MERIDEN — Walking into Thompson Chocolate’s Factory Store, you are immediately hit with the overwhelming smell of chocolate.
The store, tucked in a residential section of the city at 80 S. Vine St., is just one of the stops on the Connecticut Office of Tourism’s Chocolate Trail this year.
The Connecticut Chocolate Trail was a concept created in 2011 as a way to showcase chocolatiers throughout Connecticut and make it easy for people to discover them, according to the Connecticut Office of Tourism.
The trail lists 18 stops, including Thompson Chocolate in Meriden and Sweet Cioccolata in Wallingford.
Thompson Chocolate has been participating in the trail since 2014, sales and marketing manager Kevin Scarpati said.
“We certainly do get some visitors that come in because of the trail,” Scarpati said. “It’s increased exposure for us and the company to reach a demographic that we ordinarily wouldn’t reach.”
The Factory Store is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will stay open until 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 13, the night before Valentine’s Day.
The store primarily sells foil-wrapped chocolates, in different shapes and kinds, including white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate. Heart-shaped chocolates in bags, in lollipop forms, and baskets can be found in lots of Valentine’s Day-themed colors this time of year. Chocolate treats for St. Patrick’s Day and Easter are also available now.
The store also has products for sale that aren’t sold anywhere else — like the popular pecan bars and hand-foiled chocolate Easter bunnies.
The store doesn’t offer tours of the factory, but you can find various pieces from the 140-year-old history of the business displayed and a video showing the production process. Under the check-out counter are antique molds used in the 1900s and on the wall is a piece of a local shed where the Thompson family once produced chocolate.
On Tuesday, lifelong Meriden resident Jane Costello was shopping for Valentine’s Day treats for family members, including a chocolate lollipop for her grandson.
“He doesn’t eat too many sweets, but he’ll enjoy this,” she said.
She wasn’t aware of the Chocolate Trail, but was happy the chocolate she has loved for years is included on the list.
Following the trail to Wallingford will land you at Sweet Cioccolata, 28 N. Colony Road. The gourmet chocolate shop has been in the same spot for 17 years, but plans to move a few doors down by Easter into a space formerly occupied by Cindy’s Unique Shop.
“We’re going to double our space,” owner Rachael Ceste said.
The expansion will also mean new products, in particular, new gluten-free and sugar-free treats, which have been requested. Ceste said the chocolate is already all gluten-free, and the dark chocolate is dairy-free, too.
Items available in the store include chocolate- and/or caramel-covered cookies, popcorn, pretzels, apples, graham crackers, and platters with an assortment of treats. Ceste said the chocolate bark is a customer favorite and comes with toppings like roasted almonds, cashews, cranberries, non-pariels, coconut and other dried fruits.
For Valentine’s Day, the shop will also have thousands of freshly-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 13 and 14, including white, milk and dark chocolates.
Sweet Cioccolata is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Other stops on the trail include Fascia’s Chocolates in Waterbury, Munson’s Chocolates in Bolton, and Divine Treasures in Manchester.
Unlike the CT Wine Trail Passport program, the chocolate trail does not include prizes or stamps for visiting. Businesses can request to be added to the trail by contacting the Connecticut Office of Tourism.