Did you know that Scharffen Berger chocolate is setting out to regain the top quality position in the craft chocolate industry? I hadn’t seen this chocolate on the shelves in quite some time and I was delighted to reacquaint myself with it during the 2021 Wine Media Conference in Southern Oregon.
We sampled delicious pairings with this chocolate with the 2018 Weisinger Tempranillo and the 2016 Belle Fiore Numinous.
This company was launched by John Scharffenberger a winemaker, and Robert Steinberg an expert chocolatier back in 1996. Their vision was to bring bean to bar craft practices similar to making high quality wine. The company got sold to Hershey 14 years ago and in 2020 the company got bought back and is in production in Ashland, OR.
This chocolate is returning to its winemaking roots. I was surprised to learn how analogous the process is for making quality chocolate as it is to making quality wine. Akin to using the best grapes and influence of terroir with winemaking, the best cacao is sourced from small sustainable global locations. Beans are carefully selected (just like grapes) and roasted for their flavour profile to bring out various characteristics such as chocolate, fruit, spice, fruity tobacco, woody, or earthy. The blending of the beans is similar to blending grapes to create the right balance and complexity.
Cacao beans are also fermented like wine grapes. Wet beans are fermented for up to 48 hours where the natural yeasts convert into sugar. The beans are then exposed to air where ethanol and remaining sugar develops into acetic and lactic acid. Sound familiar to the wine fermentation process? The beans are then dried in the sun and dried to further develop flavours and break down any residual acidity.
The roasting process starts by the beans being cleaned and pasteurized by steam and pressure. Roasting time is then carefully tailored to the type of cacao bean. Roasting is important to give the signature Scharffen Berger flavour profile.
The craft process continues by using a slow melangeur to grind the beans to retain the fruit and wine notes versus using a higher velocity machine which may destroy the distinctive Scharffen Berger essence. The chocolate is then refined with sugar and whole Bourbon vanilla beans before being made into bars.
I was fortunate to receive a generous sample of bars and baking chips. As I had used this chocolate in the past, I was reminded how easy it was to temper this chocolate for baking. It melted so easily and consistently. I made the chocolate orbit cake from the recipe section of the Scharffen Berger website. My brother used the baking chips to create these delicious cookies. He is a serious baker, and delighted in using this craft chocolate!
Scharffen Berger is in the process of re-energizing their bean to bar brand after returning to their west coast roots. They are revitalizing their brand, and plan to redesign their packaging and image. They are partnering with local wineries for pairings, and continue to develop consumer relationships who are loyal to this brand. They are also establishing their presence in the town of Ashland, OR to be an employer of choice and creating partnerships and relationships within the community.
I’m excited that Scharffen Berger is back to it’s original approach, and look forward to following their new vision, new products, and brand refresh of this amazing high quality craft chocolate! Thanks to Chris Spirko, CFO of Scharffen Berger for your time and insights!