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Frangos: 75 years of decadence

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

When Field's bought the original recipe for Frangos, it was for an ice cream flavor. It wasn't too long before they altered it into a tiny chocolate that was produced and sold it in the flagship State Street Store.

But demand for the mints eventually overwhelmed the 13th floor production facility. Six years ago, operations moved to Pennsylvania.

Field's started making Frangos on the 13th floor of the State Street store in 1929. The recipe and name were purchased from the Frederick and Nelson Company, a west coast department store.

In the late nineties, with demand outstripping supply, the Chicago company faced a tough decision.

"Production got to a point where we needed to expand and didn't have the space to expand and we felt that somebody else can do it better as long as they maintained our recipe. So right now it's done somewhere else," said Ralph Hughes, Marshall Field's Regional V.P.

Most Chicagoans probably haven't heard the name Gertrude Hawk. Well, that is, in fact, the name of the company in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, where Field's moved production several years ago . The move was not without its share of controversy."

Mayor Daley was furious in 1999, hoping to keep production near home. But Field's found another family-owned, regional company with similar roots.

"That's one of the reasons Frango fit so well with us, is we certainly respected immensely their history and what they've done. And it fit perfectly with our own culture, really," said Dave Hawk, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates.

Hawk's grandmother, Gertrude, started the business out of her home. Today, the Frango process begins, ironically enough, with giant blocks of Chicago's own Blommer chocolate melted at nearly 200 degrees. The combo of milk and dark chocolate, plus a special mint oil, is tempered to 83 degrees, then shot into tiny rectangular molds. The molds are shaken, to remove air bubbles, and then sent through a long refrigerated tunnel to cool them off. It's at this point when their minty, chocolatey richness is most pronounced. The chocolates are then sent through an enrobing machine, literally waltzing into the Niagra Falls of chocolate. They can go dark, milk or even pink, for October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Frangos are cooled once again, then boxed by hand, sealed, wrapped and packaged for shipment to more than 60 Field's stores, plus internet orders all over the world. As Field's puts together its 75 year retrospective, it's interesting to note that during World War Two, the trademark rectangular boxes were ditched, in favor of circular ones.

"Our contribution to the effort was to quit using metal, shifting to cardboard, but that's the only time that we have used a cylindrical or circular box of any kind," said Amy Meadows, Marshall Field's Archives.

Most Frango fans probably don't notice a change in flavor since production moved to Pennsylvania, but Hawk says it took months of trial and error to ensure a seamless transition.

"It's the smoothness of that center that was hard to duplicate. It took time for us, a lot of experimentation to get to the point where we really had it on the nose," said Hawke.

Field's has special events going on all week long. The folks at Gertrude Hawk have ensured they will not run out of Frangos.

Marshall Field's
111 North State Street
To order by phone: 1-800-5-frango (800-537-2646)

Local Katrina Benefit Information:
American Red Cross Fundraiser Thursday Night
6-9 P.M. At Rockit Bar and Grill
22 West Hubbard
$20 Donation at the Door

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