The Chocolate Life

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For the past several years, one of the better sources for organic couverture for artisan chocolatiers has been (believe it or not) Dagoba. Several well-known and award-winning chocolatiers have built their businesses on that chocolate.

However, since its acquisition by Hershey's Artisan Confections company, Dagoba has been forced to close down several lucrative side businesses, which include short-run bar production and selling couverture. Presumably, Artisan Confections views this as selling basic raw ingredients to competitors.

I've been asked on several occasions to help chocolatiers locate sources for organic couverture. One of those came in my e-mail yesterday and I decided to follow up on it because of an increase in interest in this subject overall.

There is the obvious choice: Barry-Callebaut. They are arguably the largest supplier of organic couverture to artisan chocolatiers. Valrhona has recently entered the business, but its prices make it a no-go option for many. In fact, couvertures imported from Europe are getting increasingly expensive as the dollar shrinks against the Euro.

So - what are you all using these days? Who are you looking to to provide organic couverture of high technical quality (i.e., consistent workability) that also tastes good?

One Canadian (Ottawa, Ontario) company my research unearthed is Cocoa Camino. They offer only three couvertures (70%, 56%, and a milk) but they are all certified organic, fairtrade, and kosher.

Does anyone have any experience with these - or have other recommendations for organic couverture?

Tags: couverture, fairtrade, kosher, organic

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I've known the founder of Vintage Plantations since late 1998 and took part in his University of Chocolate trips to Ecuador in 2003 and 2005. (Also on the 2005 trip were Shawn Askinosie, founder of Askinosie Chocolate; Marc Boatwright and Patricia Hinjosa, co-founders of Choctal; and Samantha Madel and Langdon Stevenson of TAVA (Tropical Agriculture Value Added) in Australia. Elsewhere, someone posted a link saying that Askinosie Chocolate was now available in Scandinavia, and the founders of that company, ScandChoco, were also on that 2005 trip. I feel honored to have been in such an accomplished group.)

Unless I am missing something, it looks like the only certified organic product is the cocoa powder. Everything else is Rainforest Alliance certified - but not organic. I have to agree with you on two counts, though, the cocoa butter is one of the better ones you can buy (I don't think it's deodorized) and the quality has been steadily improving since its first introduction.
Gwen: This is a really interesting discussion in its own right - what are chocolate makers, chocolatiers, and their customers looking for when it comes to various certifications?

I happened to speak to Frederick Schilling of Dagoba about the recall after I blindly published the news feeds concerning it. First off, Frederick said, the amount involved was nowhere near the 20 tons cited in the reports, it was a small fraction of that amount and it only applied to bars made from Ecuadorian beans grown in areas in or near the mountains that form the central backbone of the country.

Why is this? Volcanic soils typically contain very high levels of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. If someone were to eat chocolate made from beans from these areas then there is the possibility of heavy-metal contamination. This is going to be an especially big issue for cacao grown in Hawaii because all of the arable land is volcanic in origin.

Heavy metal contamination has nothing to do with any kind of certification. Anyone can grow cacao "organically" in volcanic soil and it would still qualify as organic. Organic certification mostly cares about is the use of chemicals and certain other farming techniques and does not, as far as I know, address the issues of compounds that are naturally present in the soil.

It turns out that virtually no chocolate made in the world is routinely tested for the presence of heavy metals. I do know that when I was in Venezuela and Mexico with Shawn Askinosie on a bean buying trip in 2006, Shawn was very careful to take soil samples in several of the orchards of the co-ops he was looking to buy beans from. He had the soil analyzed for heavy metal content and was prepared to walk away from any co-op growing cacao in soil contaminated with heavy metals.

One of the "problems" with virtually all of the certifications is that they don't really try to deal with issues related to quality. If I were creating a certification program I would absolutely require the testing of soil not only for synthetic chemicals but for naturally occurring substances that are poisonous to humans when ingested.
Does this mean that the Dagoba couverture I have on hand now will be discontinued? I did not know that. This was from Chocosphere, which sells two lb. blocks of Dagoba, calling it "baking bricks," in four percentages.
Casey:

I am not totally sure as Chocosphere sells to retail, not wholesale, customers. I do know that wholesale customers who Hershey considers to be competitors to their brands are not going to be able to get the chocolate going forward. However, they still might make it available to home chefs. Best to contact Jerry at Chocosphere and ask him what he's been told.
Actually, Chocosphere has a thriving wholesale business. All you have to do is call them to get instructions on how to set up a wholesale account and to receive a wholesale price list.
Hi Clay

Indeed you are right. Cocoa Camino does sell a three flavour line of Fair Trade and Organic couverture.

Bittersweet 70%, Semi Sweet 56%, and Milk 41%

No soy, no preservatives, five or six ingredients (depending).

Dominican and Peruvian cocoa. 50/50 blend.

Happy to send you some samples. Love to hear what you really think.

Only available in Canada though. Pity.

(Canadians of a certain age will get the reference.)

So send me you address at my email and I will send some down!

Warmly

Rodd Heino
Worker-Owner and
Food Service Manager
La Siembra Co-op, makers of Cocoa Camino products.
Hi,
I'm in Canada and have used all three of Cocoa Camino's couvertures, mostly the 70%. I thought they made a white chocolate as well? I've found the chocolate easy to work with, it is very fluid and molds/dips well. The flavor is really quite good, and for those that want organic it's a good choice. It doesn't have the complex flavors that say Valrhona has, and the price is about the same, but it is better than a lot of organic chocolate I've tried.

I have a question that has been bothering me regarding the spraying of chemicals on cocoa beans. I've "heard" that even though beans are grown organically, ALL beans are sprayed when being shipped otherwise they would loose up to 30% of the shipments. Does anyone have first hand knowledge of this?

Enjoying the site, there's lots of information and reading to do!
Cheers,
Joanne
Rodd,
Could you furnish me with the name of a distributer in western CDN (Vancouver)? Looking specifically for 1-5kg packaging.
Thanks
I am glad to see this discussion. I started out my business with Dagoba and switched before they were sold because of irregularity in availability. I still use plantations, quite a lot but only for a few things as I find its flavor is really distinct and doesn't always blend well with herbs, etc. in some of the confections we make. I like Venezuelan chocolate, and although El rey is neither Organic nor fair trade certified, I think they address these issues at least in their mission. I wonder if anyone has first hand knowlege of their practices? This seems to be a moot point at least temporarily as the political climate between Venezuela and the US means no El Rey coming in to the country now. Still I'd like to know if people have inside info re: el rey. I do like their Apamate.

I've queried Theo about couverture but they are not offering that wholesale.

I was signed up to go on that 2005 trip to Ecuador with Pierick, Clay! I was just launching my storefront and had to cancel for cash flow reasons! It still smarts that I couldn't go!
Sarah:

I am really sorry you couldn't make it on the trip. The alumni are a pretty accomplished bunch including Shawn Askinosie (Askinosie Chocolate), Marc Boatwright and Patricia Hinajosa (Choctal ice cream), the founders of ScandChoco - an importer of gourmet chocolate into Scandinavia, and Sam Madell and Langdon Stephenson of TAVA in Australia.

A simplified and reorganized version of the classroom curriculum from the University of Chocolate is being given on the trip to Belize next month. Don't know if there are any last-minute places, but send a message to Holly Stabin (she's a member here) to find out.

Also, I am looking into alternative sources of organic couverture for another Chocolate Life member and if anything comes of that I will let you know. Where is your shop and what is its name?
Hi, I will look into the Belize trip. My shop is in Portland, Oregon. It is called Alma chocolate.
I have never met Shawn Askinosie but I grew up in Springfield, Missouri and so many of my friends and relations there do know him. We are probably going there for a visit this summer and I hope to meet him finally.
Sarah:

Of course I know Alma, I just never connected the two together. Do you know the people over at culinate.com? I wrote five blog entries for them in December/January. Do take the time to meet with Shawn when you go out there. If you want an introduction beforehand let me know. Finally, I used to live in Portland - 1977-80. Spent most of my time working for KBOO and enjoying the music scene. Love the photos of antique molds on your site.

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