It was during my trip to the Boston area back in October (with my blogging friends Liz and Abby) that I discovered the Nathan Miller Chocolate company. I was drawn in by their beautiful packaging (graphic designer nerd alert) when I spotted them at a specialty foods store in Newburyport, MA. I was excited to see that they were located in nearby Chambersburg, PA, and even more excited when their chocolate turned out to be fantastic. The buttermilk bar was my favorite of the two I bought that day, and easily one of my favorite chocolate bars of all time. It is SO GOOD with its tanginess from the buttermilk, plus it’s not overly sweet and has a nice hint of salt to it. So naturally I asked my chocolate-loving food scientist blogging friend who happens to be in PA, Kelsey from Appeasing a Food Geek, if she wanted to go visit this place together.
We headed out there on a recent Saturday for a tour, tasting and lunch. Nathan Miller Chocolate is located in a cool building off of an alley in Chambersburg that also houses a dance studio and a brewery. Upon entering their cafe we were hit with the smell of espresso mixed with some of the best dark chocolate you’ll find. This created the perfect mocha aroma, aka my heaven. The place was so tiny that we almost entered the brewery in search of the kitchen tour. We went back to the cafe and asked about the tour, and they gestured to the kitchen doors right next to the cash register. “Oooohhhhhh.” So this place is so small, that rather than being a chocolate company with a cafe, it’s more like a cafe where they also make a ton of amazing craft chocolate bars in the kitchen.
Nathan came out of the kitchen to grab us for our personal tour, and I donned my first hairnet as he showed us around the kitchen. It was roughly the size of my living room, and it’s where Nathan spends the hours of 5am-10pm almost every day SINGLE-HANDEDLY making all of the chocolate and all of the food for the cafe. That’s dedication right there. Before beginning his chocolate company he was a culinary student who focused on pastry, spending time working in Germany, NYC and Colorado until 2010 when he decided to focus on making chocolate.
During the tour he showed us the equipment and described the process of making chocolate. I ate a raw cacao bean and asked him a lot about tasting beans from different growers and how he comes up with the ideas for his new chocolate bars. Kelsey had interned with some awesome chocolate makers before, so she was able to chat with him about a lot more of the technical aspects of the process. We had a great time talking to him, not only about chocolate but also about travel, baking and trying new things. Nathan is a kind and talented guy who’s serious about his craft.
After our tour we moved onto tasting a sample of nine of their different chocolates, going from darkest to lightest. The ones we tried were Madagascar (73.5%), Peru (72.5%), Belize (70%), Chili + Streusel, Buttermilk (55%), Pretzel Cherry, the Everything Bar, and Salt + Wafer. I love tastings like this where you try different versions of the same thing (like my whiskey tasting party), because it really allows you to pull out the subtle differences. During the middle of our tasting, Nathan popped out to give us an untempered sample of a chocolate he was working on that used some Dogfish Head beer. (It had a really interesting aftertaste of beer to it.) Kelsey and I compared notes about what flavors we could articulate in each bar and about which ones we liked best. I think we both agreed that the Pretzel Cherry was our favorite of the bunch. The bits of pretzel and cherry in that bar are so tiny, that no matter how small of a bite you take, you’ll get both in each one. As for the darker chocolate bars, I think the Madagascar was my personal favorite. But they were all so delicious and interesting!
After our appetizer of loads of chocolate nibbles, it was time for lunch. We both ordered the same thing: their prosciutto and mozzarella toast with pesto, which came with a side of roasted maple pecan root vegetables and a green salad. I needed to get a taste of their pastry and coffee department as well, so I ordered a chocolate salted caramel cupcake and their maple ginger latte, which was served with a homemade vanilla bean marshmallow. This place doesn’t mess around. Everything we ordered was absolutely fantastic. As we ate we chatted about blogging and our lives and just had a generally great time. Kelsey’s super nice, and she’s one of those internet friends of mine where when we hang out “IRL” it feels like we’ve known each other for a very long time. (PS have you seen the waffles we made together?)
It was finally time to part ways and head home after lunch, but first we obviously had to buy some chocolate to take with us. I did my very best to not buy ALL of them, but I did go home with 5 bars: The buttermilk, the pretzel + cherry, the wigle rum raisin, the greenstreet espresso bar, and the gingerbread bar. It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite from this bunch because they’re all so good in different ways. But … I might be leaning towards the wigle rum raisin. I’ve always loved chocolate covered raisins, so it feels like the chocolate bar version of that, but taken to the next level. The rum adds a nice depth of flavor to it. Two other close favorites were the espresso bar and the pretzel + cherry bar.
If you live in the area or are swinging by and love good chocolate, you should absolutely hit this place up. If I’m ever in Chambersburg again I know I’ll be popping in for lunch and to restock on their chocolate bars. (Next time I might buy all of them.) If I’m ever in a store that sells their chocolate, I know I’ll pick some up, and I have a feeling I might become a frequent flyer in their online store.
To hear more about our visit and to dive a little deeper into the science of making chocolate, be sure to check out Kelsey’s post. She’s a food scientist, so she knows her stuff.
I want to say a big thank you to Nathan and his staff for treating us like chocolate-loving royalty. Please keep making wonderful chocolate and pastries, fantastic sandwiches and killer lattes because it brings happiness to people like me.
As for everyone else who might be reading this, please have a #treatyoself moment and go buy yourself one of their chocolate bars. If you’re feeling particularly generous, buy an extra for someone you love.