A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

by MyKidsEatSquid / Jun 27, 2016 /
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For the better part of an hour last week Cheryl Gum entertained me with stories of how she came up with ideas for new truffle flavors and candy concoctions to serve up at The Candy Shop. For the last 33 years, Cheryl has worked at The Greenbrier, an 11,000-acre historic luxury resort in the mountains of West Virginia, which dates back to 1778 and is known as a frequent stopping place for past U.S. presidents (26 of the country’s 44 presidents have spent time here).

A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

Cheryl first started in the kitchen at the resort and quickly found her niche making sweets. Her title today? Simply, The Candy Maker – it’s even etched on the door to her office.

A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

During our discussion, we could see the rain coming down frantically through the window in Cheryl’s workspace near the North entrance of the famous resort. The power went out once while we talked (I happily turned the chocolate mixing machine back on for her). That was Thursday, June 23rd. What neither of us knew at that point was that the constant rain was beginning to flood the area all around us. The Greenbrier, known affectionately as America’s Resort, received record rainfall as did outlying areas causing devastating damage and lost lives.

When I caught up with Cheryl on Friday she explained that she’d made it home before the roads became impassable Thursday. Her family safe, Cheryl got a ride to work with a co-worker after her own car was still water-logged from parts of her journey the day before. Despite the conditions, and the lack of electricity throughout the area, including The Candy Shop, Cheryl wanted to be back at The Greenbrier to help in its recovery (for the first time in its long history The Greenbrier will be closing its doors indefinitely for extensive repairs but first it’s serving as a shelter for those in need in the community).

When the doors do reopen no doubt The Candy Shop will continue to be a welcome treat for visitors. And Cheryl, the force behind the popular sweet spot, will be busily making trays of truffles, clusters, and other sweets.

A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

The Candy Shop began as an afterthought in The Greenbrier’s pastry shop. Part of the shop’s walk-in refrigerator became a candy-making station, since it was one of the only spots in the kitchen cool enough for creating chocolates. “We started by making chocolate bark and truffles,” explained Cheryl, who was busily dipping caramel-infused nut clusters in chocolate during our discussion.

A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

When Cheryl began working in the main kitchen back in 1983, she’d come in early to try to pick up new culinary techniques and soon found a mentor in Mark Gray, a talented chocolatier that went on to form his own artisan chocolate-making business in Charleston, West Virginia.
 
Despite the tucked-away spot for chocolate making, guests would follow wafts of butter and melted chocolate to try to find where the candies were being made in The Greenbrier. A frequent request on guest comment cards was a plea to have a place to purchase the resort’s candies.
 
As discussions for a permanent home for The Candy Shop began, Cheryl headed to pastry school to hone her candy-making skills.

A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

In the meantime, the former spot of the resort’s travel agency was refitted into The Candy Shop, complete with a large, marble workspace built to Cheryl’s specifications. In 1990, The Candy Shop began selling chocolates to visitors. And that’s when Cheryl really got to work.
 
“I really wanted the make cream drops, like the ones I had as a kid from the five and dime shops,” said Cheryl. “I knew the basics for the recipe – it needed to have butter, white chocolate, sugar, and flavoring but I needed to get just the right texture.” Once she captured that smooth, almost frosting-like consistency in a vanilla buttercream version she started branching out. Today, she makes four varieties, besides the dark-chocolate soaked vanilla buttercream, there’s creamsicle, strawberry, and lemon. “We kept having men request lemon buttercreams so I came up with a tart filling and dipped them in dark chocolate.”
 
For Cheryl, recipes often come from guest requests, her own ideas – and every once in awhile a happy mistake (the key lime truffles fall into the last category). Her philosophy behind making great chocolates is simple – “If it tastes good to us then it’ll taste good to guests,” said Cheryl, winking at her co-worker Sue Moats whose been at the resort for 19 years and in The Candy Shop for three. She likes candies that aren’t too sweet and that don’t shy away from bold flavors, like the coconut-covered Pina Colada truffle that’s inspired by its namesake drink.

A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

While Cheryl can easily rattle off the way she came up with more than 40 different candies, she was stumped by one question – her favorite. “It depends on the day,” smiled Cheryl. “Probably the caramels. Or maybe the truffles. Yes, the truffles. Or the English toffee – you’ve got to try it.” And she went off to find a piece of the brittle yet soft, buttery toffee that was dipped in dark chocolate and coated with chopped nuts for me to try. I happily accepted the offer and quickly agreed with Cheryl that the English Toffee was a candidate for favorites.

When asked what Cheryl enjoyed most about her job her answer came quickly, “I love that every day is different – I never quite know what to expect or what I’ll be making that day.”

A Sweet Story: The Greenbrier’s Top Candy Maker Shares What Makes a Great Chocolate

On a personal note, I’d like to thank the staff at The Greenbrier for their dedication and kindness during a difficult time. They sought to reassure guests along with helping out those in the community, even as they were dealing with their own hardships. Currently, The Greenbrier has opened their doors to shelter those in need. The Greenbrier’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors campaign is accepting food and cash donations to assist with the West Virginia recovery efforts. You can find information about donations here.
 

 

Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering
Educators
. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--atMyKidsEatSquid.com.

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough

 

 

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