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Making chocolate in the 209

The holidays just aren’t complete without something sweet, and luckily for 209 residents there are plenty of stops throughout the area code where gourmet chocolate treats can be picked up just in time for any celebration. Whether it’s fudge with a tasty twist, custom-crafted candies or dipped apples, these chocolate artists have every avenue covered when it comes to the tasty dessert. 

C.R. Fudge Company

Newman / 209-862-1867

Carol Blackwell first began making fudge at age six with her grandmother, but when her mentor passed away the recipe was lost. At age 16 Blackwell recreated her grandmother’s recipe, making fudge for just family and friends at Christmas time. Immediately, the treat was a hit.

“More and more people wanted to buy it year-round, and next thing you know we were opening a shop,” Blackwell said. 

C.R. Fudge Company was born in 2011, and originally Blackwell operated in a friend’s bakery before opening up a storefront of her own in Newman. Today, however, C.R. Fudge operates out of Blackwell’s home, deals totally in online sales and is carried in a few storefronts, like Pea Soup Anderson’s in Santa Nella. While the shop’s location and method of sale have changed over the years, its fudge’s popularity has not waned. 

“Our fudge is different than traditional fudge,” Blackwell said. “Our fudge is very creamy and very soft, and it’s not grainy. It just melts in your mouth.”

Blackwell handmakes and hand packages all of her fudge, which comes in flavors like rocky road and sea salt caramel — the bestsellers — as well as unique favorites like the red-hot apricot, which features the Patterson-famous fruit along with chili peppers. Other traditional flavors include vanilla walnut and chocolate walnut, and all of the fudge is sold and packaged in the customer’s choice of a quarter-pound, half-pound or pound box. 

“I try to make fudge that has my signature, are different and that they’re not going to get anywhere else,” Blackwell said. “It’s just whatever I think of or whatever I try to create.”

During the holidays, C.R. Fudge offers treats that can only be described as Christmas-flavored, such as peppermint mocha, eggnog and gingerbread varieties. No matter the season, Blackwell takes pride in what she does.

“This is my life. This is what I live for. I never get tired of it,” she said. “I love to see people’s faces when they try it because it’s different. We get a lot of compliments and I think that truly keeps me going.”

The Chocolate Dipper

19 W. Main St., Merced / 209-626-5650

The Chocolate Dipper came to Merced in June, providing the community with not just chocolate, but a way to fundraise as well. 

When co-owner Brittany Lowe’s mother Tina Vanderpluym purchased the first Chocolate Dipper store in Salinas back in 2006, the shop made it through the Great Recession by allowing organizations to fundraise with their famous caramel apples. Today, Merced is now home to its own Chocolate Dipper store which has brought with it not only apples, but custom chocolates, gift baskets and more — 90 percent of which is made right in the store.

“My uncle lived in Merced and he told us, ‘Merced doesn’t have anything like you guys. It would be something different and the community could definitely use your help with the fundraisers,’” Lowe said. “So, we took a leap of faith.”

From blueberry truffles and chocolate cherries to hand-dipped chocolate apricots and chocolate frogs, The Chocolate Dipper is a sweet lover’s dream come true. All of the recipes are traditional, dating back to the Salinas store’s original opening in 1983.

“Some of it’s also just things we do as trial and error,” Lowe said. “We practice in the kitchen and give it a run with people, and if they seem to keep coming back for it then it’s a product that we usually keep.”

Lowe said that the sea salt caramels are currently flying off the shelves at The Chocolate Dipper, as well as the shop’s English toffee and made-to-order custom chocolate boxes. 

With varieties like Oreo, peanut butter, rocky road and toffee, the store’s caramel apples are also big sellers. Organizations like local high school sports teams and nonprofits using the apples for fundraisers have contributed to the shop in Salinas dipping as many as 17,000 apples per month.

Lowe hopes that the new location in Merced can soon match those numbers, but in the meantime is content with watching her customers’ smiling faces as they enjoy their treats.

“It means a lot, especially right now when this world seems to be in a lot of turmoil,” she said. “It makes you feel really good knowing maybe for just that moment you’re going to sweeten someone’s day.”

Nelson's Candy Kitchen

Columbia 532-7886, Murphys 728-2820 and Sonora 588-1898 

With three locations throughout the 209, Nelson’s Candy Kitchen may be one of the longest-running candy shops in the state. The candy kitchen in Columbia originally opened in the late 1800s and after four generations, the Nelson family still produces candies from original recipes. 

“We all take a lot of pride in it,” Jennifer McMahon said.

McMahon is part of the Nelson family — her great grandparents first ran the business, then passed it down to the family’s next generations. Her husband, Mike McMahon, serves as the business’ candy maker.

Using Guittard chocolate, the crew at Nelson’s handmakes all of their own centers for their candies, stuffing each treat with sweets like Danish cream and different types of caramels, as well as almonds and walnuts collected from Ronald Martella Farms in Hughson. The kitchen also makes its own marshmallow in-shop for its rocky road treats in addition to different types of fudge. 

Homemade kitchen specialties at Nelson’s include almond bark, in white, milk or dark chocolate, pecan caramel logs and peanut butter fudge, to name a few, while their hand-dipped chocolates can be enjoyed in flavors such as opera chocolate caramel (a rich, dark chocolate), honey nougat and molasses-walnut. 

“The Danish cream centers were brought over from my great grandfather from Denmark, and we still use the same recipe exactly the same way,” McMahon said. 

One thing that’s remained as constant as the centuries-old recipes used at Nelson’s? The kitchen’s loyal customers. 

“We have customers that have been coming back for 60 or 70 years, if not longer,” McMahon said. “It’s really nice to hear people are still happy with the product we make.”

At the Columbia location, an employee works in the same shop her great grandmother once worked at.

The Columbia kitchen is the largest location, and is where all of the three stores’ manufacturing takes place. All three candy shops are in prime spots for tourists and community member alike to stop by: in Columbia’s Historic State Park, on Main Street in Murphys and in the Junction Shopping Center in Sonora. 

During the holidays, Nelson’s employees craft their own handmade ribbon candy and candy canes starting the day after Thanksgiving. Candy makers lovingly craft the old-fashioned candy canes, and visitors can watch through the window in Columbia every Saturday and Sunday at noon and 1 p.m. through the weekend before Christmas.