July 7th is World Chocolate Day.
Over the past 15 years, THE NIBBLE has reviewed some of the world’s great chocolates. Almost all of them are made in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S.—even though all the beans are imported from the warmer climes.
Theobroma cacao, the tree that bears the pods that contain the beans that get made into chocolate, was originally cultivated from the wild in Central America. The first cacao farmers were the Olmecs, beginning around 1500 B.C.E. They taught the Maya, who taught the Aztecs who conquered them (the history of chocolate).
Today, cacao trees are planted in three major sub-tropical regions: Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia (among other countries, a boutique industry has recently spring up in Vietnam). Each region and sub-region has its own terroir, environmental factors which, as with coffee beans, gives the cacao beans their unique flavor nuances.
The world’s major cacao-growing regions are, in alphabetical order:
MilkBoy Swiss Chocolates, a premium chocolate bar company that was founded in 2014, is actually based in Brooklyn, New York. The chocolate bars themselves are produced in Switzerland; the manufacturing is overseen in Zurich.
The bars, 3.5-ounces each, ($5.00), include:
All are delectable, of course; smooth, silky, melt-in-your-mouth. Our personal favorites are the Alpine Chocolate With Refreshing Lemon And Ginger, Crunchy Caramel and Sea Salt milk Chocolate and the White Chocolate With Bourbon Vanilla. (We haven’t get gotten a bar of Potato Chip.)
The 60% Cocoa With Pine Tree Oil should definitely be tried. It is not “piney,” as the title might imply; but has slight notes of pine and mint that compliment the chocolate. It’s a gourmet’s milk chocolate treat.
The chocolate is available on the company website, from Amazon, and at specialty chocolate shops. You can order by phone at by phone 718.221.5540.
MilkBoy is a bean-to-bar manufacturer that sources its cacao from sustainable farms in West Africa.
The brand honors the legacy of Alpaufzug, cow parades (less poetically, cattle drives). The milkboy is a historic cowherd who brings the herd from the village in the valley up to the mountains. Man and cow spend the spring and summer grazing seasons in high Alpine meadows, lush with green grass.
The time spent grazing high up in the Alps created superior milk, to be made into distinctively delicious Swiss cheese and chocolate.
Every spring at Alpaufzug time, processions of local dairy farmers and their cows leave villages at the foot of the Alps to climb way up to the pastureland that will be their home in the spring and summer. Their departure is marked by festivities: The villagers give them a rousing send-off, some dressing up in traditional garb.
In a tribute to this history, the founders of MilkBoy Swiss Chocolates commissioned their package art from a famous Swiss paper artist. Depicting Swiss Alpine motifs, the designs employ the ancient folk art of paper-cut silhouettes.
Swiss chocolate is simply that produced in Switzerland. While cacao beans and other ingredients such as sugar can originate from outside Switzerland, the actual production of the chocolate must take place in the country.
Switzerland’s milk chocolate earned an international reputation for high quality, based on its famous Alpine milk.
Swiss producers began to import beans and manufacture chocolates beginning in the 17th century. By the 19th century, family business established brands that continue today. The brands more familiar in the U.S. include:
With the beginning of the artisan chocolate movement in the U.S., around 1980, kick-started by young American culinary school graduates who had studied chocolate-making from European masters—Americans became aware of higher-quality chocolate. Local and national periodicals gave them lots of press. American chocolate-lovers took note.
To meet the new quality-chocolate consciousness, top chocolate bar brands were imported from Belgium and France: Callebaut, El Rey, Michel Cluizel Pralus, Valrhona and others (see the world’s greatest chocolate producers).
The first domestic premium chocolatiers that gathered a larger-than-local reputation were Ghirardelli (1852) and Guittard (1868). It took 128 years for the next major American bar brand, Scharffen Berger (founded 1996, owned by Hershey since 2005), to appear. All three companies are from the San Francisco Bay area. However, they were little-known outside their region until the evolution of America’s artisan chocolate movement.
Prior to then, Americans who wanted something better looked to Swiss Chocolate—or later, to a gold ballotin (box) of Godiva bonbons, which were first imported from Belgium in 1972. They became the rage, the national vision of “the best.”†
*The global term is cacao. Cocoa is an error, a result in a transposition of letters on an English ship’s manifest about 300 years ago.
†The following year, Godiva was purchased by the Campbell Soup Company, and the chocolates transitioned to being made in the U.S. The quality went down, featuring more sweet milk chocolate preferred by Americans than Belgium’s quality dark chocolate. The chocolate made in Belgium for the European market continued to uphold the original standards.