Santa Fe has long been heralded as a go-to culinary destination. Most foodies know the region for hearty ingredients like native chile, corn and squash, but surprisingly chocolate has been a coveted New Mexico delicacy for more than a century. Before the French enticed the world with their truffle and before the Swiss made chocolate milky sweet, Native New Mexico tribes were already coveting the cacao bean. Yes, Santa Fe’s relationship with chocolate is older than the city itself. Need proof? A 1,000-year-old pottery shard, unearthed from the Chaco Canyon, was found to have traces of theobroma (chocolate’s scientific name). In 1600 Don Juan de Oñate himself noted an inventory to the “Crown” of Spain of “eighty small boxes of chocolate”. And in 1661, then Governor, Lopez de Mendizabal, spoke of time spent sipping chocolate with his wife Dona Teresa at the Governor’s Palace.
A visit to the City Different is incomplete with out an exploration of the rich culinary traditions. And now it’s easier than ever to discover the sweet history of New Mexico foods via the new exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art, titled “New World Cuisine: The History of Chocolate, Mate y Más”. This celebration of ancient fare reveals the cultural power of chocolate, highlighting its important role in the culinary revolution. Traditionally a bitter brew, this beloved bean was considered so valuable to the Natives of New Mexico that they used it like money, and believed it possessed special ceremonial powers. It was only when transported back to Europe that is became sweetened and molded into the delicate candies we enjoy today. So precious was this potent elixir that Juan de Oñate housed it in intricate spice jars with locking metal lids to protect the cacao from thieves. Nicely played, Oñate. Nicely played.
After soaking up six centuries of rich chocolate history, you’ll be more than ready to indulge your senses in the here and now. Fortunately, modern-day Santa Fe is home to the incomparable Chocolate Trail, a chocolate-infused route that connects four world-class chocolatiers: Todos Santos, C. G. Higgins Confections, Kakawa Chocolate House, and The Chocolate Smith.
Walk, don’t run, through Santa Fe’s chocolate nirvana sampling everything from traditional cacao drinks to delicate hand rolled truffles.
Here’s everything you need to know to slowly savor your indulgent tour.
Todos Santos Chocolates and Confections
Todos Santos showcases the artistic chocolate genius Hayward Simoneaux. Here he offers unique truffles with rare and amazing flavors like candied grapefruit peel and hickory-smoked sea salt. The shop prides itself on eclectic decorations and Chocolate Milagros. Simoneaux crafts Catholic emblems out of chocolate, then coats them in a fine layer of edible silver or gold. That’s right, you can get your chocolate with a side of gold.
C. G. Higgins Confections
C.G. Higgins was the official candy maker for Santa Fe's 400th anniversary, which is further proof of the city’s reverence for chocolate. Higgins’s Chile Caramel Corn and Chile Pecan Brittle each took home first place Scovie Awards (the official awards of the Fiery Foods show). His impossible-to-resist truffles come in surprising flavors– “surprising” meaning “ecstatically good” - like blackberry balsamic, cardamom raspberry, and jalapeño lime. Higgins also offers drinking chocolates, handcrafted fudge, and caramel corn that are all beyond delicious.
Kakawa Chocolate House
Kakawa Chocolate House, run by owner Peter Wolf, specializes in authentic and historic drinking chocolates. One sip and you will forever swear off powdered chocolate. Thick exotic brews, flavored with ingredients like roses, nuts, ancho chile, and hibiscus, tempt the traditional and adventurous palate. Sip on an elixir re-created from Aztec times, or a rustic drinking chocolate made from Thomas Jefferson's own recipe. Amorous visitors can share the Love Potion, a sensuous concoction that uses damiana, an herb with legendary aphrodisiac qualities. Delicately indulgent pomegranate and lavender truffles make the perfect companion to Kakawa’s brews.
The Chocolate Smith
No matter how often I visit (confession time: often), I still have a tough time choosing a favorite from the sea of chocolate barks and bonbons at The Chocolate Smith. Thankfully they provide samples, best enjoyed as you watch the artisans pour and cut chocolate on marble slabs. Jeff and Kari Keenan craft their delectable artisan barks from fresh ingredients like organic espresso, tamari-roasted almonds, homemade English toffee, and New Mexico green and red chili roasted pistachios. Their tempting sierra blanca bark, a white chocolate ganache with fresh lime and ancho chile, has a special place in my heart.
Learn, savor and rejoice, chocolate lover! Chocolate has a stirring, centuries-old history here in Santa Fe. Come see, smell and taste for yourself one of our most revered and inspiring culinary traditions still alive today.
Plan your sweet escape!
- “New World Cuisine: The History of Chocolate, Mate y Mas” opens December 9, 2012
- Take the Chocolate Lover’s Tour
Find out more about the rich culinary history of New Mexico: Download the full PDF of Museums and Monuments Winter Guide