Sjölinds on 219 East Main St. in Mt Horeb is one of my favorite places to indulge. In fact, I bank in Mt Horeb just to have an excuse to go there. I have brought many friends there through the years but there is nothing like a solo morning excursion accompanied by travel magazines, a cup of French hot chocolate (extra whipped cream), and maybe a little pastry. And, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, they have opened a second spot in Mt. Horeb at 150 Lillehammer Lane! The older location will remain a cafe plus bakehouse while the new one will serve as a cafe and their chocolate factory. If you have not been to either location yet, you have really been missing out on the delightful confections, Scandinavian comfort food, and friendly atmosphere.
Chocolate Factory at 150 Lillehammer Lane
The new space, while bright and modern, is still cozy with a fireplace in the middle of the dining area. A long table along a wall of windows, crowned by an indulgent chandelier, is a good spot for bigger groups or for those looking to make new friends. And in case you didn’t notice in the picture above, there is a drive-through window for people on-the-go. When Keith and I visited last weekend, owner Tracy Thompson was busy making Swedish pancakes on the griddle and her daughter Melissa was manning the coffee machine.
Mother & Daughter
We enjoyed traditional and buckwheat Swedish pancakes with ham, drizzled with maple syrup, as well as a jammy dodger and a stroopwaffle. Melissa informed us that the proper way to eat a stroopwaffle was to first let it warm up on top of your coffee. I warmed my stroopwaffle on top of my mug of caramel green tea until the rim was half covered in melted chocolate and I could break off pliable pieces of it. May I please say stroopwaffle, one more time? Stroopwaffle!
The factory tour was intoxicating. There were bags of cacao beans and huge blocks of chocolate with different grades and origins. We learned about cracking, sorting, and winnowing and roasting. The melanger, a big drum where the cacao nibs are ground and mixed with sugar until the texture is silky to the tongue was a hypnotic piece of machinery. One could lose themselves staring at the giant vat of swirling chocolate. Even more fun was the tempering area and truffle making area. There was a trolley that must have been at least twenty layers deep with an assortment of truffles, large containers of sprinkles in all shapes and sizes, bottles of liqueurs and vanilla, chocolate hearts on sticks that were about ready to be unmolded, and gingerbread men resting from their chocolate baths.
The chocolate bars (which come in about a dozen varieties) are beautifully wrapped and the wax seal and colorful strings make me feel like I’m opening a royal letter from the 17th century. The fleur-de-lis pattern, imprinted in the wax, is commonly thought of as a French symbol, but today I’ve read that some scholars have connected it to the corn sheaf used as the emblem of Skjöldr, the legendary ancestor of the Danish royal family. Skjöldr shows up in the historical Prose Edda and the opening lines of Beowulf (as Scyld) as well as other historical documents, often depicted as a boy who washes ashore in a boat with a sheaf of wheat placed by his head. I particularly like this connection because it is so fitting with the meaning of Sjölind (see below).
I will leave you with a little Q&A with Melissa.
Leslie: How did you get interested in food business?
Melissa: When I was nineteen my Mom started Sjölinds intending it to be a little desert shop that would be have limited hours, I was going to be involved for a year or so but we were lucky enough to keep growing and I really enjoyed being in customer service so I have been here for almost ten years now.
Leslie: What is the meaning of Sjölinds?
Melissa: Sjölind is my Grandmother’s maiden name, it means one who makes their living from the sea.
Leslie: What are your favorite things about owning and operating a cafe?
Melissa: Interacting with people is always a pleasure. Problem solving is an underrated joy, you learn how to fix things and balance people’s needs, when it works out you feel like a small scale super hero.
Leslie: When did you start working with chocolate and why?
Melissa: When we opened Sjölinds we had sweets and we brought in chocolate bars from European and American chocolate makers. Slowly we added truffles, caramels, toffee, and other confections. Then about six years ago we got curious as to what chocolate we made from scratch would taste like so we started playing around making tiny batches.
Leslie: Who designed the packaging for your various confections?
Melissa: Tracy, my mom is the person who attends to all the visual panache of our stores including our packaging.
Leslie: Where do you source the cacao beans?
Melissa: We like use a wide variety of cacao beans. Some of my favorite origins have been Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. We blend our milk chocolates and our high percentage bars so finding beans that will play well together that you really like the taste of on their own is a fun challenge.
Leslie: Do you listen to music when you are making chocolate? If so, what is on your playlist?
Melissa: Our process of making chocolate is very loud so there is not as much music when we are roasting and winnowing the beans. Otherwise we take turns in the kitchen choosing what we listen to, these days it is a lot of the Flaming Lips and the Sweeney Todd soundtrack every day. I also listen to audiobooks ones with seafaring and travel are always great. Also podcasts, Tom Ashbrook!
Leslie: What is it like working with the whole family?
Melissa: It’s so fun! This time of year it’s exactly like when we were kids and my mom would make so many tins of cookies for friends and relatives. The only downside is that no one knows how to tease you like your family does.
Leslie: What other forms of art are you involved with or what forms/pieces inspire you?
Melissa: I used to be really in love with working with glass, I haven’t really done it in some time but it is still something that I love, if you can get there,the Bergstrom-Mahler glass museum in Neenah Wisconsin is a great place to be inspired. I made a marionette for my Grandpa’s birthday and have started another. It’s a great way to integrate many forms of craft.
Leslie: If you could have one last meal on earth, what would you have?
Melissa: Buttered toasted Swedish rye bread and a hot chocolate. And probably pickles.
How have you been pronouncing Sjölinds in your head while reading this post? Go visit either location to find out the proper way. You’ll likely spot owners Chris or Tracy working alongside their beloved staff and their children Melissa, Erin, and Ty.
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