Chocolate Making with John Scharffenberger

Yesterday, ICE students took part in a demonstration from John Scharffenberger, the founder of Scharffen Berger.

Scharffenberger founded the company in 1996 with Robert Steinberg. Already an accomplished winemaker (he launched Scharffenberger Cellars, makers of premium sparkling wines in California in 1981), Scharffenberger's creative spirit, astute palate, and passion for artisanal foods translated perfectly into the production of chocolate. Using the highest quality cacao beans from around the world, Scharffen Berger became the first “bean-to-bar” chocolate manufacturer established in the United States in over 50 years. Presently, Scharffenberger is a world-renowned chocolate expert, who leads classes and demonstrations on the history of chocolate, including how to taste and experience the world's best chocolates.

In yesterday’s demo, he walked the students in the audience through the evolution of chocolate from discovery by ancient Central Americans to refined, modern products perfected in Europe. He even took the time to discuss the evolution of cocoa plants and how the pods have adapted and changed into the many varieties we know today (In fact, genetic varieties of chocolate are still being discovered). He demonstrated how the first ancient consumers of chocolate ground the roasted beans on a metate to create a nutritious gruel with cornmeal and flavored with vanilla, honey or chiles. After the first Europeans arrived in the New World, chocolate began to flow into the Spanish court. After the 1615 wedding of Anne of Austria (who was actually a Spanish princess) and France’s Louis XIII, chocolate began to spread through the rest of Europe as a luxury item for those who could afford it.

As modern machinery developed, the Swiss were able to develop the technology to grind the beans into a fine paste and refine it through pressing and tempering (based on the tempering of steel) to create the modern chocolate bar. When he started Scharffen Berger, Scharffenberger did the same thing. Scharffenberger demonstrated how he first pan roasted beans and then ground the beans with sugar in a spice grinder to perfect the blend of beans he wanted to use to make his chocolate. The audience was able to taste this homemade chocolate straight away. Of course, Scharffen Berger chocolates are not sold in this raw form. Scharffenberger was able to buy used machinery to make the chocolate, and the rest is history. Now, the company sells a whole range of chocolate bars, cocoa powder, baking chocolate, and tasting squares. Scharffenberger is back today to talk to the Culinary Management class about his experience starting a company as part of the Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs series. We can’t wait to taste more.

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