They entice you from behind the glass, neat rows of milk and dark chocolate truffles, some with decorative drizzles of colored icing, some capped with nuts or other hints of the flavors that lie beneath their chocolate coating.
This is the scene at the new Van’s Chocolates in the Village of West Greenville, which opened in July. Founded by the Vanderlois family in 1968 in Hendersonville, North Carolina, the original Van’s has a long tradition of creating handmade, high-end chocolates. Will Ralston, who purchased the Hendersonville-based business three years ago, sticks to that spirit by honoring the original family recipes—and adding a few new ones of his own.
Before immersing himself in chocolate at Van’s, Ralston ran Grimaldi Candy Company in Melbourne, Florida, for six years. During that time, he and his wife, Celeste, had vacationed with their children in Western North Carolina and fell in love with the area.
In 2015, he and Celeste were looking for a new business when they got wind that Van’s was up for sale. Ralston contacted the owners immediately, but found, to his dismay, that a sale was already underway. As fate would have it, that sale fell through, and Ralston made an offer. “After that, everything just fell into place,” the entrepreneur recalls, “like it was meant to be.”
Ralston’s background in the restaurant industry fits the mold for chocolate-making. Though he doesn’t make bean-to-bar confections, he does use a special chocolate blend—which he buys in 50-pound cases—from Barry Callebaut, one of the world’s leading suppliers of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products.
With the help of his staff, Ralston tempers the chocolate, whips up the ganache with butter and cream, adds the flavorings, and hand-rolls the truffles. The pieces are then put through a machine that enrobes the bonbons in a milk or dark chocolate coating. As the pièce de résistance, toppings are placed by hand. Van’s is known throughout the region; Ralston proudly supplies Biltmore with the majority of the chocolate they sell on the estate.
If you’re sweet on chocolate, Van’s is irresistible.
Van’s Chocolates, 1264 Pendleton St, Greenville. (864) 729-8520, vanschocolates.com
Champagne Apricot Truffle: Fruit-forward flavor of aromatic apricot characterizes this confection.
Caramel: Van’s is known for their soft, creamy caramels; the plain ones are best-sellers.
Pomegranate Truffle: Ralston distills a syrup from pomegranate juice to flavor the tart-sweet dark-chocolate-robed truffles.
Sea-salt Caramel: Crowned with a crunch of sea salt, the dreamy sea-salt caramel is the best of the bunch.
Piña Colada Jelly: All the tropical flavors of the frozen summertime cocktail—pineapple, banana, coconut—shine through in this chocolate-coated jelly.
Lemon Zest Truffle: Fresh lemon zest provides the zing in the sunny yellow filling inside these refreshing citrus-charged chocolates.
Amaretto Truffle: A bite of this bonbon reveals warm, nutty notes of almond liqueur.