Cardullo’s: A Mélange of Cultural and Historical Flavors in Chocolate

The industrialization period brought about the emergence of mass-production chocolate companies that have come to dominate the modern-day economic realm. The crucial component fueling this industry rests on the interplay between consumers and chocolate manufacturing companies, whose existence relies on accommodating the subsequent party’s needs. Competition between big chocolate companies fosters growth in the industry, however it also challenges the quality and practice of chocolate production, as companies employ cheap means in order to provide the most profitable product for the consumer. Cardullo’s is a small retail shop located in Harvard Square that historically has focused on supplying quality international foods, carrying a wide array of artisanal as well as bulk-produced chocolate. The shop very much intertwines with Harvard’s cultural values, and has adapted to provide a unique Harvard type “experience” by carrying crafted chocolates that stray from the conventional mass produced chocolates typically purchased by Americans. Cardullo’s legitimizes its products by generating a “social terroir” inviting the inquisitive Harvard community to taste the history of chocolate infused by different cultures inside the varying brands of chocolate, while simultaneously redefining the psychology behind high quality taste appreciation by promoting good ethics of production with its foreign associates and higher pricing of its chocolates. Ultimately, Cardullo’s challenges modern societies devalued sense of chocolate tasting appreciation that has been tainted by this generation’s fast pleasure-seeking life style.

Cardullo’s was established at the steps of one of the world’s most pristine academic institutions, luring in students and visitors from an array of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Franck Cardullo, who set out to fill a niche that could provide quality foods for the neighborhood’s international population, developed the store in 1950 (Culinary Cambridge, 2012). The original store was located across the street form it’s current location, however the layout and décor inside the shop remains much in the traditional style of the old days. The shop carries a wide assortment of imported chocolate, from recognized brands like Tobleron and Mars, to less known labels such as Francois Pralus and Reger. Interestingly, the store piles all the popular mass produced brands of chocolate and crams them in the lower right hand level of a shelf, while what are to be considered “finer” and more expensive chocolate brands are shelved with more precision, in a somewhat artistic manner. The two images below depict the cluttered arrangement of the cheaper over-refined chocolate in comparison to the graceful layout of the pristine deemed Godiva chocolate.


Cardullo’s carries chocolate brands and flavors specifically targeted towards an audience of consumer conscious students, as well as the bountiful international tourists flocking to the University’s historical site. Harvard students are vey much driven by moral issues, and the community fosters consciousness on many social and ethical issues unfolding around the world. I will later introduce a concept of moral and social terroir that drives Harvard’s consumer choices. A second factor driving the choices of these consumers results from the impact of history in the community. Harvard students and tourists visiting the university have a great appreciation for historical contexts and the preservation of historical traditions. Marcy Norton describes in a book on “Tasting Empire,” 16th century records from Zapoteca, Nahua, and Mayan regions depict entries in diaries of cacao drinks being prepared with cacao and maize, cacao and chili peppers, and sometimes cacao alone (Norton, 2006). The tastes of the cacao drinks may be unique to the time, but Cardullo’s has found a means to capture a similar historical essence by selling a spiced Mayan cocoa drink labeled as such, instead of simply tagging it as “hot chocolate”. The chocolate supplied by Cardullo’s can thus be seen as a connection between the past and the present, serving as a means of unifying different cultures and historical eras.

Premium chocolate blend made with Venezuelan chocolate, which is considered one of the finest in the world (also historically important in the chocolate industry). Deeply flavored, aromatic drink.

While Cardullo’s supplies chocolate containing original flavors consumed by the people in Mesoamerica, it also emphasizes the detrimental role played by Europeans in the transformation of chocolate form it’s ancient condition to renown modern form. Many scholars have argued the case that the Spanish were appalled by the taste of the chocolate drink consumed by the natives and drastically transformed it when they returned to European soil. Norton however, counters this misconception by arguing that while Europeans added their own inventions to the chocolate they brought from Central America, “there was no conscious effort to radically reinvent the substance. Instead, modifications came about because of gradual tinkering motivated by efforts to maintain- not change- the sensory impact of chocolate” (Norton, 2006). Cardullo’s further supports Norton’s argument, and seeks to educate it’s consumers on the transformative history of chocolate as a part of their experience. The image below portrays a box of German chocolates called “Reber Mozart Kuglen,” plastered with a portrait of Mozart himself. The chocolate is placed on the highest level of the shelf in the store, almost as if on a pedestal, thus accentuating the celebration of European tradition in chocolate. The label further details that the box contains “filled chocolates,” a crucial European innovation to the manufacturing of chocolate.

Classical Reber Picture Box containing 20 “Genuine Reber Mozart-Kugeln” filled with pistachio marzipan with green pistachios, almond,s and hazelnut praline. They are coated with milk and bitter-sweet dark chocolate and are imported from Germany.

Cardullo’s really builds on the idea of providing its consumers with a unique sensory experience of chocolate’s historical origins, by focusing on removing any outside influences of modern times that could be altering the pureness of chocolate appreciation. Cardullo’s captivates the interest of its consumers by appealing to their focus on good morality and strive towards a greater appreciation of the world. One of the ways in which they achieve this is by supplying single origin chocolate, as a means of directly altering the consumer’s sensory experience to a foreign region. Over the recent years, consumer preference in the US has increasingly shifted towards single origin bars, resulting from an appeal towards the “localization” of foods whose origins tend to be anonymous (Leslie, 2013). This can also be described as the “beans to bar” notion that Leslie characterizes as chocolates that are produced from a single variety of cacao produced in one region. An example of this can be seen in the Francois Pralus selection at Cardullo’s shown below, which even details the precise latitude and longitudinal coordinates of the region in which it was produced.

Different origins of the Francois Pralus chocolate. Notice the global coordinates printed above the brands logo.

Such emphasis on location of the origins of the chocolate draws on the notion of terroir, which can be described as a characteristic taste and flavor of chocolate resulting from the environment in which it is produced. Nesto argues the case for single origin chocolate, in which using site-specific, quality cacao produces a bar fused with terroir given the minimal and sensitive processing sustained (Nesto, 2013). Cardullo’s generates a “social terroir” in its selection of chocolate by providing its consumers with a taste of the history of chocolate simultaneously infused with different cultures. This attraction to the exotic and unknown is what drives consumers to purchase chocolates from origins of Sao Tome, Madagascar, and Indonesia, like the ones seen above. Madagascar for example is an attractive origin largely because of “it’s cooca’s unusually bright, high citrus notes” (Leissle, 2013).

This social terroir provides information to the consumer about the potential ethical dilemmas behind the chocolates production, while also serving as a publicity measure promoting the improvement of relations between the United States and its foreign partners. Most of the brands supplied by the store stray from the renowned brands of mass-produced chocolates that carry negative qualifications due to the ethics behind production. Cardullo’s sells brands labeled with other countries, which the United States promotes positive relations with as a tool to draw a parallel between positive foreign relations with countries and the good ethics behind their chocolate production. One can observe Cardullo’s supply of the Madagascar and Sao Tome selection of Francois Pralus almost as a diplomatic tool. As Leissle argues, Madagascar has a positive reputation in US popular understanding since it “seems culturally, historically, and politically separate from the troubled continent of Africa proper” (Leissle, 2013). On the other end of the spectrum, Cardullo’s also supplies the Sao Tome label as a means to amend the negative light shown on the region as a result of its past turmoil with the Cadbury Company. As Catherine Higgs describes in her book, Cadbury employed slave labor practices on cocoa farms in Sao Tome during the early 20th century, leaving behind a region that continues to be rocked by political and social turmoil (Higgs, 2012).

Cardullo’s strays from supplying conventional fair trade and organic stamps as a means of legitimizing its products, and instead focuses more on the price range of chocolate. If you click on the chocolate tab on the stores website (, there is a range in chocolate from the most expensive price being $65.00 for a chocolate basket, to more moderate chocolate bars sold for $10.00. The lofty price of the chocolate boxes reflects on the artistic quality of the design as well as the ingredients, but comparing similar sized chocolate bars across the spectrum there is a significant price difference that results from the quality of cocoa beans and other ingredients used. Williams et al. wrote a piece in which they argue against the cheap cocoa beans and artificial ingredients used by certain companies to make a profit, further asserting the freshness in flavor that results from the use of natural ingredients, such as in the Mast Brothers Chocolate’s products (Williams et al., 2012). People tend to develop different levels of taste appreciation depending on the exposure to different types of chocolate during their lifetime, which can be a result of the affordability in price of the chocolate. However, consumer’s appreciation of chocolate can also be influenced by the price of the chocolate. People automatically tend to associate more expensive chocolate to a higher quality and sophistication in the product, especially in modern day society where most consumers purchasing decisions are driven by financial forces. Stuckey argues there is a psychology behind consumers understanding the food they are tasting (Stuckey, 2012). This can result in consumers quite literally focusing on the taste of the price of chocolate, and lead them to try unusual flavors such as “Mo’s Dark Bacon Bar,” simply because they assume the higher price applies to higher quality.

Mo’s Dark Bacon Bar made with applewood smoked bacon,  Alder wood smoked salt, and 62% dark chocolate. Sold for $8.99

This however, serves as an important marketing strategy allowing Cardullo’s to redefine the tastes associated with more expensive, and finer chocolate.

Cardullo’s marketing measures divulges the stores concern on redefining consumer’s ordinary, present day experience when eating chocolate. The chocolate sold at Cardullo’s presents a break in tradition of which Williams et al. would describe as “a generation that wants pleasure fast,” (Williams et al., 2012) further challenging the morality and taste appreciation of the mass-produced chocolate market. The store’s attempt goes hand in hand with the Harvard culture’s desire to experience new things, while paralleling to Harvard’s exclusive nature in providing unique tastes, such as the collection of brands and flavors seen below. Stuckey argued the importance behind the psychology of taste, stressing the more food you taste the more you will develop to appreciate it (Stuckey, 2012). Cardullo’s wide selection of chocolates differing in origins and tastes therefore reflects the businesses goal in challenging the way this generation appreciates chocolate.


Works Cited

 “Cardullo’s.” Culinary Cambridge. N.p., 2012. Web. 04 May 2015 <;.

“Chocolate.” Cardulloscom RSS. Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, n.d. Web. 04 May 2015. <;.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133- 

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13 (3): 22-31

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691

Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141- 209

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