All posts by reeseslover143

Formaggio Kitchen and the Bean-to-Bar Movement

Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA

Throughout the semester we learned about how chocolate is more than just a delicious dessert. Chocolate, or cacao, has a rich history that includes a number of political, social, cultural, and economic factors. People today consume Snickers bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups unconsciously without considering the greater societal implications of their food choices. Many of the large chocolate corporations such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Cadbury produce chocolate as another commodity and typically only focus on profits. However, the cacao they use typically comes from slave labor on the coast of Africa. These companies are more concerned with how to market their product than they are with how their farmers are treated. However, there is a new movement in the chocolate industry known as the craft chocolate revolution. In this effort, local chocolate makers are making a concerted pledge to pursue a “bean-to-bar” philosophy. According to Eric Parkes, a local chocolatier from Somerville, the bean-to-bar movement means that producers are “starting off with the bean” or “making the chocolate from scratch” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Instead of mass-producing chocolate in factories, bean-to-bar producers are typically more localized businesses that focus on developing authentic chocolate. In these cases, they take cacao beans from a single origin country. Bean-to-bar manufacturing is labor intensive; however, the producers have control over what ingredients they use (predominantly cocoa and sugar) as well as where they source their beans. The companies are revolutionizing the big chocolate companies that have been a staple in the industry for years now. While companies like CVS typically carry predominantly name brand chocolate, there are some local stores that only sell organic, bean to bar chocolate. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge is an example of a local food supplier that specializes in the bean-to-bar movement. Their website is very transparent about the chocolate’s country of origin, producer, and taste. They primarily sell bean-to-bar chocolate and have a direct relationship with the local chocolate producers. They refuse to sell any of the big chocolate brands due to the ambiguity regarding their chocolate sourcing. production processes, and ingredients.

https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519 B

Bean-to-Bar Segment on WCVB Channel 5 Boston (Featuring Professor Martin)

Formaggio Kitchen is a European style market that provides specialty foods from around the world to their customers. They specialize in artisan cheese but also have a wide selection of bean-to-bar chocolates (Our Cambridge Store). Formaggio Kitchen was featured in a segment on the local Channel 5 News show called Chronicle. They were featured in a segment regarding artisan chocolate and a new bean-to-bar movement. One of Formaggio’s general managers is also the head buyer for all chocolate products. She buys a lot of local chocolate from producers in areas like Cambridge and Somerville. Before accepting any chocolate products into her store, she first goes through extensive taste and smell tests (similar to tastings in lecture throughout the semester). The general manager places a high level of importance on origin because “there is so much diversity in flavor profiling” (WCVB Channel 5 Boston). Formaggio specifically sells single origin chocolate. Rogue Chocolate is their most popular brand of single origin chocolate. Some of the biggest similarities between bean-to-bar chocolate companies are their size. Most of these operations include a small handful of people. Often times, artisanal chocolate companies only include one to two employees. The process of bean-to-bar chocolate making takes a significant amount of time and numerous hours of manual labor. However, instead of outsourcing chocolate production to slave laborers, these chocolate companies take on the responsibility themselves in order to produce better-tasting, more ethical chocolate. The founder of Rogue Chocolate, Colin Gasko, works directly with cacao farmers in order to source the best beans from a single origin point. Slave labor has been a persistent issue throughout the history of chocolate making and still occurs today. After the Cadbury investigation into slave labor on the island of Sao Tome and Principe, many of the cocoa farms moved to the Gold Coast or what today is known as Ghana. Child slave labor is one of the biggest issues today facing the chocolate industry. Many of the West African Coast cacao farms where the big chocolate companies source their chocolate exploit this corrupt labor system. In 2000-2001, news coverage from UK journalists uncovered the use of “enslaved young men on a cocoa farm in the Cote d’Ivoire (Berlan, 1089). Bean-to-bar chocolate companies such as Rogue Chocolate are able to combat these unjust labor practices by selectively choosing where they source their cocoa and ensure that the farming practices are ethical. This occurs through direct communication between the bean-to-bar companies and the farmers. Formaggio Kitchen focuses on selling fine chocolate but also ensures that the cocoa farming practices are ethical. They do this by analyzing both the origin country of their chocolate and the chocolate producers themselves. 

Ancienne Chocolat en Poudre

Formaggio’s website is very transparent with the information on the background of the chocolate they sell. They have a separate chocolate section with a headline that describes their mission with their chocolate selection. They emphasize how their chocolate provides “health benefits”, comes from “bean-to-bar producers”, and only contains “cacao and sugar” (Chocolate). The health benefits of chocolate are a highly disputed topic. However, there is evidence to support the health benefits of chocolate. Through laboratory and field research, scientists concluded that chocolate “reduces hypertension, minimizes cardiovascular disease, and even fight diabetes and cancer” (Howe, 43). Formaggio Kitchen not only promotes the health benefits of chocolate, they also provide instructions on how to optimize their chocolate for superior taste. For instance, one of the products that Formaggio sells is a 1kg of roasted cocoa beans called Ancienne Chocolat en Pudre. The website instructs individuals to mix the cocoa, vanilla, and cane sugar with hot milk in order to make “traditional French hot chocolate” (Chocolate). Most big corporations simply list their chocolate items. However, Formaggio provides background information on each item they have in stock including their country of origin, producer, nutritional information, as well as recipes. Formaggio only has a limited supply of French chocolate products. This ties into the Terrio reading on French Chocolatiers. France, as a nation has international recognition as one of the leaders in culinary arts (Terrio, 9). Few people, including French citizens, acknowledged chocolate making as an important part of French history like other foods such as wine and cheese. Most associate French Chocolate with other forms of desserts or pastries. Consumers even struggled differentiating artisanal French chocolate from its mass-produced counterpart (Terrio, 9). I would have expected Formaggio to carry a wide selection of French chocolates. However, with the knowledge of French Chocolate History, it is understandable that there is a limited amount of the French dessert in Formaggio’s inventory. 

Formaggio has a wide array of chocolate from a number of different countries: Belgium (3), Canada (4), France (2), Italy (7), Spain (7), The Netherlands (1), United States (15), and Vietnam (4) (Chocolate). Formaggio is very transparent with the notion that they source chocolate from a single origin country with cacao farms. It is interesting to point out that while Formaggio advertises that they collect chocolate from producers around the world, the majority of their inventory comes from the United States. However, they still maintain a high level of chocolate diversity. While the majority of the companies that Formaggio imports from are based in the United States, these companies still adhere to the bean-to-bar practices. While the country of origin provides important information, Formaggio goes one step further and includes the producers of these chocolates: Confitures a l’Ancienne (1), EH Chocolatier (2), Maglio (4), Pasticcerie Sinatti (1), Poco Dolce (2), Potomac Chocolate (2), Ritual Chocolate (2), Valrhona (1), and Xocolates Aynouse (4) (Chocolate). The general manager in charge of buying the bean-to-bar chocolate only chooses from reputable produces that have ethical labor practices and sustainable farming techniques. For each chocolate item, Formaggio provides an individual description page that includes price, quantity, and information about the chocolate itself. For instance, the Callebaut Chocolate Block – Bittersweet is 60% cacao and $10.95 per pound (Chocolate). This is slightly below the median price range for chocolate at Formaggio. The media price is approximately $15. The least expensive chocolate (Marou Chocolate Ba Ria) is from Vietnam and costs $3.95. The most expensive chocolate (Les Chocolats de Chloe Box of 12 Chocolates) is from Montreal, Canada and costs $36.95. The one downside to bean-to-bar chocolate is that it is more expensive than name brand chocolate. However, these chocolates are more organic and ethical. The bean-to-bar movement follows in line with recent trends towards the surge in organic food popularity. Today, organic food is typically more expensive than unhealthy or non-organic foods. Thus, organic food is predominantly only accessible to the middle and upper class while creating a barrier of entry for the lower class. Organic food or “yuppie chow” is also linked with gentrification in cities throughout America (Guthman, 497). Formaggio Kitchen is located in one of the wealthiest cities in the country: Cambridge, MA. Boston suffers from significant gentrification issues. Organic food markets, like Formaggio, tend to only be accessible within a upper class community and prevent lower class citizens from purchasing their chocolate due to their high prices.

Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%

In addition to price and quantity, the website also provides brief descriptions on the origin country of the chocolate, the producers, and characteristics of the chocolate. For instance, the description page underneath the Potomac Chocolate Upala 85% chocolate bar describes how the cacao is sourced from the Upala district of Costa Rica. It provides information on the producer, Ben Rasmussen, and his small workshop in the Washington DC area. He adheres strictly to bean-to-bar practices and follows all the traditional chocolate making methods. Like other bean-to-bar companies, he uses a minimum amount of ingredients: cacao beans and sugar. This particular chocolate bar is “rich and earthy dark chocolate with notes of raspberry and caramel” (Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%). It is very rare to find such a descriptive flavor description, country of origin identification, and producer information on name brand chocolate bars. Formaggio provides these descriptions under each and every chocolate bar in their inventory. Unlike many big chocolate companies, they do not provide false advertisements on their farming practices and organic quality of their chocolate. Formaggio provides honest information regarding their chocolate and gives their consumers all the tools necessary to make the right purchasing decisions. 

Formaggio’s high level of transparency regarding all facets of their sourced cacao and finished chocolate bars reveals how important ethics are to their overall success. Formaggio’s is a successful local market not only because they embrace cultural diversity and source cacao from trustworthy producers all over the world. They are successful because they do not lie to their customers. All the information one needs to make a smart, well thought-out decision regarding their purchases is at the tip of their fingers. Big chocolate companies, as we learned throughout the semester, are more focused on overall profit than they are about other greater social issues. However, small markets, like Formaggio Kitchen, are more focused on working with responsible producers and providing customers with the highest quality of chocolate possible. The bean-to-bar movement in the chocolate industry is revolutionizing how individuals farm, produce, and sell chocolate. Now, it is up to the consumer to make the smart ethical decision when it comes to their chocolate purchases. While it may be easier to walk into a CVS and purchase a Hershey’s bar for a small price, there are underlying social, political, and economic consequences that affect people throughout the chocolate industry. People rarely consider any other factor besides taste in their food purchases. When it comes to chocolate, the suppliers certainly have a large amount of responsibility when it comes to providing ethically sourced and organic chocolate. However, the consumers are responsible for choosing chocolate from local bean-to-bar producers over big chocolate companies. While it is important to acknowledge that prices are higher for bean-to-bar chocolate, it is even more important to be a conscientious consumer that strongly considers where the greater societal impact of their chocolate selection. 

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on                       Cocoa Production in Ghana”. The Journal of Development Studies. Vol. 49, No. 8, 1088-          1100. 2013

“Chocolate”.Formaggio Kitchenhttps://www.formaggiokitchen.com/cambridge. 2019

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of ‘Yuppie Chow’”.Food and Culture. Routledge. New York, NY. 2013.

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered”. University of California Press. Vol. 12, No. 1. (Spring 2012). pp. 43-52. 

Terrio, Susan J. “Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate”. University of California Press.Berkley and Los Angeles, California. 2000. 

“Our Cambridge Store”.Formaggio Kitchen. 2019.                                                                                     https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/sweets/chocolate.

“Potomac Chocolate Upala 85%”. Formaggio Kitchen.       https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/potomac-chocolate-upala-85-50g. 2019

WCVB Channel 5 Boston. Chocolate: The Bean to Bar Movement.March 13, 2017. Retrieved                 from https://www.wcvb.com/article/chocolate-the-bean-to-bar-movement/9128519

CacaoCoin: Cacao Beans as Currency in Mesoamerica

Motecuhzoma II

Today, people think of chocolate as a delicious dessert. However, in Ancient Mesoamerica, cacao beans had a much greater societal significance. According to Professor Martin, cacao influenced numerous facets of society: religion, culture, art, politics, and the economy. Cacao’s impact on the economy is the primary focus in this blog post. For example, cacao allowed the wealthy to distinguish themselves from the poor. According to anthropologists, the consumption of chocolate “was confined to the Aztec elite – to the royal house, to the lords and nobility, to the long-distance merchants, and to the warriors” (Coe 95). It was commonly served at the end of meal along with tobacco. The ”frothy, stimulating drink” was a common feature at many elite Mesoamerican events such as weddings (Baron 211-212). They also classified it as the “food of the gods”. In addition, the warriors consumed cacao as an energy stimulant before battle to make them feel invincible (Martin 52). Cacao quickly took over alcohol’s spot as the “new marker of social status” (Baron 211). Aztec ruler Motechuzoma II possessed 960,000,000 cacao beans (Martin 72). This incredibly large number of beans cemented his spot as the wealthiest individual in Aztec society. The high value of cacao as a beverage is directly correlated to the value of cacao beans as currency in both the Mayan and Aztec societies.

Most anthropologists acknowledge that cacao beans were one of the most prominent forms of currency in the Aztec World. However, Mayans commonly used cacao in transactions as well. Cacao became a prominent form of currency in the Mayan southern lowlands during the Postclassic period (900-1521 CE) (Baron 211). The flavorful physical properties of cacao certainly increased their value as a commodity. By drying and roasting cacao beans, one can preserve them for months before they are ground up into chocolate. The beans themselves were valued based on their freshness and plumpness. Color was also an important indicator for cacao beans. The ashy colored beans were valued higher than the red colored beans because the ashy colored signified full fermentation. Shriveled, red colored beans were the lowest valued beans. 16th century naturalist Francisco Hernandez also points out that there are four categories of cacao beans: “cuauhcacahuatl (tree cacao), mecacahuatl (string/rope cacao), xochicahuatl (flower cacao), and tlalcahuatl (earth cacao/humble cacao). (Baron 212). The smallest beans (the last few on the list) were most commonly consumed as a beverage and the rest were typically used as currency. Through 7th century murals at Calakmul, archaeologists discovered that cacao beans were commonly exchanged in marketplaces both small and large. The mural depicts individuals from different social classes buying, selling, and exchanging certain goods (maize, tobacco, jewelry, cloth, etc.) One particular image depicts a woman exchanging a bowl of chocolate for a man’s tamale dough. This archaeological excavation reveal the integral role that cacao played in the marketplace as both currency and a tradable good.

Codex Mendoza: Aztec taxes in form of cacao beans

In addition to Mayan society, the Aztec Empire had their own form of currency that relied heavily on cacao. From 1430-1531, Aztecs traded cacao beans and offered them as tribute (tax) to Tenochtitlan (Weatherford 19). Aztecs and Mayan rulers received taxes in the forms of cacao sacs. These sacs included the numerical glyph “pik” which represents 8,000 cacao beans (a typical unit of measurement for cacao tributes) (Baron 214). This unit of measurement comes from the Aztec Xiquipilli. A cacao bean’s high market value is also attributed to its common use as a tribute. This example again shows how cacao beans differentiate the wealthy from the poor. In addition to tributes, cacao beans were most frequently involved in a barter system (Weatherford 19). Traders typically used cacao to even out transactions. While cacao beans could be exchanged directly for a particular good (1 cacao bean = 5 green peppers), they were also added on at the end of trades to even out the transaction. For example, if an “Aztec wanted to exchange an iguana for a load of firewood … and if the good did not have precisely the same value, the traders used cacao to even it out” (Weatherford 19). However, cacao beans provide some of the first examples of counterfeiting practices. Individuals would take the shells of cacao beans and fill them with mud to deceive their exchange partners. Despite this disadvantage of an edible currency, Cacao is unique because it is a commodity that one can consume as well as exchange. The cacao beans can be turned into a frothy beverage or traded for an avocado. Paper money and coins do not have this advantage. This differentiation truly makes cacao beans a unique form of currency.

Example of a typical cacao transaction

In order to truly understand cacao’s value in the marketplace, it is necessary to analyze some typical transactions involving cacao beans in the Aztec Empire. Professor Martin’s lecture from February 6th perfectly outlines some of the most common exchanges. According to the Nahuatl document from 1545: a male turkey is worth 200 cacao beans, a small rabbit is worth 30, one turkey egg is worth 3 cacao beans, an avocado is worth 3 cacao beans, one large tomato is worth one cacao bean, a larval salamander (an Aztec delicacy) is worth 4 cacao beans, and fish wrapped in maize is worth 3 cacao beans (Martin 73). These are all examples of typical marketplace transactions that utilized cacao as currency. Even other non-Mesoamerican societies at the time used cacao beans in transactions. For instance. The Nicarao of Nicaragua in the 16th century exchanged 100 cacao beans for a slave and 8 to 10 cacao beans for a prostitute (Coe 58-59). While traders more frequently used cacao in exchange for other foods, textiles, or accessories; it is important to acknowledge that human services were an integral component of the 1500s marketplace. Cacao was a common commodity in the purchase of those services.

Cacao beans played an integral role in both the Aztec and Mayan societies. It was not only considered an elite beverage; it was a prominent form of currency in the Mesoamerican marketplace. With cacao beans, one could purchase a turkey egg, pay their taxes, or buy a slave. People rarely think of food as a form of currency in the modern era. However, in Mesoamerica, food, such as cacao, carried a much greater societal importance.

Works Cited

Baron, Joanne P. “Making money in Mesoamerica: Currency production and procurement in the Classic Maya financial system”. Economic Anthropology: Society for Economic Anthropology. May 10, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D. & Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson Ltd; 4thed. 2013.

Weatherford, Jack. The History of Money. Crown Business; Reprint edition. March 10, 1998.

Martin, Carla. “Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods'”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.Lecture. February 13th, 2019

Image Citations

Charles River Editors. The Last Emperor of the Aztecs: The Life and Legacy of Montezuma. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. August 23, 2013.

Mursell, Ian. “Beanz Meanz Money”. Maya at Mexicolore. 1994.

Cornell University: Albert R. Mann Library. “When Money Grew on Trees”. Chocolate: Food of the Gods. 2007.