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NEW BETHLEHEM — The words “boot camp” aren’t usually associated with anything very pleasant, but when you add the word “chocolate” to the mix, it makes for a sweet phrase.

Local chocolatier Ali Mortensen, the third generation of New Bethlehem’s famed Char-Val Candies, spent the last week in Connecticut learning all sorts of new, time-tested techniques at Retail Confectioners International’s Chocolate Boot Camp.

“It was basically Chocolate 101,” Mortensen said from his home base of Char-Val along Route 66 just north of New Bethlehem.

She said that after she, her mother, Greta Edmonds, and her aunt, Jill Johnston, joined her grandfather Howard Shreckengost in Char-Val in 2019, she wanted to learn more about the process of making chocolate . But then the pandemic hit, forcing the company to adapt to the new normal.

But this year, she said she received a scholarship to attend the four-day boot camp, which consisted of classroom learning each morning and chocolate-making labs in the afternoon.

“They covered a lot in a few days,” she said, holding up a huge binder of coursework from the curated program at Fascia’s Chocolates, a small, family-run business for years in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Mortensen said about 25 people attended boot camp, traveling from across the country for the learning experience.

The goal for her, Mortensen said, was to “come back to Char-Val and feel confident. And take my family’s business to the next level that I know it’s capable of.”

During boot camp, she said students pay close attention to chocolate tempering, a process of heating chocolate over high heat and then bringing it down so it can be worked with property. When properly tempered, chocolate will display a shiny coating.

“There’s a whole science behind it all,” Mortensen said, noting that the course has helped her build on what she’s learned over the past few years at Char-Val. “We were doing it the old-fashioned way, so it was good to learn a new way.”

She said she also learned techniques for refining peanut butter mixtures and how to solve other problems. The course showed how to make chocolate bark, as well as how to make chocolate ganache, a mixture of chocolate and hot cream.

The four-day course ended with a big test at the end, with Mortensen earning a certificate of completion.

“It wasn’t just about going up there to play with chocolate,” she said, adding that the boot camp instructors are some of the best chocolatiers in the business.

Boot camp lessons ranged from the process of growing and harvesting cocoa beans to the art involved in making chocolate.

“I saw the full range, from beginning to advanced,” she said.

Mortensen said what was learned during the program will help continue to take Char-Val in new directions and continue the process of adding new products to the local confectionery company’s lineup.

“I want to be ready for growth because we’re definitely heading in that direction,” she said.

Back in Char-Val, Mortensen said she was in a leadership and ownership position, enjoying the time she had to work with her grandfather, mother and aunt.

“It’s very special to have us all together here,” she said.

Especially now, one of the busiest times of the year as the candy maker prepares for the Easter season, which traditionally marks the local business’ seasonal closure.

“It’s really on deck right now,” she said, noting that the holiday rush culminates with a three-day Easter sale from Thursday to Saturday, April 14-16, which will see Crowds of chocolate lovers flock to stock up on treats and other holiday treats until Char-Val reopens at the end of summer.

“We are still very seasonal,” she said, adding that there was still a lot of work to do during the summer.

However, she says, one of her goals is to continue to grow the business so that it can be open year-round.

“I’m just excited to see where this all goes,” she said.

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