I read somewhere once, that a balanced diet is a chocolate truffle in each hand.
I couldn’t agree more.
After my time living in two of the most revered chocolate-producing countries in the world (Belgium and Switzerland) I have been on a quest for finding out what makes fine chocolate so fine. On a recent trip to Ecuador, I visited an organic farm which, amongst other things, specialized in producing organic cacao. Similar to coffee production, or small scale wine making, watching the cacao process by hand left me with a whole new appreciation of the product.
On that note, I am still on a mission. A bittersweet mission to find the world’s best chocolate, and learn about what makes it so good!
In Belgium I met a Norwegian couple who are now sharing their passion for fine chocolate with their new business, Sjokoladesmaking – I was intrigued to find out more about how their small business has grown out of a shared passion. Meet them below:
So tell us, how do you say the word CHOCOLATE in Norwegian?
In Norwegian the word is Sjokolade, so it is generally from the same linguistic roots. We also use the word kakao, but don’t differentiate between cocoa/cacao as in English.
If someone has only 24 hours in Oslo what would you suggest they see, do and eat?
Generally Oslo has a lot to offer, but if we limit ourselves to chocolate there are a few places I would highlight. The most unique would be “Den Lille Sjokoladefabrikken” (The Small Chocolate Factory) at Bærums Verk just outside of the city. It is the only bean-to-bar manufacturer I know of in Norway, making chocolate from a plantation in Guatemala. Somewhat more available is the French chocolate shop SebastienBruno at multiple locations around town, selling some amazing origin bars and other products based on rare French coverture. One of their shops are located in Mathallen, a marketplace for small food-related delicacy businesses that carry various other interesting brands of chocolate as well, so that one is worth a visit by itself.
How many different types of cocoa beans are there? Can cocoa grow anywhere in the world?
Cocoa beans are commonly said to be found in three different varieties: Criollo, Trinitario and Forestaro. In reality however there are many more lumped together under these labels, and while genetic analysis is still ongoing there might be as many as 20 distinct varieties of cocoa, or perhaps even more. The varieties each have different flavor profiles, and this also vary depending on where the cocoa has been grown and the weather of the growing season.
Cocoa trees can only grow in a narrow belt between 20˚North and 20˚South of the equator as they require much heat and moisture. While originating from tropical Mesoamerica, they are now grown around the world in South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, West Africa, Madagascar, in South East Asia and on pacific islands such as Hawaii.
What made you decide to create Sjokoladesmaking.no
After years of being interested in fine chocolate I was encouraged by my boss to organize a chocolate introduction course for my co-workers. This was a big success and due to high demand, I ended up fleshing out a full blown course offered to anyone who was interested, in the entire company. I already had most of the course materials prepared, I contacted a friend in the event business and then started to run my course for other companies as well. This got me thinking that these courses could actually be a viable business, so I set up a website and registered a company to do this in a professional manner.
Did you have a business plan?
My business opportunity arose out of an interest for chocolate and I didn’t really expect it to hit off the way it did. My business plan hasn’t changed much from the time I started my company. It’s always been about spreading the love and knowledge of fine chocolate in a way that doesn’t consume all of my time, while allowing me enough income to pursue my interests and continued education in fine chocolate, while at the same time building more interest and eventually a community around fine chocolate in Norway. This means I’m still focusing on holding my courses, while at the same time looking into and considering new ways to promote fine chocolate without creating too much business-work focused on sales and profits, but rather wanting to spread the passion in a better way.
Do you think running a local/independent company creates a sense of community?
It all depends on what you do of course, but I absolutely get a greater feeling of community when talking to other chocolate professionals than I would have in just being a passionate consumer. In my case I’m also hoping to be able to build a real fine chocolate community around the business that can be a focal point for both chocolate professionals and passionate chocolate lovers.
What inspires you to do what you do?
My motivation to build this as a business primarily arose from me outgrowing mass-produced chocolate. I discovered fine chocolate and felt complelled to share the amazing discovery with others. Without any established chocolate communities where I could meet likeminded people in Norway however, the only real option to expand my horizons was to share the passion with those around me to eventually build such a community myself. Of course having a somewhat expensive hobby paying for itself isn’t a bad thing either (laughs).
What makes your job so sweet (no pun intended)
I’d like to answer this with a quote from Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Being able to share a passion with others is very rewarding, especially when you see that people really feel it and take some of that passion home. Also chocolate is such a gracious subject to work with, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten truly negative feedback. Besides, being known as the chocolate guy in social settings is a lot more fun and interesting than my profession as an IT consultant used to be.
What do you love most about Norway as a base for your company?
From a business view Norway is perhaps the most undeveloped country in Europe when it comes to chocolate. There is no real tradition for fine chocolate, and there aren’t all that many offerings available at present. However with the general increase in wealth and interest in gourmet foods, just the past few years there have been a wave of developments happening with the attitude towards chocolate, with plenty of praline shops starting up as the first step. A handful of interesting chocolatiers using innovative local flavors have popped up during the 2000s chocolate revolution, and another few handfuls of run-of-the-mill companies also exist. However I only know of a single bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer based in Norway, so when talking about pure chocolate there isn’t really much going on in Norway at all.
There is a lot of talk out there about buying fair-trade chocolate. What is your approach to chocolate? Do you think fair-trade chocolate is important and why?
My approach to chocolate is all about quality products, what is commonly known as fine chocolate. Because the making of fine chocolate requires the use of extra high quality cocoa, the farmers are usually well paid for their product, often much in excess of the Fair Trade requirements. Actually when talking about fine chocolate the stringent licensing fees and documentation requirements necessary to become Fair Trade certified can often take money away from the farmers instead of the other way around. This is not to say that fair trade is not important however, for when talking about bulk cacao used in mass produced consumer chocolate, then fair trade is a very good thing. It is actually too good, so the big chocolate manufacturers don’t use it much and have instead created their own certification system called Rainforest Alliance that is cheaper and easier to get approval from. It still helps to buy Rainforest Alliance over regular bulk cocoa of course, but buying Fair Trade would be even better, while best of all would be to get high quality fine chocolate from artisan manufacturers, even if they haven’t been able to afford any certifications yet. So as with everthing else, it is all about intimately knowing what you eat.
How important is the connection between the consumer and the producer?
The connection between consumer and producer is often nonexistent when it comes to chocolate, and often there isn’t even a connection between the producer (farmer) and the manufacturer either. This is one of the places where fine chocolate can really make a difference, because it allows consumers to actually have such connections with both manufacturers and even with the cocoa producers. A great example is the British store Hotel Chocolat, that actually have a real hotel on their cocoa estate in Saint Lucia that you can visit to learn more about how your favorite product comes to life.
How can I pick a good chocolate when I’m in a store?
Picking a good chocolate based on the packaging is unfortunately really hard, however there are some things that can tip you in the right direction. First of all a good pure chocolate only consist of four ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter/fat, sugar and vanilla, so check the content declaration! Soy-Lecithin is allowed, but it is better if not present. Any mention of Vanillin (the artificial flavoring) or unspecified flavoring in a plain chocolate is a big warning sign, it should only be real vanilla if any at all. Needless to say the big name brands are rarely putting out quality products, and don’t get fooled by thinking the cacao percentage is a token of quality, that’s like picking red wines based on the alcohol content. Also if there is some information about the chocolate on the packaging this is usually a good sign, examples can be the variety or origin of the beans, the conch-time or even just a short flavor description.
Why are some chocolates so expensive?
Chocolates aren’t expensive! Even the highest quality fine chocolate rarely cost more than 10 times what you must pay for the cheapest mass produced bar you can find. Compare this to how much you must pay for very high quality wine or almost any other product, and the price difference is almost negligible in chocolate. The small price differences that you do find however are either because it is a small scale artisan production, they are using quality cocoa and ingredients, or you are paying extra for a high-end brand with gold-plated boxes in the airport tax-free shops.
Being the chocolate guy, do you have a favorite chocolate bar right now?
Naming a favorite is always hard because your taste varies so much from day to day. However any origin bars by Amedei or Michel Cluizel always make it high on the list, especially the ones that are made with cocoa from Venezuela.
http://www.sjokoladesmaking.no/ offer Smakskurs (or fine chocolate tasting courses, in case your Norwegian is a little rusty) in Oslo. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with them if you are interested – in addition to Norwegian, and Chocolate, they also speak English!
*Photographs are copyright of Passports & Pamplemousse and may not be reproduced or redistributed, in whole or in part, without written permission from the author, Eva Gold
I have been doing a good job at tasting the world over the past few years. Basically, this just means that I travel a lot and eat everything in sight. But it goes beyond plain gluttony. I am intrigued by cultures and the significance that food and the sharing of meals has for different people around the world. On that note, I am in the process of publishing articles by small business owners who share a passion for food. If you are a small business owner who would like to share your passion, please get in touch with me via the contact form on my homepage!