All posts by penthaus516

Going Gourmet: Curating Fine Chocolate in Harvard Square

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Having opened in 1950 and located in the heart of Harvard Square, Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe is one of the best places to find artisanal and worldly foodstuffs like wine, beer, cheese, meats, and sweets. Perhaps what is most exciting about this store is its extensive selection of fine chocolates, both local and imported, that are difficult to find anywhere else. Many of these sweets hail from places often considered by Americans as the birthplace of chocolate royalty- France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy- and as such, are willing to pay the store’s often steeper prices. The popularity of places like Cardullo’s, which feature carefully curated products from both Europe and all over the world, is not necessarily unique though in today’s era. In what has been called the gentrification of taste, distinctive regional culinary styles and local foodstuffs are being rediscovered and marketed by chefs, restaurateurs, and retailers (Bestor 1992). This appropriation and aesthetic presentation of regionally produced foodstuffs appeals to sophisticated urbanites who desire food with both cultural authenticity and esoteric cachet (Terrrio 2000). Harvard Square is a broader microcosm of such a phenomenon, with Cardullo’s in particular serving as an excellent example of this regional aesthetic, and organizes its chocolate section largely by the country or area it is imported from.

Chocolate Selection:

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Belgium

Unlike many of the chocolates we analyzed in class, most of the Belgian selection in Cardullo’s doesn’t make any sort of activist claims for fairtrade or organic materials on its packaging. In fact, the Belgian selection is remarkably sleek- from gold lettering on a Neuhaus truffle to Dolfin’s signature crown stamp to Godiva’s literal silk ribbon packaging, the Belgian grouping screams luxury, and for good reason. The marketing strategy for these sweets is simply to promote the idea that their chocolate is lush, elegant, and second to none. People will buy these chocolates not because they stand for a good cause or because they in any way give back, but because they are the best in the world. When people think of Belgium, they think of beer, waffles, fries, and chocolate, and companies like Godiva and Neuhaus know it. They can afford to keep their packaging as simple and elegant as possible because they know that everything they need to convey has already been said by reputation alone. A great deal of the power of luxury goods is based on their reputations, which is built by both high quality craftsmanship and skillful image-building (McNeil and Riello 2016). Neuhaus in particular wields quite a bit of this power, as its founder Jean Neuhaus was the inventor of the praline, a chocolate shell with a soft center, which launched the Belgian chocolate industry onto the forefront of the worldstage. Even the websites of these chocolate giants communicate the elevated status of their products over lesser brands like Hershey or Cadbury bthrough the use of muted color schemes, an emphasis on craftsmanship and authenticity, and a long history of artisanal tradition. Cardullo’s is right to place this bunch front and center near the store entrance, as this selection is emblematic of the store’s raison d’être as a curator of gourmet goods from specialized markets.

France

Located just underneath the store’s fine Belgian selection, are some of the more well known French brands: Chocolat Bonnat and Valrhona. Similarly to their Blegian counterparts, these chocolates also communicate an unspoken status of luxury. In an era of global markets and instantaneous linkages, foodstuffs and cuisine circulate globally, and the national pallets they represent are shaped by transnational culture and taste. The search for differentiation and authenticity in the consumption of chocolate, is reflected in the growing international demand for gourmet cuisine, an area in which the French occupy a notable hegemony (Terrio 2000). Perhaps most notable about these bars though,aside from actual flavor or quality of content, is the price. The “cheapest” amongst the Chocolat Bonnat grouping is still a whopping $10.99 for a mere 3.5 ounces, while at the other end of the spectrum it costs $19.99 for the same serving. The cost of these bars is so high it’s almost impossible for the average consumer to justify, and indeed I usually try avoiding that section altogether when making my rounds so I’m not tempted. However, the taste of these bars is almost good enough to justify the extravagant pricing (I say almost simply because it is difficult to imagine any bar justifying $20), and the small size actually allows the shopper to not have to compound any feelings of guilt from their ruining their diet with that from emptying their wallet. The expensive price of these bars is not entirely novel though, as many chocolatiers  have begun increasing their prices in response to the willingness of consumers to buy them. The rising levels of per capita income, greater disposable income, and new structures of consumption have produced a broader largely urban middle class of consumers whose financial means allow them to adopt a reflexive attitude toward the consumption of goods in general and foods in particular (Zurkin 1991). The Chocolat Bonnat bars are also unique from the Belgians in terms of packaging. While they still stick with the muted color schemes and fancy script, these bars clearly communicate the percent of cocoa in the dark chocolate as well as the cocoa’s origin- from Madagascar to the Ivory Coast.

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Similarly the Valrhona bars are also sold at a hefty price- $9.99 for a mere 2.46 oz. And while the packaging on the Chocolat Bonnat bars are reminiscent of a history of French culinary tradition (old script, faded gothic castle), the packaging on the Valrhona bars is much more modern in its use of two tone block coloring and limited wording. The Valrhona bars also communicate the percentage of cocoa content in each type as well as some brief language describing the flavor profile (e.g. “Powerful and Tannic”) and origin (single versus blended). In terms of overall impression, these bars are much more akin to those you would find from American craft chocolate makers rather than many of the other European brands Cardullo’s tends to stock.

Misc.: Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria

Continuing down the aisle, one can also find a miscellaneous assortment of other European goodies such as Venchi chocolates from Italy (featuring their signature hazelnut and cocoa flavor combinations), Ritter Sport Bars from Germany (with their distinct colorfully square and playful packaging), Mirabell’s Mozartkugel from Austria (boxed in the classically kitsch violin shape), and unmistakable Toblerone bars from Switzerland. Even the Dutch cocoa powder from Droste, with its old fashioned lettering and portrait of a nun in classic garb, can be found in Cardullo’s impressive and expansive stock of gourmet imports. While these countries certainly have their own long and delicious traditions of chocolate making with a multitude of options to choose from, Cardullo’s has instead chosen to highlight just a few selections from each. While this decision is likely due to the physical limitations of the store itself, it is still representative of the way Americans (their primary customers) view and appreciate foreign chocolate.

As briefly mentioned earlier, countries like Belgium and France are known the world over as masters of the chocolate arts, while probably less people in the Boston-area are familiar with the goodness of these other brands. This reputation of Belgian and French chocolate makes it an easy choice for the staff at Cardullo’s to stock up on and curate a larger selection of. In pursuing their mission of providing a number of fine delicacies, Cardullo’s has to evaluate the needs of their target customers and balance them with the nearly endless assortment of gourmet options in the European market.

North America

On section that does contain quite a large assortment is that from American craft chocolatiers. Nestled amongst all the imported sweets are more local luxuries from places Taza, Goodnow Farms, and Lake Champlain. Other, lesser known companies like Antidote, Askinosie, and Raaka Chocolate can also be found, as well as some Canadian choices such as Jelina or Galerie au Chocolat. The latter chocolate is worth mentioning in more detail simply because its packaging boldly claims, “the finest Belgian chocolate”, despite the fact their company headquarters is located in Quebec, and strict rules in Belgium state that any chocolates labelled as Belgian must be produced within the country. Nevertheless, this positive, though misleading, association with Belgium and its status within the world of fine chocolate leads consumers into incorporating this bar within the ranks of chocolate royalty such as those from Neuhaus or Godiva.

The North American bars are also different from their European counterparts in terms of their packaging. Most of these bars proudly displays stamps of approval from do-gooder organizations like USDA Organic, FairTrade, or the Rainforest Alliance in ways vaguely reminiscent of how a girl scout would display her hard earned patches of fire-starting and orienteering on her sash. Because American companies are unable to compete with the long history and reputations of Europeans companies, they need to place marketing emphasis elsewhere. For many craft chocolate makers, this emphasis is on health, social responsibility, and environmental activism- areas that in recent years has been at the centre of attention is their responsibility towards the environment, and the respect shown in the use of natural resources and towards human beings (McNeil and Riello 2016). This sense of ‘social responsibility’ relates both to the products that they sell and their role as companies in terms of wider society and overall impact. Through the inclusion of these seals on a chocolate bar’s packaging, there exists a contract of trust between company and consumer that promises a certain level of ethical production, sustainability, and environmental consciousness. This do-gooder contract often also demands a higher price for the product it represents, and so long as this trust isn’t breached, that price is willingly paid.

Britain

At the end of their main chocolate aisle, Cardullo’s also features an impressive stock of Cadbury chocolates as well as a number of other British candies. Though not necessarily “gourmet” these sweets are certainly novel to the average American chocolate connoisseur and allow them to break away from their usual Hershey habits. Cadbury classics such as Flake, Brunch Bar, Twirl, Snack, and many others decorate multiple shelves adjacent to to the wine and beer section at Cardullo’s, suggesting that here too, can be a one-stop kind of shop. Unlike the other European candies and sweets kept in stock here, the Cadbury collection is reasonably priced. In balancing that cheaper price though, is the knowledge that this chocolate is of much lower quality than that of the bars staged directly to the left. Much of the products in this section contain significantly less cocoa than most of the other chocolates sold in the store, and significantly more sugar, milk, and other additives like caramel or nuts. Purchasing amongst these chocolates is intentionally not done for the luxury or decadence of the item, but for the novelty and maybe even nostalgia of younger days and less sophisticated palates.

What was once thought of as simply, undifferentiated commodities are today perceived as luxuries (McNeil and Reillo 2016). For a long time chocolate was an undifferentiated commodity that was a part of consuming habits of the entire North American population. Today, it is both a commodity and a luxury, and the resulting segmentation of the market has allowed for niche chocolate to find its customers. In carefully curating such and expansive and thorough selection of chocolates and fine foodstuffs, Cardullo’s has set a high bar in Harvard Square when it comes to making gourmet and luxury items accessible. In breaking away from the usual chocolate fare- Hershey’s, Mars, and even now Lindt and Ferrero- the shop also provides a platform for local and less-known chocolatiers to access a broader market. Although many of its selection sacrifices some of this accessibility from lower-income customers (due to inevitably higher pricing of gourmet goods), Cardullo’s instead highlights unique chocolates that are finely crafted, ethically sourced, and environmentally friendly-  treats that are both tasty and socially conscious. And, in conveniently placing these delectable sweets next to arguably the best wine and beer selection in the square, this shop proves that it is truly a one stop destination for enjoying all of the finer things in life.

Citations:

  1. Bestor, Theodore. “The raw, the cooked, and the industrial: commoditization and food culture in a Japanese commodities market.” Department of Anthropology, New York University. 1992.
  2. Cardullo’s. “Our History.” Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, cardullos.com/pages/about-us.
  3. McNeil, Peter and Riello, Giorgio. Luxury: A Rich History. “Everything that Money Can Buy?”. Oxford University Press.2016. p. 267.
  4. McNeil, Peter and Riello, Giorgio. Luxury: A Rich History. “Luxury Capitalism: The Magic World of Luxury Brands”. Oxford University Press.2016. p. 261.
  5. Mollet, Olivia. “Chocolate Country.” The New York Times, 1 Jan. 2006, archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/fodors/top/features/travel/destinations/europe/belgium/brussels/fdrs_feat_35_10.html.
  6. Savage, Maddy. “Is Belgium Still the Capital of Chocolate?” BBC News, 31 Dec. 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20810103.
  7. Terrio, Susan J., Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. p. 56.
  8. Zukin, Sharon.1991. Landscapes of power: from Detroit to Disney World. Berkeley: University of California Press.

The Spread of Chocolate: From Elites to the Masses and Back to the Elites Again

As with many of our favorite foods, like beer, coffee, bread, etc., chocolate has also fallen prey to the recent trend of reverting away from mass production and more towards the smaller scale worlds of “craft” and “artisanal”. For many, the appeal in craft products lies in the idea that the product is made by hand, individually, with the unspoken secret ingredient- love. On the other hand, the craft movement can be understood as yet another new face of class warfare- a way for the upper echelons of society to once again prove their superiority over those who are unable to afford the “finer things in life”. And indeed, chocolate is just one of those finer things. Though not strikingly different in taste, the innate understandings we have of a dark chocolate bar from brands like Hershey’s, Mars, or Cadbury are worlds apart from those with labels from Chocolat Bonnat, Godiva, or Neuhaus. But why? Shouldn’t something as wholesome, delicious, and universally loved as chocolate be an equalizer amongst us? The answers lie in the history of chocolate consumption itself, and its journey from popularity only amongst the European and North American elite, to that of the masses.

Shortly after European colonizers “discovered” cacao and its delicious byproducts, chocolate soon made its way into the hearts of the Spanish elites. Although the Spanish sweetened the bitter drink with cane sugar and cinnamon, one thing remained unchanged: chocolate was still a delectable symbol of luxury, wealth and power. Chocolate was sipped by royal lips, and only Spanish elites could afford the expensive import. Chocolate soon spread to other elite circles throughout Europe, such as those in France and England, and the demand for it quickly became greater than that which was being brought over from the New World. In order for the pace of production to meet the increased demand, Europeans had to establish colonial plantations in equatorial regions around the world to grow cacao and sugar.

Chocolate was, in every sense, a fashionable thing throughout the 18th century and only became accessible to the lower classes with the invention of a cocoa press by a Dutch chemist in the early 1800s. The cocoa press revolutionized the way Europeans made, sold, and consumed chocolate. What was once a quite labor intensive process was now easily able to be conducted on a mass scale. The cocoa press could squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake that could be pulverized into a fine powder that could be mixed with liquids and other ingredients, poured into molds and solidified into edible, easily digestible chocolate. The product became known as “Dutch cocoa” and soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.

Not long after, chocolate bars were being made and sold on a massive scale, and being enjoyed across all classes. Companies such as Cadbury, Mars and Hershey that ushered in a chocolate boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s that has yet to abate. In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers’ rations and used in lieu of wages. Today, the average American consumes 12 lbs. of chocolate each year, and more than $75 billion worldwide is spent on chocolate annually. Interestingly enough, most of what we would consider “chocolate” today tends to be made with significantly more sugar and extra additives than actual cacao.

Recently however, there’s been a new revolution in the world of chocolate: the craft food industry. Similar to its fallen brethren beer and coffee, chocolate has now begun to reverse course in its journey toward universally affordable and enjoyable. Although many artisanal brands claim an aspiration to change the chocolate industry for the better- sustainable, effective cacao farming and harvesting methods – the reality is that they have created another avenue by which class division and elitism can be fostered. Today, it is considered trendy and hip to side against Big Food corporations in favor of these homemade delicacies. This apparent rejection of candy as a commodity, with identical shapes and sizes, is also an embrace of candy as status symbol. After all, why spend a buck for a pack of M&Ms when you can spend twenty times that amount for a single bar?

While it is all well and good to pursue sustainability and support local farmers, it is also important for us as consumers to understand the societal implications of such endeavors. For all the faults of Big Food and mass production (and there are indeed many), we needn’t be so quick to forget the good that this production has done as well. In the U.S., chocolate is one of the few non-essential items nearly everyone can afford; 85 percent of consumers buy it. Whether we realize it or not, chocolate plays a massive role in our everyday lives, and we ought to think more critically about its history of exclusivity before we bemoan the incredible inclusivity we have with it today.

Works Cited:

  1. Fiegl, Amanda. A Brief History of Chocolate. Smithsonian Institution, 1 Mar. 2008, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/.
  2. Kintzer, Brad. Inside The World Of Craft Chocolate. National Confectioners Association, http://www.candyusa.com/nca-news/cst/defining-craft-chocolate/.
  3. Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Feb. 2014, http://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate.
  4. Lindell, Crystal. “Mintel: U.S. Chocolate Market to Hit $25B in 2019.” Global Chocolate Report, Candy Industry, 9 June 2015, http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86698-mintel-us-chocolate-market-to-hit-25b-in-2019.
  5. Shanker, Deena. Little Chocolate’s Big Moment. Bloomberg, 7 Feb. 2017, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-07/the-rise-of-craft-chocolate.