HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Chocolate runs through the DNA of Kelly Wombold.
“I needed to dissect it all. How’d you get the bubbles in there? Why’s this one so crunchy?” she explained in her shop, Chocolates by Kelly.
Wombold is the 5th generation to take on this sweet job. It all started with her great-great uncle, who worked for Wunderlee’s Candy Company. She’s learned the most from her grandmother, Mary, always asking questions with every bite of something sweet.
“They just wanted me to eat it because I was a mess – a little kid covered in chocolate, but it was all about trying to figure it out,” Wombold explained.
But now, there are more tools to help understand the complexities in chocolate.
Turning to her microscope, Wombold looks at each compound that makes up her concoctions to improve them. She tries to observe the way Virginia’s heat and humidity affect the chocolate, salts and sugars, as well as the dry winters.
“But understanding the science of your chocolate means you can fix an emulsion when it breaks,” Wombold smiled, while mixing together a blackberry chocolate ganache.
One bite-sized treat Wombold thinks highlights interesting chemical reactions is called the “Peppermint Meltaway.”
“When you take a bite, it takes minty but it also feels cold,” she explained. “It actually feels cold because the latent heat rises out of it so quickly when it reacts to your body temperature that it leaves a cool feeling in your mouth.”
As an innovator in the industry, Wombold was invited to speak at a first of its kind event for the Commonwealth next month, called the “Women in Innovation” conference, recognizing women in STEM industries. The event will allow women to network and learn from others in different fields.
“I feel incredibly excited to get to be in that group of people even if it’s just talking about candy,” she said. “Somehow my foot just got in the door there and I just can’t wait to get there.”
Wombold will be speaking about a system she developed to create custom molds for her products. Sometimes, it can be expensive to get a larger company to make molds so she figured out how to do it in house.
“I knew I had it the day I was able to download the art, make the mold and make the chocolate in less than one hour,” she said. “We’re always looking at ways to improve the old ways of doing things.”
The next project on her list is to develop some type of packaging for shipping products that does not use Styrofoam and is safe for the environment.
Wombold doesn’t have any fancy degrees, and just took a few college chemistry classes. She’s self taught and has a love for learning.
“All of our access to information doesn’t mean our learning is supposed to die because everyone has figured it all out,” she said. “Now that we have such access, we should be encouraged to now learn more and more.”
The “Women in Innovation” conference is happening Sept. 12 in Richmond. It is currently sold out but there is a waiting list for people who are still interested.