- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

ATLANTA, Ill. (AP) - The story of the R.G.W. Candy Co. is a bittersweet tale of anger and love.

Customers, who don’t stay that way for long because they soon become addicts, will find a short and sweet version of the firm’s history tucked into every festively decorated box of their handmade confectionery perfections.

The chewy yarn goes like this: Brothers David and Bob Werthheim, of industrious German-Jewish stock, started cranking out candies in the 1930s in Lincoln and later moved to Peoria. Then Bob fell head over peanut clusters for a pretty maiden from Atlanta (the Logan County version of that city) and began wooing her with enough cards, letters and visits to melt the hardest candy heart.

Older brother David, however, was nicht amused. He did not care for such sugary frivolity at the expense of a laser focus on business, and the two siblings got wrapped up in a quarrel and parted ways.

Bob Werthheim settled in Atlanta and married Nancy Hoblit, the woman of his dreams, and swallowed candy production in favor of raising hogs. But by 1948, and one heart attack later, he had to retreat from the hands-on operation of the hog farm. Looking for light-duty work he knew well, he decided to fire up the candy business again and R.G.W. Candy Co. was born.

Werthheim used, and his descendants still use, ancient recipes carefully adapted over time and drizzled down into the care of succeeding generations like some medieval alchemy.

The results force themselves on swooning taste buds with a passion that borders on the indecent: the seducers have names such as “cinnamon-sugared pecans,” ”chocolate truffles,” ”mixed berry bark” and “sea salt caramels,” which are chocolate candies drifted with actual sea salt.

That sounds kind of weird, but the salt crystal-dark chocolate combination produces a chemical reaction that opens a stairway to heaven as it melts on the tongue.

Tom Wertheim, the founder’s son who now runs the business with his daughter, Amy Wertheim, says the secret of passionately good chocolate is keeping your melted chocolate well-mixed, and its ingredients slopping about in harmony with each other.

The complex chemical makeup of chocolate must be carefully heated to the right temperature and constantly agitated, as blocks of raw chocolate are liquefied, ready for their transmutation into candies.

“I am tempering the chocolate,” explains Tom Wertheim, 73, as the metal intricacies of his mixing and melting machine flow chocolate up, down and around in a gooey roller coaster.

Then he is dipping chunks of caramel in chocolate before spritzing them with a neat hand-held machine that spits out measured doses of fat sea salt granules. Each candy is hand-cut, hand-dipped and hand-spritzed in a repetitive motion ballet that could be set to music.

“The really big secret to good chocolate is agitation,” adds Wertheim. “You got to keep it moving, and it’s got to be at the right temperature.”

Things are certainly moving at the R.G.W. Candy Co. in the run-up to Christmas, the company’s busiest time of the year.

They sell from a store attached to their one-room factory and ship packages and tins of candy all over the place. It remains basically a two-person production crew with other family members drafted to serve as need demands.

Dad and daughter love the work and, surprisingly, never get sick of chocolate. “And I’ve never had a cavity,” says Amy Wertheim, 48. “You know, if you are eating real chocolate, chocolate that doesn’t have all that extra stuff added to it, it’s really good for you.”

They are happy to show off their production facilities to visiting delegations (next up was a preschool class from Maroa), and they give out samples. Their tiny-but-neat store is packed with candy packages and selections in all shapes and sizes, and they even have gift ideas you can use as just desserts for those who have been less than sweet to you.

“We take a chunk of chocolate and wrap it in black foil so it looks just like a piece of coal,” explains Wertheim, flashing a remarkably evil grin with her perfect teeth. “You can give it to all those people who brought you so much joy this year.”

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Source: (Decatur) Herald and Review, https://bit.ly/1xl3Y9i

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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