Roots Chocolates integrates seasonal ingredients, unique combinations into its chocolates

Ten years ago, Lisa Nelson launched Roots Chocolates after discovering she enjoys making chocolate as much as eating it.
Roots Chocolate bars
Roots Chocolates recently started making white chocolate bars.

Lisa Nelson, founder of Roots Chocolates, says she has always had a special relationship with chocolate. “I have an affinity for it. I see it and it’s like we are supposed to be together,” Nelson says. When Nelson lost her job in technology more than 10 years ago, she decided to give chocolate making a try. “I decided I did not want to go back to corporate life,” she says.

After years of living in Europe and on the east coast, Nelson moved back to her family’s farm where she grew up near Wisconsin Dells. She studied chocolate through an online course where she discovered she enjoyed working with chocolate (and not just eating it). “I love the creativity it involves,” Nelson says. “[Chocolate] is a very finicky thing to work with but once you work through that, there are so many options for flavors.”

In 2010, Nelson launched her business from the farm. “I’ve never had a brick and mortar — I always opted not to because I’m a farmer … when COVID hit, I’m kind of glad that I made that choice.”

“I try to be seasonal, she says. “If there is something on the farm I can use like fruits or herbs or berries that I can process and use in my chocolates, I do that.” These truffles include Ruby (made with rhubarb) in the spring, Tart Cherry in summer, and Sass-squash (squash and maple syrup) in the fall.

After finding success with her truffles, which uses chocolate that she purchases, Nelson decided to start making her own chocolate from beans about three years ago. For her first attempt, she took a trip to Nicaragua to source cacao beans and found the process challenging but satisfying. “Wow! This is a whole different process from purchasing chocolate,” Nelson says. “You can affect the taste profile of the chocolate depending on how long you roast it, how it was fermented, all of these cool things.” Nelson focuses on making single origin, dark chocolate bars using beans from Bolivia, Mexico and Peru.

As Roots Chocolates continues to evolve, Nelson launched a line of white chocolate bars about six months ago when she realized that there was a void in the local market. For people like me who have never quite understood what white chocolate is, Nelson explains the process. Nelson says white chocolate is made from the cocoa fat derivative from a cocoa bean, the other being cocoa powder which is used to make other chocolates.

Nelson has loved experimenting with flavors, such as golden milk and carrot coriander, which are vegan. “I tell people I dream of chocolate, or looking at a magazine, I think, ‘that would be great in chocolate form!’” Nelson’s favorite, which does contain dairy, is the Feeka Break bar which has wild rice — “for crunch,” Nelson says — coffee and cardamom, inspired by Nelson’s Northern European roots. “‘Fika’ in Swedish means to take a pause,” Nelson says. “When they take a break they have coffee with something sweet.”

Roots Chocolates are available for purchase online or Metcalfe’s Hilldale. Nelson plans to sell her chocolates at outdoor farmers’ markets in Madison when they start for the season, including the Northside market on Sundays and the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

And Nelson will continue to draw inspiration from her farm and love of chocolate to develop new flavors and products. “It’s exciting for me,” Nelson says. “Even after 10 years it can spin off into something different.”

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