Chocolate is the Spice of Life
Whether you’re a chocolate lover or not, the annual Chocolate Festival is a treat—and just one of the many reasons Lewisburg was voted America’s Coolest Small Town.
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Chocolate, or cacao, was first discovered in the Amazon nearly 4,000 years ago. By the 1500s, cacao beans had been introduced across the world—in Spain, Nicaragua, and to the Pueblo people in the southwest United States—and were being used as currency, as well as to mix dark and bitter drinks and other concoctions. Thousands of years later, chocolate is still taking center stage as festivals around the world celebrate the cacao bean.
Now in its sixth year, Lewisburg is home to West Virginia’s largest chocolate festival. Originally born of a local baker’s desire to fundraise for a cause, Lewisburg Chocolate Festival founder Cindy Lavender explains, “I had a friend who runs a local bakery who had an idea to do something to raise money for the humane society. As an animal lover and pastry chef, she wanted it to do with chocolate, and she wanted me to help with organization and event planning.” The very next day, Cindy received a call from the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau, who asked her to help plan a new festival for the community. Cindy told them of her friend’s idea for a chocolate festival with a charitable component, and that first year, the Chocolate Festival brought in about 300 people and sold nearly 1,200 tasting tickets. A mere four years later, the 2011 Chocolate Festival welcomed about 5,000 attendees and sold around 30,000 tasting tickets. The Chocolate Festival has implemented a selection process to determine what local organization will benefit from the festival proceeds. To date, the Greenbrier Humane Society, HospiceCare, and Greenbrier Valley Theatre (the 2011 and 2012 recipient) have all benefited from this delectable event, which has sold out almost every year.
Festival committee chairperson Sarah Skelding hopes to bring in as many as 7,000 visitors to partake in this year’s festivities, which include the Chocolate Tasting Extravaganza, HospiceCare 10K Chocolate Chase, The Greenbrier professional chef demonstration, the celebrity chef demonstration, a free screening of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, chocolate brunch, chocolate bake off, chocolate mousse eating contest, live musical performances, and more. Past celebrity chefs have included Roland Mesnier, the longest tenured White House pastry chef, and Marcel Desaulniers, author of Death by Chocolate. And much of the festival’s continued success is due to the support of local restaurants, merchants, and chocolatiers who offer tasters and visitors chocolate-themed menus featuring items like Chicken Mole Poblano with dark chocolate mole, Fresh Grilled Salmon Filet with white chocolate sauce, Sachertorte—a rich bittersweet chocolate cake filled with raspberries and covered with chocolate ganache, and other decadent treats.