Chocolate, as Vermont chocolatiers our central and most important ingredient. And how this world has changed over the last several years! With the advent of bean to bar craft chocolate makers, people have been introduced to chocolate origins, exploring the intricacies of flavor characteristics that different bean varietals, their terroir, and the farming and processing methods bring out, with stunning differences in tasting notes much like wine and coffee.
When we first started our confectionery business, one of our goals was to explore making our own chocolate bean to bar, sourcing directly from cacao growers. It made sense with John’s background in coffee roasting and sourcing beans directly from small farms. But with our equal passion for creating recipes and pairing single origin chocolates with other flavorful ingredients, we first delved into the offerings of chocolate companies who source beans from farms in Central and South America and use those beans to make high end, fairly traded couverture chocolate either in Europe, the United States, or in their country of origin.
About a decade ago we traveled to Costa Rica to visit coffee farms while John was working as the head roaster for a thriving Vermont café, and know that the intricacies of fair trade, direct trade, farmer direct and big business commodities is not an easy story to share. Getting fair trade chocolate and coffee doesn’t always guarantee quality, and although a certain price is paid to the farmer or cooperative, how much of that is passed on to the workers, often migrants, can be debated. Even if the amount of pay is considered good for the region and enough to sustain workers, it does not necessarily mean it is enough for them to get ahead and rise to a higher economic level. Fair trade certification is often too costly both monetarily and time-wise for cacao farmers to invest in. But we go out of our way to source from ethically run, fairly traded companies and cooperatives that supply to couverture makers, or companies owned and run by citizens of those origin countries who process their beans into blocks of couverture, a commodity that commands more money than unroasted beans.
We work with higher cacao-percentage chocolates, which helps ensure that the farmers who produce them get paid more since they are selling larger amounts of cacao for their creation. As we expand our offerings and explore new recipes, we are looking into partnering with more cacao growers who are making chocolate couverture from tree to bar to use in our ganaches and bonbons, as well as continuing to consider making some craft chocolate from select beans ourselves.
We’re happy to see the chocolate world opening up to more collaborations between craft chocolate and chocolatiers. The term “re-melters” was being bandied about by some years ago, and comparisons to using a mix (chocolatiers) as opposed to making baked goods from scratch (craft chocolate) does not give confectioners their due as artisans in their own right. Maybe it’s more like a baker sourcing their flour from a good source as opposed to buying the grain from the farmer and processing and milling it themselves (another amazing craft trade). The art and craft of a chocolatier, from creating recipes for ganaches, caramels, pralines, to creating hand rolled truffles, filled chocolates and other bonbons, is something we appreciate and are passionate about. We are also passionate about the incredible work of craft chocolatiers, and as a Vermont chocolate company the makers we partner with in our products, people who craft preserves, maple and birch syrups, grow fruits and herbs, and the like.
All photos of a coffee finca in Costa Rica by Dar Tavernier-Singer