Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Todd Masonis from San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate, an incredible small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate company. Todd opened my eyes to the quickly growing American craft chocolate movement—something I can really get behind! Unlike mass-produced chocolate, his bars have NO cocoa butter or vanilla: they are made from only cocoa beans and sugar, which highlights the actual flavor of the bean. Todd says, “We prefer to process the beans as lightly and minimally as possible to bring out their individual nuances. Cocoa butter adds a fattier, waxier mouthfeel." Todd also taught me some other cool facts about chocolate and the people who make it:
1. A chocolatier makes chocolates, but a chocolate maker makes chocolate. Did you catch that? Making chocolates (plural) is about crafting pieces of candy, whereas making chocolate (singular) is about actually producing the chocolate, from bean to bar. Dandelion is a chocolate making company, so they produce the chocolate itself and then make their outrageously intense bars for retail. (They also sell pastries and hot chocolate at their San Francisco shop.)
2. Chocolate can have more flavor complexity than wine OR coffee. That’s because it’s both fermented and roasted. This is serious business.
3. Chocolate is seasonal. The harvests vary, so from one year to the next your favorite bar of Madagascar chocolate can taste pretty different. Todd says that different harvests of the same bean, like Madagascar, often have the same overall flavor but express themselves distinctly each year. For instance, the beans might always taste fruity, but one year you might taste a hint of strawberry whereas the next you might taste cherries. "Since consistency is not one of our stated goals,” he says, "we don't try to remove this variability—we simply put on the label what harvest it is and what we taste."
4. The world of small craft chocolate is very small and very collaborative. They learned from America’s craft breweries that sharing information makes them all better at making chocolate.
5. Hawaii is being positioned as the new Napa Valley of chocolate (as if anyone needed an excuse to visit Hawaii). Todd thinks this is because Hawaii has a lot of interest in eco-tourism and in creating an experience around chocolate that involves going to the farm. Folks in Hawaii see what happened with vineyards becoming tourism destinations, and they would like to do similar things with chocolate. He notes that this is just starting up.
6. To’ak Chocolate currently has the most expensive bar on the market, for about $260. I asked Todd why it’s so expensive: He thinks most craft chocolate bars are underpriced, because people are used to paying for candy and lower quality chocolates. To'ak, he thinks, has put a stake in the ground and tried to decouple their prices from the rest of the market. Thankfully, Dandelion’s delightful bars are only in the $8-$12 Range.
Hungry for chocolate? Here are some of F&W's best summery chocolate recipes:
Double-Chocolate Cookie Crumble
Frozen Chocolate-Chip Meringata
Easy Banana Ice Cream with Milk Chocolate Chunks
Chocolate Fondue with Fruit and Grilled Pound Cake
Chocolate Lava Cakes with Strawberries