(Some language content here, but mostly about my life.)
Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love, has become associated with chocolates (one of the foods of love), as well as flowers (especially red roses, the flowers of passionate love). February 14th is also my daughter’s birthday. This year, inspired by the realization that I have come to live in the Chocolate Gulch of Palo Alto, I decided (for the first time) to do chocolates for Elizabeth. It’s a nice story.
The front story: Within a few blocks of my house there are now three sources of admirable chocolates: two on Bryant St., one street over from mine (Monique’s Chocolates, 539 Bryant, and more or less across the street, Alegio Chocolaté, 522 Bryant), and on Gilman St. (654, Suite G), the apex, the Chocolate Garage (it’s in what used to be a garage). The CG is run by my friend and neighbor Sunita de Tourreil; it advertises itself as “a tasting toom for exceptional microbatch chocolates”, specializing in single-source artisanal chocolates. And Sunita had made up some Valentine’s assortments, which I sampled on Wednesday and gave to Elizabeth yesterday (her life has been demanding). Wonderful stuff.
Sunita de Tourreil, Chocolate Curator
Increasing the positive impact of cacao became Sunita’s passion more than 7 years ago when she met a native Quechua farmer and began to see how chocolate production affected the health of communities around the world. Sunita was inspired to make what she calls ‘Happy Chocolate’ more widely available and almost 8 years later, The Chocolate Garage is hard at work to make this dream a reality.
Chocolate aficionados know that the field of cacao and chocolate covers everything from chemistry, politics, agriculture, biology, love, neuroreceptors, flavor, exploitation, vasodilation, addiction, and sustainability. To mention a few. Chocolate is varied and complex enough to keep the biggest geek interested for life and the most superficial glutton eating it regularly.
Sunita falls somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum… and brings her scientific training in molecular biology along with a tremendous appetite for yummy food to the table.
(The literature on chocolate and on chocolate fandom is just overwhelming. And of course there’s an immense vocabulary, both technical and not, for talking about the stuff.)
Up the peninsula we have Scharffen Berger:
America’s first contemporary artisan chocolate manufacturer, SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Maker [founded in San Francisco in 1997] set out to craft the richest, most flavorful chocolate by sourcing the best cacao in the world and blending it in small batches using vintage equipment. (link)
More history (and advertisement):
As the first American “bean-to-bar” chocolate manufacturer in over 50 years, SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate Maker led this country’s contemporary resurgence in artisan chocolate-making. It was also the first chocolate maker to label their chocolate with the percentage of cacao inside.
The Hershey Company acquired SCHARFFEN BERGER in 2005, with an iron clad commitment to upholding the SCHARFFEN BERGER tradition of crafting the world’s most authentic, high-quality and flavorful chocolates. (link)
The Hershey acquisition is worrisome.
Hershey’s was the chocolate of my childhood; I grew up not far from Hershey PA, and tours of the plant — fascinating — were a regular thing for my class at school. It took some years before I discovered better chocolate — originally, in Barracini chocolate truffles, sold in the 1950s in stores around NYC. Eventually, in some amazing artisanal Belgian chocolate my man Jacques’s nephew Tom supplied to his wedding festivities some years ago (after a post-doc in Belgium). (Godiva has been mass-producing Belgian-style chocolate for many decades.)
Also up the peninsula from me is, of course, Ghiradelli, indifferent and very sweet. Not really distinguishable, to me, from the See’s chocolates you can get everywhere. But it means SAN FRANCISCO for lots of people. Hey, the setting is lovely.
[Addition 17 February: a photo from Elizabeth: