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Chocolate festival in RI educates, tantalizes

About 600 people visited the Quad-City Botanical Center in Rock Island on Sunday for a sweet treat: the third annual Chocolate Festival.

Attendees of all ages sampled a large variety of chocolate products and other offerings from 18 vendors as a fundraiser for the center.

"Chocolate brings people together," said Michael Woods, director of the Rock Island County Extension Service through the University of Illinois. He shared his recipe for chocolate-cherry bread pudding and prepared it before a rapt audience. He carefully explained the process as well as details about how to get the best flavor and moisture level.

The idea of a chocolate festival blossomed from other collaborations. "We had motor coach tours come to sample fudge and tour the garden before going on cruises on the Celebration Belle," said Beth Peters, visitor services coordinator for the center. Other groups would stop by before performances at Circa 21, she said.

Deb Wood, a dietician with Trinity Medical Center, talked about health benefits of dark chocolate's antioxidants.

In the garden, visitors could see a cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). The seed from the cocoa pod is fermented, roasted and separated to make powder and cocoa butter, which are then used to make chocolate.

Some chocolate is meant to be drunk. Starbucks and the Coffee Hound offered tastes of hot chocolate and flavored coffee. Icons Martini's Dave Phillips of Moline and Phil Woodward of Rock Island were busy with chocolate martinis. Swiss Valley chocolate milk pleased the younger set.

Whitey's chocolate ice cream, baked goods from Valley Bakery of Coal Valley and other chocolate variants rounded out the taste temptations.

"Can you eat it?" one eager child asking while taking in a whiff of the chocolate lotion offered by The Soap Box of Davenport. Not this one, employee Cassandra Shovar said. She helped show and explain non-edible products including hot fudge sundae soap. Many of the products are made locally, she said.

Some chocolate is meant to be only seen. An 18-inch Aztec temple brushed with gold and topped with a replica Aztec calendar was displayed by artist Rose Mohr of Chocolate Manor in Bettendorf.

She also created a portrait of President Barack Obama made entirely of chocolate. "I've never done a portrait in chocolate before," said Mohr, who plans to add a flag behind his likeness on the half-inch thick, 9-by-12-inch artwork.

Mohr also showed two other copies of famous paintings created in chocolate. With a little care, she said they would last forever, "if somebody doesn't eat it."

"This is definitely a good cause," said independent chocolatier Rachelle Custer, who sponsors Dove Chocolate Discoveries home tasting parties and offered treats to show attendees. Business partner Jessica Draper and Custer's daughter, Peighton Ohlweiler, also worked the event. A sign on their table read, "Things are bad, send chocolate."

Or as Ohlweiler said: "Chocolate heals everything."

Source: Quad City Times

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