In this, the final Berkshire Eats column of 2015, we take a brief break from exploring healthy eating options for kids by surveying the not-to-miss spots you’ll want to visit – or visit again for the umpteenth time – when you need to satisfy a craving during the holiday shopping rush.
We begin in South County, where Catherine’s Chocolates has been a mainstay on Route 7 in Great Barrington for 60 years. Matt Sinico is carrying on the tradition started by his grandmother Catherine and passed down to his mother Kathleen of creating hand-rolled and hand-cut chocolates.
“We do everything by hand and it’s the way it’s always been. If it is covered in chocolate, I cut it and I rolled it,” commented Sinico, who noted that his family uses the finest grade of milk and dark chocolates for all their items.
For this holiday season, shoppers can pick up the gargantuan Christmas Gift Tower, an assortment of traditional and favorite chocolates that feature 14 of the popular cordial cherries, truffles, sea salt vanilla caramel and butterkrunch. Or, pick up a Snowman Pail, whose contents include a milk chocolate peppermint bar, a chocolate covered Oreo cookie, dark chocolate sea caramels and 8 oz. of Holiday Berkshire, featuring a bit of everything Catherine’s makes.
There are also the ever-popular Santa face chocolate pops, and molded chocolate pops that come in the shape of Christmas trees or angels. In the non-chocolate category, there’s an abundance of hard-to-find old fashioned items such as cut rock candy, spice drops and chocolate-filled straws.
“A lot of our customers have been coming in here for years and they love the old-fashioned candy. We’ll see folks come in with their children and even their grandchildren,” he said.
In addition to the holiday-themed chocolate tins, pops and specialty candies, the top sellers year round are the chocolate cordial cherries (which are made by covering cherries with a sugar fondant and then dipping the fondant covered cherry in hot chocolate), dark chocolate covered sea salt caramels and butterkrunch, handmade cashew brittle.
On the colder side
A few miles south on Railroad Street in Great Barrington is SoCo Creamery’s scoop shop, a short walk from virtually anywhere downtown. Started in 1989 by Danny Mazursky and his family, SoCo (for South County) produces micro-batches of fresh ultra-premium ice cream handcrafted with only local ingredients.
Stop in for a hot cup of peppermint-flavored hot chocolate or try a few scoops of some holiday faves like rum raisin ice cream, gingerbread or eggnog, the three seasonal flavors featured at the shop.
“They’re fabulous flavors. The gingerbread tastes just like homemade gingerbread, because it is, and the rum raisin is outstanding,” commented Erik Bruun, SoCo’s president. Because the raisins are soaked in rum and the egg nog contains a splash of bourbon from Berkshire Mountain Distillers, children are steered away from selecting those flavors, according to Bruun.
Just last week, several of SoCo’s featured ice creams, including the rum raisin and pumpkin, were featured on an episode of “The Barefoot Contessa,” starring Ina Garten on the Food Network. Garten visited the shop this fall to pick up a few pints to bring back to her Long Island, New York home where episodes are filmed.
And in a nod to the much-anticipated Star Wars movie out this month, Bruun also has created several ice cream concoctions that honor the film, including “Storm Trooper,” featuring Madagascar vanilla and homemade marshmallow and chocolate chips; “Flan Solo” a custard with a ripple of caramel and “Wookie Cookie,” a brownie sliced in half to form an ice cream sandwich.
The recent spate of warm weather has been a boon for the scoop shop, but even as the mercury dips SoCo shift manager Meghan Molinari expects a steady stream of customers.
“It’s fairly common for us to see skiers come in right off the mountain,” she said.
Everything in SoCo ice cream is natural, with no artificial colors or flavors. There’s also no carrageenan, an additive found in most commercial brands that acts as a thickener, and which, according to Bruun, has been linked to health problems.
Further north in Pittsfield,Ayelada continues to attract a steady stream of customers this holiday season. Owner Lisa Cervone is offering tiramisu and sugar cookie flavors of her premium Greek-style frozen yogurt.
The sugar cookies used in the yogurt come from Berkshire Bakes (formerly Madeline’s).
“We’ve changed out the toppings for the holiday season, so you’ll see red and green-colored M&Ms and minty toppings, in addition to the seasonal flavors,” said Cervone, who also noted that an egg nog flavor will be offered in the coming weeks.
Hot chocolate, along with cupcakes and cookies from Berkshire Bakes are also featured.
Like SoCo, Ayelada (which is Greek for “cow”) is committed to using locally produced ingredients. All their milk comes from High Lawn farm and is made onsite. Plus, it’s fat-free and “loaded” with healthful probiotics, Cervone said.
Future visits with my girls are sure to include Chocolate Springs Café, located one mile north of the historic Lenox town center. Proprietor Joshua Needleman, the creator and chocolatier, creates handmade European-style chocolates. Visitors will find everything from bon bons, truffles, ganache and award-winning hot chocolate.
Further north, don’t miss Lickety Split, an ice cream shop located at Mass MOCA in North Adams, with a summer location in Williamstown.
Have a favorite candy or ice cream shop in Berkshire County not mentioned here? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Berkshire Family Eats” in the subject heading.