Texan News Service

A blue Queen Anne Victorian house nestles in a shady grove near the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and State Highway 6 in Hico. Follow the cobblestone pathway past the iron gate and up wooden steps. The sweet aroma of chocolate embraces you the moment you open the door.

Inside, fancy bow-tied boxes hold confectionary delights that make chocolate lovers swoon. Nooks cradle gourmet sipping chocolates and toffee, while a counter brims with truffles and rows of fresh fudge.

It’s a fitting setting to showcase one of the world’s most romantic foods. Called Wiseman House, the gourmet chocolate shop attracts more and more chocoholics to Hico, a town better known as the legendary home of gunslinger Billy the Kid than for the rich confection. Wiseman House, celebrating its tenth anniversary, and chocolatier Kevin Wenzel plan to change that, though.

He displays his bite-sized works of art at the quaint house, built in 1903 by photographer Rufus Wiseman. But his creations begin down the road in the back of a women’s boutique called Bliss Living that Wenzel’s wife, LaDonne, runs in a historic building that once housed a bank.

Customers can look through a wall of windows into the production area, where the vaults used to be, and watch the chocolate-making process. It involves kettles, fudge slabs, a convection oven and lots of rolling and dipping.

“Eat chocolate slowly,” Wenzel advised as he offered samples to customers who had come to see chocolate made. “The first bite cleans the palate, and then you taste the flavors best.”

“Why, this tastes just like that looks!” one woman exclaimed as she nibbled a basil mint truffle and gestured outside at the dewy green grass. “Light, airy texture. Like spring!”

“It’s one of five new chocolates created for the ‘Garden Collection,’” Wenzel explained. The limited edition collection contains an assortment of chocolates infused with herbal and fruit flavors.

“But this one,” Wenzel said, picking up a piece of ginko/black currant chocolate, “this one reminds me of Latvia.”

Wenzel got his first taste of sipping chocolate at a tiny caf/ in the Baltic country where he lived in 1993, working with youth at a church there and studying art at the Rigas Academy of Fine Arts.

“While there, my friends took me to a chocolate shop and introduced me to sipping chocolate,” Wenzel recalled. “They love fine chocolate in the Baltics and they grow black currant in Latvia.”

With that memorable experience and his heritage from a line of candymakers, it’s no surprise Wenzel chose to become a culinary artist.

While many people can’t wait to get their hands on a piece of chocolate and then eat it all too quickly, fine chocolate should be savored slowly like fine wine, said Crystal Finch, co-confectioner and director of public relations.

“Fine chocolate is eaten for the flavor instead of a just a quick fix,” Finch said. “Most people think of chocolate just as a sweet candy. But it is more like a fine wine. It matters where you get it.”

Her kettle of chocolate cooking on a stove during a recent visit would take 20 minutes longer. Once she took it off the burner, she could add cold butter and perhaps marshmallows and nuts, pour it onto a cold slab and knead it into fudge.

“I never knew until I worked here that making chocolate was such a fragile process,” Finch said.

Perfect amounts of flavor must be balanced to give each batch of chocolate a unique personality, the chocolatiers explained.

Although Valentine’s Day is the holiday most closely associated with chocolate, Wenzel mixes new creations each season and aims to keep tempting the taste buds of chocolate lovers.

“Fine chocolate makes people happy,” Wenzel concluded. That may be the sweetest part of practicing his culinary art and putting Hico on the map as one of Texas’ most delicious destinations.

Wiseman House, 406 Grubbs St., Hico. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Call 254-796-2565; www.wisemanhouse.com.

The Texan News Service is a project of Tarleton State University’s journalism program.