Tag Archives: chocolatier

Made with a Feminine Touch: Beth’s Chocolate and the Larger History of Women Creating Chocolate

In the chocolate industry, there are just a handful of companies that produce over 60% of the world’s confections. They are nicknamed ‘the Big Five’ and are as follows: Hershey’s, Mars, Kraft, Nestle, and Ferrero (Martin, Introduction, Slide 5). These companies produce some of the candies we all know and love such as Hershey’s Kisses, Snickers Bars, Cadbury Eggs, and Kit Kats, just to name a few, and they were all founded by men. In fact, they are still run by men with the exception of Hershey’s who just elected its first female CEO in 2017. What does this mean for women? Have they never created chocolate because of gender and cultural barriers, or rather, are they just not recognized at the forefront of its production? In this article, I will argue the latter. Just last month, I had the pleasure to meet Beth Kirsch, a chocolatier in Newton Massachusetts and owner of Beth’s Chocolates. Beth is among a new wave successful female chocolatiers and chocolate producers in the 21st century, but we can find women making chocolate in almost every time period that chocolate has appeared.

Meet Beth

Beth Kirsch had an unusual route to chocolate. She spent the majority of her adult life as a children’s media producer for PBS, winning three Emmy’s for the series Between the Lions (Kirsch, Beth Kirsch Chocolatier). Beth always loved chocolate, however, and one day in 2012, she attempted to mold a chocolate bar into the shape of an Eiffel Tower; it was an utter disaster. The chocolate stuck to the mold, and when it finally did come out, it tasted terrible. Beth immediately decided she would learn to work with chocolate. She enrolled in a three-hour class at ChocoLee Chocolates, and it was here that she learned the process of tempering. A year later, she took a three-month internship at EH Chocolatier in Somerville, and after that, she enrolled in an online course at the Vancouver based Ecole Chocolat to earn a professional chocolatier certificate. Then, in 2016, she traveled to France to become a master chocolatier through the Valrhona Ecole Du Grand (Pyenson). With all this knowledge, Beth was able to make those chocolate Eiffel Towers she had once desired and much more. She decided to launch her own confectionary business from her newly certified kitchen, and thus, Beth’s chocolates began.

Beth is a chocolatier; she does not create her own chocolate from bean-to-bar but buys bars from others to use in her confections. Beth specifically likes to use Valrhona, a fine cacao chocolate brand from France that is known for its exceptional flavor and ethical sourcing (Kirsch, ‘Chocolate Tasting and Seminar’). By melting down these bars, she can add her own additional ingredients, re-mold them, and then decorate them into something else entirely- into Beth’s chocolates. For example, in the image below, you can see one of Beth’s most popular and award-winning bonbons called Fig-In-A-Box. To make this, Beth first creates a fig puree, adds aged balsamic vinegar, transforms the concoction into a French pate de fruit, hand dips it in Valrhona dark chocolate, and finally, brushes it with gold stripes (Kirsch, Chocolates: Fig-in-a-box). The chocolate coating itself may not be her own, but she invents the unique combination of flavors and the delicate design. Some of her other popular bonbons include Pomegranate, Cappuccino, Cognac, Ginger 3 Ways, Passion Fruit, and Salted Dark Caramel. In 2018 alone, Beth’s Chocolates won ten different awards, a huge achievement considering how new her company is (Kirsch, Beth Kirsch Chocolatier).

Beth’s Fig-in-a-box Bonbon (http://www.bethschocolate.com/product/fig-in-a-box/)

 Looking at her path into chocolate, Beth rose to prominence with the help of many women. She first took a class at ChocoLee’s in Boston, which was founded by Lee Napoli, a gifted female pastry chef and former chocolatier. EH Chocolatier, where she interned, is also run by two women, Elaine Hsieh and Catharine Sweeney. In my own conversation with Beth, I asked her about her experience as a female chocolatier (Kirsch, ‘Chocolate Tasting and Seminar’). She explained to me how in France where she once trained, almost all of the chocolatiers are men and the profession is like an exclusive gentlemen’s club. However, in the States and particularly Boston, she has seen an incredible opportunity for women to create chocolate confections for two reasons. Firstly, Beth pointed out how you can become a chocolatier with little to no formal training, although it certainly helps. Secondly, you can become a chocolatier at any time in life, even after pursuing a career in an entirely different field. Indeed, she began experimenting with chocolate confections after working in television for most of her life. Elaine and Catherine from EH Chocolatier had been a doctor and a Harvard administrator respectively. I turned to the FCCI to corroborate Beth’s information and was pleasantly shocked by howmany chocolatiers were women. According to the FCCI website, there are currently fourteen chocolatiers using fine cacao in the United States; of those, nine are independently run by women and an additional two are co-operated by a man and woman duo (Martin, ‘Map’). In the map below, you can see specifically where these various chocolateries are dispersed across the United States; just as Beth had mentioned, many are clumped together in New England- eight out of the fourteen to be exact.  Women’s current role as chocolate creators is not a new one, but rather, a more formalized one. If we turn to the history of chocolate, we can find them creating it in every era and often for men. 

U.S Chocolateries as registered with the FCCI (Me via Mapline)

Turning Back the Clock to Find Women Making Chocolate

In colonial times, women primarily created and served chocolate as a beverage. Chocolate consumption originated in the Olmec civilization, a people who occupied the modern-day Gulf of Mexico from 1400 to 400 BC (Leissle, 29). The practice then spread to the Mayan and Aztecs societies, both of whom enjoyed their chocolate as a drink made from crushed seeds. Farmers would grow, harvest, ferment, dry, and roast the cocoa beans, much like we do today, but from there, a woman would grind the beans on a stone, add water, add additional flavors like corn maize, and finally and most importantly, pour the beverage from one vessel to another in a highly symbolic fashion to produce a foamy head on it (Coe and Coe, Kindle location 872). It could then be served to a prominent Mayan or Aztec, perhaps a king, merchant, or warrior. We can find abundant evidence that women were primarily made these chocolate beverages in much of the art from this time period. For example, the Princeton Vase featured below is a piece of ceramics dated between 670-750 A.D. It depicts a Mayan god sitting on his throne, surrounded by female figures which are assumed to be his concubines. One of these women stands behind him in the bottom right corner of the image, pouring chocolate from one vessel to another to generate the highly desired foam. As captured by this vase, chocolate may have been consumed by mostly men in the Mayan and Aztec societies, but it was women who were responsible for its creation.

The Princeton Vase (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Princeton_Vase#/media/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg)

In the Baroque Period, women still prepared and served chocolate drinks to men, but now, to European ones. This trend first appeared in New Spain when poor Spanish settlers would often marry native women. When these Aztec housewives would cook for their husbands, they brought many of their customary dishes and ingredients into the kitchen. This often included a chocolate beverage prepared in much same manner it was among their own people, but now, combined with old world spices such as cinnamon and sugar (Coe and Coe, Kindle location 1583). These hybridized drinks were later transported back to Europe, and by the 17th century, some of the first Coffee houses started to appear in England. Despite their name, coffee houses served a variety of foreign, imported beverages, but coffee, tea, and chocolate were the most popular among them (Coe and Coe, Kindle Location 2425). As can be seen in the image below, these were male-dominated spaces where men would convene to talk politics, culture, and most importantly, sip a cup of coffee or chocolate or tea while doing so. However, if you look at the far left side of the image, there is one single woman behind a bar; she is preparing the actual chocolate. So, although women were not welcomed as patrons, they appeared in coffee shops in subtler forms as owners, waiters, or cooks. In fact, 20% of coffee shops during this time were owned and operated by a woman (Cowan, 147). Women helped make chocolate accessible, solidifying and gratifying the European craving for it.

Drawing of a 17th Century Coffee House (https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=752544&partId=1)

Following the Industrial Revolution, women continued to serve chocolate as a beverage while also learning how to incorporate it into new foods. Throughout the 19th century, a variety of new machines were created to transform the cocoa bean into something else entirely. Two of the most important products that emerged from this context were Dutch cocoa powder and solid chocolate bars (Martin, Slides 60-69). A variety of cookbooks and cooking classes soon appeared that attempted to teach women how to bake with these new chocolate varieties. In America, for example, celebrity chef Maria Parloa alongside the Walter Baker Chocolate company published the 1909 pamphlet Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes and Homemade Candy Recipes that detailed a variety of different chocolate preparations from the classics like hot chocolate, chocolate milkshakes, and chocolate pudding, to more unique dishes like chocolate eclairs, cake, cookies and even jelly (Martin, ‘Brownies’). Just a few years prior, another famous chef named Fannie Farmer published her 1906  Boston Cooking School Cookbook that included one of the earliest mentions of brownies (Martin, ‘Brownies’). The recipe, which is included below, called for two squares of Walter Baker’s chocolate as well as chopped walnut meat, something that might surprise a modern audience today. These cookbooks did not just teach women how to prepare chocolate in new ways but encouraged them to serve chocolate more frequently overall. These women were helping to transform chocolate from an occasional indulgence to an ever increasing part of the American diet.

Fannie Farmer’s Brownie Recipe (https://archive.org/details/bostoncookingsch00farmrich/page/n563)

By the late 20th, and early 21st century, artisan chocolate bars began to emerge to differentiate themselves in taste and quality from the Big Five companies; many of these businesses are owned by women. For example, one chocolate that Beth Kirsch herself buys is Castronovo chocolate, founded by Denise Castronovo in 2013 in Florida. Castronovo directly sources fine heirloom cacao beans from South American farmers, and then roasts, winnows, grinds, refines, conches, tempers, and wraps the bars in her own factory packaged under her own last name (Balmaseda). Castronovo is one of the only women to have been recognized at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards, and as of today, she has a staggering 26 awards (Thomson). Another female-run bean-to-bar company is ‘57 Chocolate, founded in 2016 by sisters Kimberly and Priscilla Addison out of Ghana. In the 10-minute interview below, they discuss how they started the company to prove that Ghana is not just a country for growing and exporting cacao beans, but one that can create artisan chocolate itself. They are leading the way in this crusade, sourcing fine beans from local farmers and transforming it from their kitchen into truly Ghanaian chocolate bars (Addison and Addison). In fact, as mentioned in the interview, many of their bars feature different adinkra symbols, which were historically designed and used by indigenous Ghanaian tribes. Female chocolate makers are vastly outnumbered by male ones, but they are nonetheless present all over the world, and more are entering the profession every year.

Kimberly and Priscilla Anderson on ’57 Chocolate (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0SdUC6ajbU)

Back to Beth: One Woman Among Many

Beth Kirsch is just one example of a woman involved in the chocolate industry, specifically as a self-employed chocolatier. However, she is far from alone. As history has shown, women have always been involved in preparing chocolate, in different places, in different forms, and for different people. These women were often overlooked by society, but they always existed, and as the saying goes, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Now in the 21st century, we can clearly see more and more women entering the chocolate industry as bean-to-bar makers or chocolatiers. Finally, they have the formal title they lacked for so long. Now, it is the job of other organizations to start recognizing their chocolate, awarding it, and bringing it into public knowledge. As previously mentioned, all of the ‘Big Five’ chocolate companies were started by men, but maybe in the future, we can see the rise of a sixth company, this one run by a woman.

Works Cited

Addison, Kimberly, and Priscilla Addison. “Our Story.” ’57 Chocolate, 2018, http://www.57chocolategh.com/about.

Balmaseda, Liz. “Tiny Chocolate Factory in Stuart Wins Huge International Awards.” Feast Palm Beach, 17 July 2015, feastpb.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2015/07/17/tiny-chocolate-factory-in-stuart-wins-huge-international-awards/.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Cowan, Brian. “What Was Masculine About the Public Sphere? Gender and the Coffeehouse Milieu in Post-Restoration England.” History Workshop Journal, vol. 51, no. 1, 2001, pp. 127–157., doi:10.1093/hwj/2001.51.127.

Kirsch , Beth. “Beth Kirsch Chocolatier .” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/about/.

Kirsch , Beth. “Chocolate Tasting and Seminar.” Women of Winthrop Speaker Series. Women of Winthrop Speaker Series, 24 Apr. 2019, Cambridge , MA.

Kirsch , Beth. “Chocolates: Fig-in-a-Box.” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/chocolates/.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin , Carla. “Introduction .” AAAS119x. AAAS119x, 30 Jan. 2019, Cambridge, MA.

Martin, Carla. “Brownies.” US History Scene, 10 Apr. 2015, ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019.

Martin, Carla. “Map .” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, 2019, chocolateinstitute.org/resources/map/.

Martin, Carla. “Sugar and Cacao .” AAA119X. AAA119X, 20 Feb. 2019, Cambridge, MA.

Pyenson, Andrea. “From Children’s Media to Chocolate Making.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 1 Dec. 2015, www2.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/12/01/from-children-media-chocolate-making/LIjH0TgDtHhGanjmoZHxYL/story.html.

Thomson, Julie R. “Surprise! Florida Makes Some Of The World’s Best Chocolate.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 3 May 2017, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/best-chocolate-florida_n_59088cf5e4b05c397682bc33.

Multi-Media Works Cited

British Museum. “Interior of a London Coffee-House.” The British Museum, The Trustees of the British Museum, 2019, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=290256001&objectid=752544.

Farmer, Fannie. “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1906 .” Internet Archive, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 2006, archive.org/details/bostoncookingsch00farmrich/page/n563.

Kirsch, Beth. “Fig-in-a-Box.” Beth’s Chocolate, 2019, http://www.bethschocolate.com/product/fig-in-a-box/.

Ostrover, Olivia. “U.S Chocolatiers.” Mapline, 30 Apr. 2019, app.mapline.com/map/map_4f4f4836.

Pyenson, Andrea. “From Children’s Media to Chocolate Making.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 1 Dec. 2015, www2.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/12/01/from-children-media-chocolate-making/LIjH0TgDtHhGanjmoZHxYL/story.html.

RAW AFRICA, director. The Two Sisters Reviving Ghana’s Chocolate Market with ’57 Chocolate . YouTube, YouTube, 23 Feb. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0SdUC6ajbU&t=204s.

Robicsek, Francis. “Category:Princeton Vase.” Category:Princeton Vase – Wikimedia Commons, University of Virginia Art Museum , 2019, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Princeton_Vase#/media/File:God_L_with_the_Hero_Twins.jpg.

The Molinillo: a Hybrid of Many Cultures, Not Just a “Mexican” Tool

Chocolate has a rich history in Mesoamerica, dating back to the Olmecs in 1500 BCE. However, it was not until after the Spanish invasion in the 16thcentury that chocolate traveled outside of Central America. Chocolate’s interaction with many different cultures and societies resulted in a hybridization process that spanned multiple generations, transforming it from the bitter drink consumed by the Maya and Aztecs to the sweet, sugary chocolate that dominates the world market today. Going through a similar hybridization process was the molinillo, a wooden tool used to produce froth during the chocolate-making process. A Spanish invention, the molinillo quickly became adopted in both Mesoamerica and Europe. However, today the molinillo is depicted in mass media as a distinctly Mesoamerican or Mexican tool, its Spanish and European past minimized and sometimes even neglected all together. This phenomenon can be explained by the difference in meaning attributed to the molinillo in Mesoamerican and European cultures. However, the contemporary characterization of the molinillo as solely Mexican undercuts its historical impact and significance; consequently, it is important to acknowledge the tool as a hybrid of many different cultures, not just one.

Although the molinillo was important in the chocolate making process, an entirely different method was used for hundreds of years before its introduction. The earliest known depiction of the original froth making process is the Princeton vase of the Maya, dating back to the late Classic period.

Woman creating froth by pouring chocolate from one cup to another
Princeton vase (AD 670-750)

As shown, the Maya poured chocolate from one cup to another, the height helping to froth the liquid. This was the “exclusive method” of pre-conquest Mesoamerica, as evidenced by the Codex Tudela, which depicts a similar image only eight centuries later and on an Aztec artifact rather than Mayan (Coe and Coe, 85).

It was not until the late 16thcentury that the introduction of the molinillo greatly altered this process. The molinillo, thought to be derived from the Spanish word “molino”, or little mill[1], is a wooden, grooved beater invented by the Spaniards. 

A typical molinillo

The Spaniards found that twirling a molinillo through an opening of a covered cup was a better way to produce foam. It was quickly adopted in Mesoamerica, and by the time Francesco d’Antonio Carletti, a Florentine businessman who traveled to Guatemala to observe the chocolate process, printed his official report in 1701, the molinillo was being widely used (Coe and Coe, 139). By 1780, the molinillo supplanted the former foam-making process completely, as evidenced by Francesco Saverio Claviergero’s published report on native Mexican life that describes the use of the molinillo but “totally omits the pouring from one vessel to another to produce a good head on the drink” (Coe and Coe, 85).  Clearly, the molinillo quickly became an essential part of Mesoamerican life.

At the same time the molinillo was being adopted in Central America, it was also gaining popularity in Spain and other European countries. The importance of the molinillo can be seen in a recipe published by the Spaniard Antonio Comenero de Ledesma in 1644, which stated that chocolate is best prepared with a molinillo (Coe and Coe, 133). However, the use of the molinillo was not isolated to Spain. Other European countries adapted the tool to fit their own unique ways of preparing and serving chocolate. For example, the French prepared chocolate in ornate, silver chocolatiers and the molinillo was altered to match these vessels and fit their lids. The molinillo was so widely used it was even depicted in the art of the time, as shown below (Coe and Coe, 222).

A woman reaching for a molinillo sitting atop a silver chocolatier.
“La Crainte” by Noël Le Mire (1724-1830)

Yet in contemporary media, there is little mention of the molinillo’s Spanish influences or its widespread use in Europe. Instead, it is identified as a Mexican artifact. For example, the first link that shows up after a simple Google search is a Wikipedia article that states that a molinillo is a “Mesoamerican tool”, and the only country mentioned in the article is Mexico. Although Wikipedia is not an academic source by any means, in today’s Internet age it is where most people get their information due to its convenience. Even an article that pops up from the Smithsonian magazine, the reputable written resource of the Smithsonian museum, describes the significance of the molinillo with no mention of its use in Europe. It even emphasizes that Spain contributed greatly to the chocolate process, but only in its introduction of sugar, not in its invention of the very artifact the article is about. This begs the question, why has contemporary culture diminished the importance of the Spanish and European past of the molinillo and augmented its Mexican one? Using the framework with which Sydney Mitz evaluates the spread of sugar in Great Britain in his book “Sweetness and Power” can elucidate the answer. According to Mintz, when studying food and the objects used to prepare food, it is essential to examine the meaning ascribed to them because meaning can differ substantially over time and across cultures.

For Mesoamerican civilizations, chocolate had a ritual significance. In Maya civilization, Gods were connected to cacao trees, often born of them. For the Aztecs, cacao trees were considered the center of the universe, or an axis mundil, that connected the “supernatural spheres and human spheres” (Carrasco, 92).  As such, chocolate came to have strong religious connotations, and foam was seen as an essential and sacred part of the ritual drink, or as Meredith Dreiss comments, “chocolate is for the body, but foam is for the soul” (Dreiss). Because of this, the molinillo became an essential and incredibly meaningful part of life, as the same religious and cultural emphasis that was put on foam became associated with the tool that made the foam. Yet for the Spaniards and other European countries, this ritual aspect was lacking. When chocolate traveled across the ocean, it lost some of its former meaning while simultaneously gaining new meaning. This is because the meanings associated with symbols are “historically acquired- they arise, grow, change, and die- and they are culture-specific… they have no universal meaning; they ‘mean’ because they occur in specific cultural and historical contexts” (Mintz, 153).  Once chocolate became situated in new cultures, it grew to have different contextual meaning, and none of the new meanings that Spaniards and Europeans associated with chocolate was as heavily focused on foam as it was in Mesoamerica. Consequently, to the Europeans the molinillo was simply a tool to make chocolate rather than a symbol. 

In this context, it can be argued that the cultural meaning that Mesoamerica ascribed to the molinillo is what contributes to its identification today as a distinctly Mexican tool. This is because although a Spanish invention and widely used, the molinillo did not have a significant cultural meaning like it did in Mesoamerica, and therefore it’s European past is easily disassociated. However, when analyzing the significance of the molinillo, it is important to recognize its entire historical past, rather than just its Mexican one, as its hybridization is an essential part of its identity, just as hybridization is an essential part of chocolate’s identity. 

Multimedia Sources

https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/2014/10/21/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-part/

http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1460190

http://biarritzantiquites.free.fr/gravure-18ème-le-mire-d%27après-le-prince-la-crainte.htm

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/kitchen-utensil-chocolate-stirring-from-scratch-cacao-161383020/

Works Cited

Carrasco, Davíd. Religions of Mesoamerica. Waveland Press, 1990.

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

Dreiss, Meredith L. and Sharon Edgar Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods. University of Arizona Press, 2008.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin Books, 1986. 


[1]There are alternative theories, such as Dr. León-Portilla’s belief that molinillo is a Spanish derivation of the Nahuatl world molinia, meaning to “shake, waggle, or move” (Coe and Coe, 120 )

From Bean to Boom: The Development of Chocolate as an Industrialized Food 


From its journey to Europe from the New World at the beginning of the sixteenth century all the way to its modern-day iteration, chocolate has become an important staple for people all over the world. Provided here is a brief history of its long and fruitful evolution through time – from Europeans first encounter with the substance through its development into an industrialized food. 

anubisinmexico_01_olmecmap
“Olmec Heartland”

The Olmecs (1500-400 BC) were almost certainly the first humans to consume chocolate. They would crush the cocoa beans, mix them with water and add spices, chillies and herbs – thus first creating, “the nectar of the Gods!”

Over time, the Mayans (600 BC) and Aztecs (400 AD) developed their own successful methods for cultivating cocoa. For these civilizations, cocoa was a symbol of privilege and abundance. It was used in religious rituals dedicated to Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec god responsible for bringing the cocoa tree to man) to Chak ek Chuah (the Mayan patron saint of cocoa) and as an offering at the funerals of noblemen. 

moctezuma_ii_cortes

Discovery and Commercialization of Cocoa (16th century) In 1528 Hernando Cortez drank cacao with the Aztec emperor Montezuma and brought it back to Spain.

The Spanish court soon fell in love with this exotic elixir and adapted it to their tastes, adding cane sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper. 

In 1585, the first cargo of cocoa beans arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain, launching the trade in cocoa, resulting in the establishment of the first chocolate shops and a rapidly growing demand for this mysterious nectar from the new world.  

The expansion of cocoa in Europe (17th – 19th centuries)
During the 17th century, cocoa began arriving in other ports throughout Europe, effortlessly conquering every region’s palate. Chocolate beverages were first embraced by the French court following the royal marriage of King Louis XIII to the Spanish Princess Anne of Austria in 1615.

mv-7716_006
Hot Chocolate in Versailles

In 1650 chocolate beverages first appeared in England coinciding with the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East. For many years it remained a treat reserved for the upper classes.

In 1659 the first chocolate-confection maker opened in Paris.

In 1720, Italian chocolate-makers received prizes in recognition of the quality of their products. Then in 1765, North America finally discovered the virtues of cocoa. 

chocolate-maid2

Cocoa During the Industrial Era
Industrialization has had a marked democratizing effect on chocolate, transforming it from a rare delicacy reserved for royals, to a widely available and readily affordable treat for the masses. 

Cacao-pur-gif

In 1828, Dutch Chemist Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter, allowing for the extraction of cocoa powder. This made chocolate more homogenous and less costly to produce. From this moment on, the history of cacao changed drastically.

 

 

treasure_image_image_file_162_745

In 1847, English chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar. The use of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar to create a solid bar.

In 1830-1879 Switzerland, chocolate flavored with hazelnuts was developed by Daniel Peteris followed by milk chocolate developed by Henri Nestlé. 

In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. This new machine made the process of making chocolate a lot faster, and also helped make chocolate smoother and creamier.

imagesWithin the United States in 1893, confectionist Milton Hershey found chocolate making equipment at the Worlds Fair in Chicago and began production at a factory in Pennsylvania. 

Chocolate followed the French and American infantry into the trenches of the First World War, and effectively all US chocolate production was requisitioned for the military during the Second World War. In France, chocolate sweets appeared between the wars, and French pralines were considered the most fashionable. This further inspired chocolate producers to experiment with new and exciting flavors.

Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex, mechanized process. At the factory the cacao blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined and tempered into candy bars. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today, like Hershey, Cadbury and Nestlé. Either hand-made or as a fast food, it is now an established part of the world’s vocabulary and diet. Famous French gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin poetically summed up our universal love affair with chocolate, “What is health? It is chocolate!”

 

In these videos from Bon Apetit! you can see cocoa’s long and laborious journey from bean to bar. 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

 

Goody, Jack. Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine. In Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Media

“Olmec Heartland”
http://www.vampiresaragossa.com/02_anubis_mexico.html

Hernando Cortez with Montezuma II
https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/m/moctezuma_ii.htm

Hot Chocolate in Versailles
http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/hot-chocolate-versailles

Chocolate Maid, Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1744
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/hot-chocolate-18th-19th-century-style/

Van Houten “Chocolats”
http://lapassionauboutdesdoigts.fr/recettesdessertschocolat/moelleux-chocolat-mascarpone-aux-poires/

Fry’s Chocolate
http://www.oakhamtreasures.co.uk/treasure-of-the-week/?year_week=2016_46

Hershey’s
http://www.artworkoriginals.com/EB5SB8XJ.htm

 

 

 

L.A. Burdick: A Sweet Idea

Larry Burdick was in his twenties working as a pastry chef in New York when he first traveled to Paris and later to Switzerland to train as a chocolatier in the 1970s and 80s (Gilles, 2014). During his time in Switzerland, Burdick was inspired to begin his own chocolate business, which he opened in 1987 in New York City. Since that time, Burdick’s has expanded to four storefront locations and relocated its headquarters to Walpole, New Hampshire. In the following post, I will explore the values L.A. Burdick aspires to uphold, Burdick’s bean to bar venture which leads to much of its success by allowing it to oversee its production process, and the ways in which the company has given back to local communities overseas. I will analyze Burdick’s goals and endeavors in the context of the chocolate industry locally and abroad.

BURDICK’S HISTORY

In the mid-1980s, Larry discovered “in a confiserie the heady aroma of pure chocolate and hand-made delicacies” that inspired him to open his own business, L.A. Burdick’s website recounts (L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates). Burdick returned to the United States with a chocolate pot, guitars for cutting shapes, and dipping forks. Upon his arrival, he and his wife, Paula, co-founded a small chocolate business. Paula’s background in design and style – acquired through her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology – guided her in creating glamorous chocolate products which could be enjoyed in an “ambiance of relaxed elegance” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates).

When the couple launched its company, they made chocolates out of their home in Brooklyn, but they soon moved to New Hampshire to expand their facilities and staff. This Walpole location remains the home base of the Burdick mail and online shipping business, and its chocolate and pastry production. Larry and Paula chose to start their business in Walpole when Larry was driving up Interstate 91 from Brooklyn, “looking for a good place to raise his family and his business” (Tree, 2008). Larry bought a store on Main Street in Walpole and turned it into a chocolate factory with a storefront café and space for filling mail orders. Adjoining the chocolate store is Walpole Grocery and the Restaurant at Burdick’s, “which presents quality ingredients, an imaginative menu and impeccable service along with a distinctive wine list” (Burdick Catalog, 2012).

This Walpole venture kept the Burdicks busy for the first decade of their success, and its popularity spread as a result of the 1996 Consumer Reports which rated L.A. Burdick chocolates the best in the country (Tree, 2008). In 1999, L.A. Burdick opened in Cambridge, followed by a storefront in Manhattan in 2010. In 2012, the fourth and final location opened in Boston’s Back Bay. Today, the L.A. Burdick chocolate business includes retail chocolate shops in Boston, Cambridge, New York City, and Walpole, a French-inspired restaurant, and a small specialty grocery store (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates).

BUSINESS AS A CHOCOLATIER

Bonbons_Overhead
Chocolate bonbons (http://www.burdickchocolate.com/BonbonAssortments/everyday-assortments.aspx)

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Burdick’s signature chocolate mice (http://www.burdickchocolate.com/ChocolateMiceandPenguins/chocolate-mice.aspx)

Much of Burdick’s popularity is tied to its famously created bonbons (above, top). Other signature items include truffles and chocolate mice (above, bottom). Even more notable is the fact that “every double-caramel bonbon, white chocolate-coated, spiced mousse mouse, and beautifully wrapped, wooden gift box of truffles is made by hand,” according to a 2015 YouTube advertisement video. While Burdick’s chocolate production processes take place overseas in its Grenada factory, the bonbons, truffles, and chocolate delicacies are all made in Walpole. The YouTube video serves as a promotion effort for its Manhattan location, “a café counter where you can get coffee, pastries, and chocolate to take away,” an employee explained in the video. Customers who enter the storefront can sit at tables to enjoy their purchases, socialize over a cup of coffee, or buy baking items, chocolates, and chocolate bars to take with them. “Even if you don’t see the person who receives it, when you put together a basket or box of chocolates and you know it’s going to someone who will really appreciate it, that’s the best part of it. It’s knowing at the end of the day that you work somewhere that makes people happy. People are happy to come in here and people are happy to receive our gifts,” the employee shared in the YouTube video.

This luxurious experience is quickly appreciated when one enters the restaurant. Upon walking into Burdick’s (on April 27, 2016) to observe the storefront in Cambridge, I noted how its customers were able to consume chocolate in an elegant manner; the eating experience was purposefully created through the design of the products, their packaging, and the sophisticated setting of the coffee shop. The Burdick’s location I observed is situated in a wealthy area – the heart of Harvard Square neighboring expensive real estate property – which enables the company to sell high priced chocolate bars, drinks, and desserts because its customers can afford and are wiling to pay for these items to enjoy their taste and the Burdick’s experience.

Further, it must be acknowledged that L.A. Burdick is a chocolatier, which means the company “uses fine chocolate produced by chocolate manufacturers/makers to create unique chocolate products and confectionary” (Martin, “Lecture 5”). Susan Terrio explores the craft community of French chocolatiers in her 2000 Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. She writes about walking into a French chocolaterie as her eyes glossed over the assortment of offerings: “their size, aesthetic display, and evocative names suggested radically different symbolic meanings and social uses than the – dare I admit it – chocolate bars I purchased at home” (Terrio, 2000: page 2).

Burdick’s success within the chocolate industry can be linked more closely to its place as a chocolatier, rather than as a chocolate maker. Terrio writes “when one considers artisanship as a cultural category, it is clear that chocolatiers possess an intermediate, highly ambivalent class position and social status” (Terrio, 2000: page 12). A chocolate maker creates chocolate from cocoa beans; a chocolatier’s role is more romanticized and profitable. Burdick’s chocolate production processes take place overseas in its factory in Grenada, which I will investigate in the following section.

SOURCING

When Larry and Paula set out on what would become a successful business endeavor, they selected Grenada to acquire the majority of their chocolate. “Long known as the ‘Spice Isle,’ the nation of Grenada is one of the world’s largest mace and nutmeg exporters…Grenadian cocoa portrays characteristics unlike cocoa from any other growing region. A robust chocolate, it has an uncommon, bright forefront acidity with long-lasting finishing notes of nutmeg, banana, and molasses” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, The Cocoa Isle). Despite the appealing fragrance of Grenadian cocoa, it makes up less than 0.01 percent of the world’s cocoa supply (Ellman, 2014).

The entirety of Burdick’s chocolate production is completed within its factory, making it a “cocoa bean to chocolate bar” venture (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, The Cocoa Isle). This process includes harvesting, fermenting, sorting, drying, roasting, and conching. Burdick’s purchases and processes beans from farmers at its Grenada factory to sell at its stores and to other high-end chocolate makers. These efforts have led to the success of Burdick’s through ethical practices in contrast to other large companies which cannot oversee their overseas sources. Carol Off writes about the use of forced labor in Cote D’Ivoire, arguing that “almost every critic of the industry has identified the key problem: poverty among the primary producers.” She suggests that an end to the practice could be achieved if cocoa companies “simply undertake to make sure the farmers received a decent price for their beans” (Off, 2010: page 146). By overseeing the entire process of chocolate production, Burdick’s ensures its farmers are both well-paid and well-educated by “opening a chocolate factory that could ship single-origins bars to commercial outlets across the globe” (Smith, 2015).

Another advantage of bean to bar production is that it encourages farmers and workers to produce high quality chocolate because they care about the goods they will send back to the United States. Together, the structure of Burdick’s sourcing makes “cocoa farming more profitable, keeps the unique Grenadian cocoa legacy alive for future generations, provides L.A. Burdick Chocolate with an excellent couverture for our bonbons and enriches the palates of chocolate gourmands everywhere” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, The Cocoa Isle). The concept of bean-to-bar has become popular in the United States; there are over 150 craft chocolate makers who oversee the various parts of the production process, like Burdick does, ensuring their standards are met while improving their relationship with the source (Martin, “Lecture 13”).

Pam Williams and Jim Eber’s Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate investigates how the industry of fine flavor chocolate has recently evolved and will continue to do so in the future due to its growing popularity and the public interest in sustainable and just practices. In examining the impact of efforts in newer markets, “it is about helping farmers understand that what they do affects the end product – how what they do with harvest and fermentation and drying stages is so critical” (Williams and Eber, 2012: page 51). Thus, Burdick’s helps the farmers who produce its chocolate witness the connection between their efforts and the finished products, creating a sense of pride in their work.

Williams and Eber acknowledge that small US manufacturers “have been driving the recent changes for the better in the industry: Change the world – make better chocolate. They pride themselves on direct and transparent trade, paying top dollar for the best beans, speaking out against forced labor, investing in education, and making chocolate that tastes nothing like the multinational mass-market brands” (Williams and Eber, 2012: page 156). While most of those chocolatiers in the United States are forced to rely on specialty stores, groceries, and to online markets for profitable sales, “more and more of them are also building their success in what might be called a very European way: targeting their local communities at markets, events, and their own retail locations and combining that with a factory tour and tasting experience” (Williams and Eber, 2012: page 156). Perhaps as a result of Larry’s training and chocolate education abroad, Burdick’s has focused its success into efforts in Grenada (alongside many of these small manufacturers).

Burdick’s website emphasizes the relationship the company has with Grenada, which I will delve into in the following section. However, upon walking into the storefront, I noticed that they sold various single origin chocolate bars from different sources. The bars, priced between $8 to $13, are from Chuao, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Madagascar, Venezuela, and Ecuador. I was surprised that the website did not describe any relationship between Burdick’s and these other single origin sites given its unique arrangement with Grenada.

GIVING BACK

The Burdicks’ relationship with the Grenada Cocoa Association began in 1999, when they requested one hundred bags of dry cocoa beans for their only L.A. Burdick store at the time. “Our continuous search for superlative quality, full-flavored chocolate has led us to Grenada…the lush mountain terrain and volcanic soil host a bounty of heady tropical flowers, fruit and nut trees and scattered amongst them – cocoa trees” (L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, Cocoa Journey). However, shortly after, Larry and Paula set out to work with the farmers themselves to eventually establish the Cocoa Farming Future Initiative (CFFI) in Grenada.

By 2001, the Burdicks were traveling to work on this fair trade project in Grenada themselves. However, it was not until 2011 that Paula founded the non-profit CFFI. In 2004 and 2005, hurricanes across Grenada created serious setbacks to the Burdicks’ endeavors, according to the CFFI website. Once farming stabilized, the Burdicks “began working with the island’s cocoa farmers to help them reclaim their lands, improve their crops’ quality and value, and create value-added businesses that will increase and diversify their incomes – all of which support the preservation of this unique tropical ecosystem” (CFFI – Cocoa Farming Future Initiative, About CFFI). Paula also began an educational nonprofit to teach cocoa farmers sustainable farming methods and to help them manage the economic conditions that accompany working as a cocoa farmer.

New Hampshire’s EIV News released a YouTube video highlighting the Burdicks’ work in Grenada in 2012. “The project has created a lot of interest on the island of Grenada. The farmers are excited about the project. I think it’s encouraged people to stay in cocoa farming,” Larry said in the video interview. By partnering with Grenadian cocoa farmers to build a factory on the island, “this helps decrease cost of shipping overseas, and puts more money in farmers’ pockets [since the middle man is cut out]. When you add that fine cocoa to the island’s ecosystem – the terrior, the organic soil, the plant life that grows on the island – you have a special flavor in the beans” (Smith, 2012). By establishing this model in Grenada, the farmers have been exposed to organic farming practices and are able to “realize the benefits of value-added processing” (Pienda, 2016).

Furthermore, Burdick’s refuses to use cacao produced by child labor. In contrast to larger companies far removed from their chocolate source, Burdick’s supervision of chocolate production from bean to bar mandates just practices. Though the Fair Trade certification theoretically demands that companies engage in fair practices, critics of the initiative suggest that the marketing system is difficult to monitor, and fails to ensure standards are met (Sylla, 2014). Sylla argues “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla, 2014: page 18). The Fair Trade movement has also been criticized for being used to expand the consumer base and appeal of certain brands of chocolate rather than focusing on improving the work of farmers themselves. Instead of depending on a certification, Burdick’s takes pride in the origin of its chocolate through its bean-to-bar venture.

CONCLUSIONS

Through an investigation of L.A. Burdick Chocolate, I have presented the evolution and expansion of a chocolate business that started in Walpole, New Hampshire less than three decades ago. While one must acknowledge that Burdick’s is a chocolatier, allowing the company to more easily be profitable, I argue that the success of the business is at least in part due to its maintenance of all parts of the chocolate production process. Further, Burdick’s has used its success to give back to the island of Grenada by founding the Cocoa Farming Futures Initiative, creating jobs in its sourcing community, and educating farmers on sustainable practices.

References

“Burdick Catalog.” L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolate (2012): n. pag. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

“CFFI – Cocoa Farming Future Initiative – Raising Funds and Awareness for Grenada Cocoa Farmers.” CFFI – Cocoa Farming Future Initiative. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Gilles, Gaelle. “L.A. Burdick Makes Delicious Homemade Chocolate.” DOWNTOWN Magazine. DOWNTOWN Magazine NYC, Inc. 25 July 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Ellman, Lloyd. “Crop-to-Cup Cocoa: L.A. Burdick Offers a Liquid Tour of the World’s Premier Producers | Edible Manhattan.”Edible Manhattan. N.p., 17 Nov. 2014. Web. 02 May 2016.

L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates, Company History, L.A. Burdick Chocolate. April 27, 2016, http://www.burdickchocolate.com/company-history.aspx

L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates, Company Today, L.A. Burdick Chocolate. April 27, 2016, http://www.burdickchocolate.com/company-history.aspx

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium S010, Cambridge. Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 13: Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: the Future?” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium S010, Cambridge. Lecture.

Manhattan Sideways. “LA BURDICK.” YouTube. YouTube, 14 June 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. Vintage Canada, 2010.

Pienda, Melanie. “Burdick Clears the Air on Rumors of Walpole Chocolate Company Sale.” SentinelSource.com. N.p., 5 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Smith, Courtney. “L.A. Burdick Chocolate’s Grenada Project.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Smith, Zoe. “New Grenada Chocolate Company Offers Youth a Future in Agriculture – Grenada 40.” Grenada 40. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Sylla, Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

Terrio, Susan J. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. University of California Press, 2000.

Tree, Christina. “Burdick Lure Works in New Hampshire, Too.” Boston Globe. N.p., 5 Oct. 2008. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Wilmor Pub., 2012.