Custom chocolates

chocolate shelves

Chocolates for sale during Valentine’s week in the PEM Shop.
Photo by Cassandra Miller

My job is to create products for the PEM Shop. Every year I try to introduce something unexpected. Having worked with Harbor Sweets of Salem on a number of handmade, gourmet custom chocolates, I thought a custom chocolate bar for the museum only made sense. But what flavor or flavors even? We did some verbal research with eager staff and quickly noticed a divide between those who ate only dark chocolate and those who possessed a deep curiosity of their various options.

I wanted to play with those in the latter camp and let them really get imaginative, to think about what kind of chocolate bar they would want if the options were limitless…

I already knew that I wanted Harbor Sweet’s signature product, the heavenly Sweet Sloop toffee and chocolate, but wanted it crushed for easier eating pleasure.  Others wanted fruit crunch, some wanted milk chocolate, some dark. Our friends at Harbor Sweets created all of our crazy combinations as samples and the tasting began. After four rounds (and four pounds) it became apparent that just one bar was not enough. So we settled on three.


The PEM Shop tour of Harbor Sweets. Photo by Allison White/PEM


PEM Shop staff learn the ropes at Harbor Sweets. Photo by Allison White/PEM

We had created wonderful chocolate bars. The next step was designing the wrappers. I am thrilled with the results, which take advantage of our collection at PEM. The wrapper for the solid dark chocolate has a design detail from a woven Native American bag from the Plateau region. The dark chocolate with mint crunch is wrapped in a detail of the intricately carved tusk in the Asian Export Art collection. And my favorite, milk chocolate with butter crunch and caramel has a blue wrapper with the detail of a maritime way finder.

PEM bars

The three wrappers inspired by PEM’s collection. Photo by Cassandra Miller

As we were researching the labels, we learned of a docent’s special chocolate bar wrapper collection. Our field trip to Catherine Wygant’s house, wife of PEM’s director, was indeed educational. It helped us decide to print on both sides of the label. We could share the art and the Food and Drug requirements on the outside, and information about PEM and and the specific artwork of the wrapper on the inside.

choco packaging

PEM staff look through wrapper collection. Courtesy photo

catherine chocolate

Catherine Wygant and PEM staff look through chocolates and wrappers. Courtesy photo

Finally we were ready for production.  I’m always aware of PEM’s mission to enrich the senses. More than any other product, the chocolate bars do just that. We see the art unwrapped. We feel the smooth surface with the word “PEM” stamped in velvety chocolate. We smell the rich, exquisite aroma. We taste a little bit of heaven…and sometimes we hear the satisfied sigh of delight…


PEM Shop staff group photo at Harbor Sweets. Courtesy photo


  1. gail spilsbury says:

    Lovely story!

  2. WooHOO! You did a great job and I was thrilled to be able to contribute!! The chocolate tastes delicious and having it made by a local company AND use PEM designs on the wrapper are added pluses.

  3. Lucille grant says:

    sounds delicious .. Wish I was there to try all of the bars but then I’d be buried by snow instead of enjoying sun and warm weather.. See you in April

  4. Jennifer Pearman Lammer says:

    A perfect combination of local artistry in chocolate and design!

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