Thursday, September 06, 2007

John Scharffenberger - an American pioneer of chocolate

Last night I was invited to a talk by one of the co-founders of Scharffen Berger, the US chocolate company, Mr Scharfenberger himself. Cloistered in a basement room in a Mayfair members' club a group of around ten chocolate obsessives listened as John gave us a history of his own career and Scharffen Berger chocolates, and the complete biography of cacao. Rather than being a patisserie chef, as most of the people who start their own chocolate shops are, Scharffenberger was an agricultural historian, and then a successful sparkling wine maker (Scharffenberger cellars is now owned by Maisons Marques & Domaines).

We tried the "candy bar" brands, the ones sold in most supermarkets. Still real chocolate, but the 70% was a bit rough and woody, according to John this was because there were too many Ghana beans in the mix, and not enough Venezualan. In Venezuela right now the political situation is such that no one can get cacao beans from there except Domori. Sadly, political unrest and poverty affects so many countries that grow cacao. John also brought along a few of the artisan bars for us to sample, including a delicious bar solely from Trinidad and Tobago that had a hint of black cherry to it. In Trinidad and Tobago the reverse is true, where people are choosing not to farm cacao because industry is so great there they can get paid better in other jobs. Scharffen Berger have been making efforts to make it more worthwhile for them, so we get to keep eating chocolate made from their delicious beans.

One of the most interesting bars he brought along was a virtually unconched bar. It was very grainy, sugar crystals and bits of cacao nibs, crunchy and fun like a "candy bar" as I would refer to them - chocolate with extra bits. Keeping the ingredients in more of their natural form means added antioxidant benefits for all of us.

The guests were rather a who's who of the chocolate world in London, which makes sense because it was hosted by the Academy of Chocolate, whose mission is to support and encourage the creation and consumption of fine chocolate. There were obviously many missing, the chocolate world is expanding fast here in London, it's fun to get together with its constituents and discuss (and eat) the good stuff from time to time. Damien Allsop brought along some of his divine ganaches. His USP is that he makes his ganaches without cream. They are water based, though one he brought along was from a fine vintage olive oil, "plant to press in 8 hours". He topped the enrobing on one side with a pinch of maldon sea salt and indented the 2nd bite to hold a small drop of balsamic vinegar. These ones are sold in three restaurants in the UK, the waiter joins you at the table to pour the balsamic, quite an experience. I enjoyed the fuss of this one, though my two favourites of those he brought along were a milk anise with a pear jelly layer, and the pure ganache he made from Bill McCarrick's couverture created here in the UK. Bill, of Sir Hans Sloane Chocolates, is one of only two UK companies to make their own couverture from "scratch". I've been invited to go and visit his studio in a few weeks time - I can't wait!

1 comment:

Dory said...

Great work.