant attire in the Cocoa Couture Fashion Show, with models strutting their stuff down the “Yumway.” Educational demonstrations are held throughout the day so you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the cacao bean and its beautiful offspring. The kids will be kept busy with plenty of hands-on activities, but adults can take their experience one step further with chocolate and wine pairings led by the pros.
- Carolina Chocolate Festival—Morehead City, North Carolina The Carolina Chocolate Festival is a true community event that puts all profits back into the community through scholarships to local seniors and into community groups and nonprofits (photo courtesy of the Carolina Chocolate Festival)Just a week before Valentine’s Day, chocolate lovers gather for this chocolatey delight in Morehead City. And at only eight dollars for an adult ticket, it might be the cheapest festival on the list. But you’ll get far more than your ticket’s worth through sampling and knowing your money goes right back into the community in the form of scholarships and support to local nonprofits.North Carolina has a growing bean-to-bar scene, and the purists and more show up for this one-day event that still has the feel of a small-town festival. Run the 5K to justify eating an extra bar or two, and then head on over to place a bid on the goods from the Pro/Am Bake-Off Challenge. With a nod to Willy Wonka, each festival attendee is encouraged to buy a festival chocolate bar. One lucky chocolate lover might just receive a golden ticket on their bar, winning them a trip to the ultimate chocolate destination, Hershey Park.
- Chocolate Lovers Festival—Fairfax, Virginia If Virginia is for lovers, each February Fairfax is most definitely for chocolate lovers (photo courtesy of the city of Fairfax)Old Town Fairfax is decked out in sweets as the state extends its motto from “Virginia is for Lovers” to “Fairfax is for Chocolate Lovers.” Well, sort of. Whether it’s official or not, it’s true on the weekend before Valentine’s Day in the Old Town Historic District and has been since 1993.The weekend kicks off with a chocolate chip pancake breakfast and revs up from there for a sweet weekend like no other. While chocolate tastes are offered around every corner, the chocolate theme is stretched a bit further with events such as a mock trial for the “Chocolate Caper” and a “Chocolate Dipped Tales” puppet show. And what sweet event would be complete without a viewing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, while hoping for the highly-coveted golden ticket. But the highlight of the event might just be how the festival is as much about the city itself as it is a confection or two. Don’t miss the Sweet History Walking Tour. Walkers learn the richness of the city’s history while visiting historic sites in Old Town. The short trip wraps up at De Clieu Coffee—for a warm mug of hot chocolate, of course.
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