Cyndi Amato can’t help but dissolve into laughter when she talks about the theme of this year’s Chocolate Lovers’ Fling.

The Fling is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and to add a little “oomph” to the event, there will be some very special guests in attendance, according to Amato, executive director of Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, the organization that benefits from the event.

“We will have Willy Wonka there, and some Oompa Loompas, I guess,” Amato said, giggling at the images dancing in her head. “Willie Wonka’s all set to go. He’s very excited about it. And we do have some Oompa Loompas, but I don’t know how many. We’re still figuring that out.”

The folks at SARSSM started the Chocolate Lovers’ Fling a quarter-century ago with crossed fingers, not sure how Mainers would take to the idea of unfettered access to chocolate.

They needn’t have worried. If there’s anything that crosses political, social and any other kind of boundaries, it’s the idea of chocolate without guilt. (Hey, it’s for a good cause, right?)

It will come as no surprise to chocoholics that the event quickly became the organization’s largest fundraiser, and now brings in $25,000 annually.

“I’d say the past three or four years, we’ve probably had 600 to 700 people come through the doors,” Amato said.

Local chocolatiers bring in their most decadent creations, vying for one of several prizes bestowed by both the public and a panel of judges. For $20 in advance ($25 at the door; free for kids with adults), chocolate lovers can wander the room and sample anything they want, happily embracing their inner 5-year-old.

If that’s not self-indulgent enough, buy a $50 ticket to the VIP area, and instead of burning calories standing in line, you can sit comfortably at a table while a waiter delivers all the chocolate you want to you.

There are 21 chocolatiers this year, who are bringing 27 entries. Usually, the chocolatiers are tight-lipped about what they’re bringing to the event so they don’t give away anything to their competitors, but one or two couldn’t help but unleash some temptation.

Tony Dominicus, owner of Bella Cheesecakes, says he’s bringing a German Chocolate Cheesecake. It’s a chocolate cheesecake that sits on a chocolate cake bottom and is finished with a creamy coconut topping. Last year, Dominicus’ S’mores Cheesecake won the People’s Choice Award.

Dean Bingham, owner of Dean’s Sweets, is bringing two different chocolates. The Maine Sea Salt Caramel, made with local ingredients, is the most popular item in his Portland shop. It’s a burnt sugar caramel, Bingham said, “which offers a more intense flavor than a traditional caramel, with that wonderful combination of salty and sweet and deep dark chocolate.”

Bingham’s other confection will be his Lemon Apricot Chevre Truffle, made with fresh lemon juice and zest, pureed dried apricots and fresh goat cheese from Sunset Acres Farm in Brooksville. The truffle is dipped in bittersweet chocolate.

In addition to cheesecake and candy, categories include cake, mousse, torte, and pie or pastry. This year, for the first time, Needhams will have their own category.

“We always have a specialty category as well, so you never know what somebody may bring,” Amato said. “I think last year we had chocolate-covered bacon. We’ve had tortilla chips dipped in hot chocolate with cayenne pepper. Chocolate-and-fruit quesadillas have been made. There’s been all sorts of interesting things in the specialty category.”

In keeping with the Willy Wonka theme, Haven’s Candies designed some chocolate bars for SARSSM that the organization has been selling since February. Four of them had silver tickets, a play on the golden tickets in the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and later “Willy Wonka” movie.

Three of the four tickets were found, and those three lucky winners were given prizes that included a Peaks Island getaway, a two-night stay at the Black Point Inn and a $500 gift card to Hannaford.

The fourth ticket went unclaimed, so that prize will be raffled off at the Chocolate Lovers’ Fling along with other items.

The prize is a “Haven’s Chocolate Experience,” which includes a chocolate tour at Haven’s and two hours of hands-on chocolate making for the winner and up to five friends and family members. Haven’s is also including a gift basket in the package.

“What I really love about the Chocolate Lovers’ Fling is that because sexual assault is a difficult issue to talk about, and to get your name out there, you have to be pretty creative sometimes,” Amato said.
“What better way to bring people in and to celebrate the work than we do than with chocolate and a big event around that?”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332, or at: [email protected]