Festival a haven for folks craving a chocolate treat


Decadently layered chocolate cakes, cookies of all kinds and a wide array of fudge and brownies filled the Bel Air National Guard Armory yesterday in celebration of the third annual Downtown Bel Air Chocolate Festival.

Despite the event's postponement Jan. 24 because of bad weather, people with a sweet tooth from throughout the region gathered to savor the delectable creations of more than 20 chocolate and candy vendors.

Among these were Cacao chocolates of Crownsville, which provided an assortment of fine European chocolates; Coffee Coffee of Bel Air and Baltimore, which contributed chocolate-flavored coffees, biscotti and scones; and Moore's Candies of Bel Air.

While hand-dipping peanut clusters in melted chocolate at the Moore's Candies table, Jim Heyl, president and co-owner, said his family-run company has participated in the festival since it began in 2002.

"I love it," he said. "It's so much fun to share this with the community. People can see and taste the finest chocolates made."

For $5, participants could have five samples from vendors as well as several recipes, including chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, cherry-chocolate cobbler and raspberry-chocolate swirl cheesecake.

The event also featured a taste contest judged by Main Street retailers. Awards were given to contributing vendors for Best Baked Good, Best Dessert and Best Candy.

Rita Bittner, chairwoman of the festival, said the event attracts vendors and residents from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

"We had over 3,000 people last year, and we're expecting even more this year," she said. "There's not too many people that don't like chocolate."

Twelve committee members of the nonprofit Downtown Bel Air Revitalization Alliance work on the festival year-round, Bittner said. Proceeds from the festival are used by the alliance to fund other events.

Jim Welch, manager of the alliance, as well as a member of the committee that coordinated the event, said the organization exists to encourage visitors to come to Bel Air.

Sarah Mulaney, 12, of Bel Air, who came to the festival with her parents and brothers, said she enjoys the event "because there's a lot of chocolate and you get to taste all of the samples. It's fun." She hopes to come back next year, she said.

One first-time visitor to the festival, Jim Scheeler of Bel Air, said he enjoyed walking around and tasting the chocolate creations. "There's nothing not to like about this place," he said, "if you like chocolate."

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