Millport is a tiny town on the CVT but it harbors a superb chocolatier. Christian Thirion invited me into his kitchen, gave a lesson in chocolate-making, and told me how he got from Montbeliard to Millport. Like his father and grandfather before him, Christian was trained as a baker/pastry chef/chocolatier in a small town in eastern France, close to the Swiss border. He first came to the States as a pastry chef in Chicago, later opened a couple of restaurants on the West Coast, took a course in glassblowing and got hooked. When a large sculptural piece broke in transit on the East Coast, someone introduced him to a Corning artist who was willing to loan Christian his studio for the repair. Corning is not far from Millport and molten glass is not far from molten chocolate. This self-described “artist gypsy” makes smaller glass pieces once a week and delicate chocolates in his Millport kitchen on the other days.
While I was there on a Wednesday morning nibbling on chocolate edges, he got a call from a customer who wanted one of his glass sculptural pieces for a wedding gift.
My nibbles were made from 64% chocolate from Ghana and Guayaquil. Christian infuses his chocolate with lemon or coffee; passion fruit or black tea; ginger from the near-by village of Interlaken, basil from Caywood, or hot pepper from his garden. Speaking of his garden, Christian gave me a tour of his backyard which included large plots of garlic, tomatoes, eggplants, and other vegetables (that he zealously guards from the neighborhood woodchucks) as well as espaliered pear trees and thirty feet of raspberry bushes. A clutch of hens in the back corner rounded out the farmlet.
But, back to the chocolates, Christian rekindled his interest in chocolates after taking a seminar in Montreal. Techniques and tools had changed dramatically since Christian trained in the late 60’s first in France and later in Switzerland. Today Christian uses a tool called a guitar to get his precise squares, transfers to create his lovely patterns, and embossed templates to form his patterns. What hasn’t changed is the fine chocolate he chooses as his main ingredient, the purity of his essences and herbs, and the lusciousness of his hand-dipped chocolates. Christian gives his friends credit for helping him select the 12 flavors of chocolates that make up his boxes. For six months in 2011, he invited a group of friends every Saturday and Sunday to try his recipes. They were given scoring sheets and asked to grade the quality, size, appearance, flavors of his various concoctions. Would that I had known Christian in 2011 and been invited to a Saturday tasting!
We came thru Millport on a Sunday and Christian was at a wedding. He gave me a raincheck and I visited him the Wednesday following my hike. If you are doing a long-distance walk through the area, give him a call or send him an email to see if he is available for a visit. Maybe you’ll be lucky like me and have the chance to nibble on the chocolate edges that the wire guitar cuts off to make his beautiful squares of Preliminaires Chocolat. You can buy Christian’s chocolates at 15 Steps or the Ithaca Flower Shop in Ithaca, many of the local wineries (where you might savor some of his specialty chocolates that are infused with local wines and liquors), and other stores featuring the products of the Finger Lakes.