Scharffen Berger Chocolate ö Confection Perfection
SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE
by Lillian Africano
Shakespeare suggested that music was the food of love, but judging by the thousands of heart-shaped boxes presented to wives and sweethearts on Valentine s Day, that honor should be shared with chocolate. Not only is chocolate delicious, there s evidence that it may have significant health benefits. According to some studies, cocoa flavanols could have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure, increasing blood flow and preventing blood clots. Another study, published in Early Human Development (February 2004), monitored some 300 pregnant women; it found that the women who indulged in chocolate on a daily basis had babies who seemed happier and more relaxed than those of moms who abstained. And in recent years, chocolate in several forms (scented oils, soaps, lip balms, etc.) has been added to a number of spa menus (see our Skinny section).
This is all good to know, but for those of us who have been life-long chocolate fans the single most compelling attraction of chocolate is that the stuff is just so darn good. I m not talking about the cheap stuff found in vending machines, but rather the rich dark artisanal chocolate that seduces the taste buds, melts in the mouth, and reminds us that Theobroma cacao, the scientific name for the tree from which cocoa beans come, means food of the gods.
There are any number of fine chocolates on the market today: Valhrona, Leonidas, Yamate and Godiva, to name but a few. Scharffen Berger is one of my personal favorites; it s also favored by such distinguished chefs as Jacques P pin and Pierre Herm . (The late Julia Child liked it, too.) Scharffen Berger is found on the dessert menus of such restaurants as Gramercy Tavern in New York as well as in fine retail outlets like Williams-Sonoma and Dean & DeLuca.
Scharffen Berger is a relatively young company, founded in 1996 by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger. Steinberg, a physician and accomplished cook, became fascinated with chocolate in 1990 when he learned he had lymphoma. At that time he began a thorough study of the chocolate-making process, from the selection of the cocoa beans, the cleaning, roasting and blending, the tempering and molding, and the finished product. He gained hands-on experience during an apprenticeship at Bernachon, the French manufacturer. During a trip to Venezuela, Steinberg made contact with the growers of the rare criollo bean, which is known for its gentle fruitiness. Now Scharffen Berger imports these beans for use in the company blend.
John Scharffenberger is the founder of Scharffenberger Cellars. His expertise in wine and in applying European techniques to American production, his fine-tuned palate, his business expertise and his background in agriculture and technology made him a natural partner for Steinberg.
The company s 27,000 square-foot brick factory and retail ship is located in Berkeley, California. Using vintage equipment the bean cleaner, roaster, winnower, m langeur and conche purchased in Europe and restored to full working order, the company follows the European tradition of manufacturing chocolate in small batches. This allows them to ensure consistency of taste and texture. Scharffenberger uses only whole bean Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla, the purest large crystal sugar and a small amount of lecithin to make their chocolate.
The Scharffen Berger blend contains up to 50% small plantation Venezuelan hybrid beans combined with a mix of fine beans from around the world, including Central and South America, West Africa, Indonesia and the Caribbean. The result is a chocolate that could be likened to a fine wine in that it is complex and fruity, with an intense flavor and lingering finish.
Last year, Scharffen Berger opened its first retail store in San Francisco, at the Ferry Building Marketplace that now houses the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. In November, the company opened its first New York store in a landmark building at 473 Amsterdam Avenue. Decorated in the style of an old-fashioned candy shop, the store offers a new line of handmade chocolates, as well as the signature chocolate bars, baking products and gift packages. The handmade confections, which are made daily, come in twelve flavors and are thinly covered with a lightly flavored chocolate ganache.
Among the products available: a 96-square gift box (24 each Milk, Semisweet, Bittersweet, Extra Dark) is $50; Sweetened Natural Cocoa Powder is $8.50 for 8 ounces; Gift box of one ounce bars (4 each of Bittersweet, Semisweet, Nibby, and Mocha) is $30; Hand-dipped Glac Apricots, $14 for a box of 6; and finally CACAO, a chocolate perfume, which retails for $140 for a quarter ounce bottle.
For more information or to purchase online, visit www.scharffenberger.com.