Florida’s first Spanish colony, St. Augustine, is most well-known for its historical attractions. As early as the 1800’s, people from all over the country started visiting St. Augustine to catch a glimpse of its old Spanish charm. Tourists flock to the Castillo, the big fort that never saw defeat; they traipse up and down the pedestrian-only St. George Street, once (and still) the town’s Main Street; and they take narrated trolley tours to learn about the city’s history and ghost tours to hear even more stories from the past. For most visitors, the food is an afterthought.
Food & Drink in St. Augustine
Like the South’s other favorite old cities, Charleston and Savannah, St. Augustine is more than just history and interesting architecture. The past 30 years have brought more modern attractions to St Augustine, many of which are centered around food & drink. And why not? The Spanish brought Florida oranges, cattle, and chocolate. Part of the St. Augustine experience is enjoying these culinary gifts where they first arrived.
Making Chocolate in St. Augustine
Chocolate first arrived in St. Augustine, FL with the Spanish (who got it from the Aztecs when Spanish Conquistadores invaded Mexico in the early 1500’s). Records show that chocolate came to St. Augustine in 1641 on the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora del Rosario del Carmen. This was the first recorded arrival of chocolate in what is now the United States. Since then, chocolate has remained a staple of St. Augustine cuisine.
There are two artisanal chocolate manufacturers in St. Augustine, Claude’s chocolates and Whetstone chocolates, and both have already received brief mention here on Florida Illustrated. Claude specializes in Belgian chocolates similar in quality and price to Godiva chocolates, while Whetstone specializes in high quality Florida-themed chocolate souvenirs, making solid chocolate shells, gators, and dolphins. Both have great chocolate and are worth a try if you are in the St. Augustine area. However, Whetstone has become the more popular tourist destination of late by offering tasting tours of their King Street facility.
History of Whetstone Chocolates
Whetstone chocolates was founded in 1967 by Henry and Escher Whetstone. This was when the husband and wife duo started perfecting their homemade fudges and chocolates in their home’s kitchen. In the 1970’s they opened their first St. Augustine chocolate factory on Cordova St. The factory did contract work for Nestle, Hershey, and M&M Mars through the 1980’s and 1990’s, before returning to their artisanal roots in 2004.
Whetstone Chocolates Factory Tour
Whetstone has been offering factory tours at their new King St. facility since 2010. The tour starts with your tour guide showing a video on the history of chocolate and then giving a brief lesson on how chocolate is made. The video shows men working on cocoa plantations, harvesting cacao pods from their trees with a swing of the machete. Within each cacao pod are about 30 cocoa seeds covered in pulp.
The cocoa seeds are fermented for 5 days before they become cocoa beans. The beans are then roasted and processed into cocoa nibs. Then the nibs are ground into cocoa liquor or discs, which are further processed into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. To make chocolate, you combine the cocoa butter and the cocoa powder with sugar, vanilla, and a binding agent. For white chocolate, you omit the cocoa powder, and for milk chocolate, you add powdered milk.
As our tour guide describes how the different types of chocolate are made, he lets us sample an example of each. Whetstone makes 5 different kinds of dark chocolate, 2 milk chocolates, and 1 white chocolate. However, their most popular items are their signature chocolate shells, which come in eight different flavors: key lime pie, Valencia orange, mint crunch, toffee crunch, Aviles milk chocolate, Menendez dark chocolate, De Leon dark chocolate and San Marco white chocolate. They can be purchased individually or in assortments, and they are the perfect souvenir.
After sampling some chocolate and hearing how it is made, our tour guide led us into the working factory and showed us some the equipment and factory staff in action. While there, we saw a snippet of how chocolate-covered toffee is made. I watched the 1 inch square toffee move down the conveyer belt and through a chocolate waterfall that coated each piece in chocolate. A factory worker loaded the toffee pieces onto the conveyer belt and hand-salted each piece after they were covered in chocolate.
Our tour guide also demonstrated how chocolate Easter bunnies are made. A two-part mold is snapped together, and the chocolate is poured into the mold from a larger spigot. After the chocolate had solidified, the two halves of the mold are separated and the chocolate bunnies are removed and wrapped.
As our tour came to an end, we were able to observe how they perfectly wrap all of those tiny shells. The answer is that they use a big fancy machine that practically loads itself with chocolate shells, wraps them, and spits them out onto yet another conveyer belt.
The greatest take-away I got from the Whetstone Factory tour was the idea of tasting with all 5 of your senses. Chocolate has to be experienced. To fully appreciate it, you should give it a long look, take a sniff of the cocoa powder, hear the crunch as you bite into it, feel it melt in your mouth, and taste the sweetness.
If you are interested in visiting either Claude’s chocolate or the Whetstone chocolate factory on King Street, both are stops on St. Augustine’s Old Town Trolley tour route. The Whetstone chocolate factory has its own parking lot, so driving and parking there is also an option.
Gimme More Chocolate
- History of Chocolate in the American Colonies from history.org: http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume9/jan11/featurearticle.cfm
- The Best Chocolate in St. Augustine from Simply St. Augustine: