Hershey: the Borg of chocolate

Sadly, Hershey has announced the immediate closing of the small Berkeley factory that, since 2001, has been the flagship of Scharffen Berger chocolate. Scharffen Berger’s dark chocolates were a favorite among Bay Area residents years before it was sold to Hershey in 2005; the cozy Berkeley factory used to be open for tours and chocolate tastings (followed by obligatory hot cocoa at the cafe next door). I have many fond memories of Scharffen Berger chocolate, so this news is depressing.

To add insult to injury, Hershey is also closing the factory of Joseph Schmidt in San Francisco – a company I stumbled upon literally a month ago (subsequently overindulging in truffles.) Hershey is like the chocolate Borg!

Hershey says it will continue making Scharffen Berger brand chocolate at larger plants, where it will be consolidated with the production of other “artisan” chocolates like Joseph Schmidt. In fact, much (most?) Scharffen Berger chocolate is already made at those plants. In recent years, I haven’t been as impressed with Scharffen Berger as I once was; whether that’s because I can taste a subtle difference in how the product is manufactured, or just because I dislike and resent the commercialization of a small brand, I have no idea.

So here’s the sticking point for chocophiles like myself: is Scharffen Berger still an “artisan” chocolate if it’s just one flavor among many cranked out at a big factory off-limits to the consumer? I don’t think so. So do I switch to another artisan chocolate? And if I want to buy local, are there any good, responsibly manufactured American artisan chocolates? Dagoba also belongs to Hershey. NewTree is Belgian. Amadei is Italian. I suppose may try Amano (Salt Lake City), or Charles Chocolate (Emeryville, CA), if I can find them. I’ll continue baking with Ghirardelli (which is owned by Lindt). But when I want a really good dark chocolate to serve with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, what do I do? Any recommendations?


  1. #1 Chris Clarke
    January 29, 2009

    Another factor to consider in our disappointment: Scharffenberger was one of the earliest companies to stop buying beans from the Ivory Coast, thus making their chocolate pretty much slavery-free. Hershey still sources their beans in the Ivory Coast.

  2. #2 Quercki M. Singer
    January 29, 2009

    D.C., hunh? Well, I think you have to come back to Oakland/Berkeley for the good stuff.

    Bittersweet Cafe
    XOX Truffles
    Michael Mischer Chocolates

    And a couple I haven’t tried yet:
    Windsor confections
    Theo Chocolate

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    January 29, 2009

    Don’t forget Ethel M — it was started by the founders of M&M Mars (yes, that’s the “M”) and has stayed a Las Vegas local operation ever since.

    Especially if you like liqueur chocolates that you have to be of legal age to enjoy …

  4. #4 Epicanis
    January 29, 2009

    I would have sworn I saw a “Scharffenberger” sign up near the Navarro vineyards (Mendocino county) not too long ago. I think it was just a winery, though.

    Perhaps it’d be better to get the ingredients and make it oneself. (How much do cacao pods cost these days?)

  5. #5 Jessica Palmer
    January 29, 2009

    You probably did – Scharffenberger (one of the two founders) had a winery. As for homemade chocolate, if you roast cacao beans yourself in the microwave you get an awesome flavor! But I’m pretty sure the process of removing the beans from the pod and fermenting them properly is beyond most home enthusiasts. Anyone tried it?

  6. #6 jc
    January 29, 2009

    See’s Candies, owned by Warren Buffett, with stores all over the west US, are ORGASMIC! I don’t like Dark Chocolate, so you’ll have to do some experimenting. They ship.

    I inhale the Key Lime truffles by the pound. The Apple Pie sucks, and I don’t think I liked lemon. The cafe au lait and mocha are both good. You can order entire boxes of flavors using the “custom mix” option on the left. It’s evil. evil. evil.

  7. #7 catgirl
    January 30, 2009

    Hershey’s has always been my favorite brand of chocolate, and I think their dark chocolate is especially good. I think it tastes better than the cheaper stuff and the more expensive stuff.

  8. #8 Jessica Palmer
    January 30, 2009

    Both See’s and Hershey’s chocolates are just too sweet and milky for me, although my family really likes them. But then I’m kind of weird about chocolate – I used to eat Scharffen Berger’s unsweetened cacao nibs straight out of the can, which might mean something to some of you. (I like my chocolate really tangy and bitter).

  9. #9 Moopheus
    January 30, 2009

    Guittard is still family-owned and independent, and still making good chocolates in California.

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    January 31, 2009
  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    January 31, 2009

    Hmm, bad tag. Legacy is local to us, but they do mail order. They also allow you to choose how dark the outside of your truffles will be.

  12. #12 cybele
    February 3, 2009

    True artisan chocolate is bean to bar – that is, the maker has taken the product from its raw state to the finished, molded bar for eating.

    There are some nice fondeurs (folks who melt, blend & remold) out there like Charles Chocolates as you mentioned.

    There’s a newly formed American organization of just artisan chocolate makers: Craft Chocolate Makers of America.

    Right now there are five members: Amano, De Vries Chocolate, Patric Chocolate, Taza Chocolate and Askinosie Chocolate. They all sell direct to the public or at fine chocolate shops.

    Other bean to bar companies: TCHO, Theo, Mast Brothers, Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, Rogue Chocolatier and Fearless Chocolate Company (raw). Other companies like Scharffen Berger and Guittard, though large, do make “craft” blends which are short runs of specifically sourced beans.

    The cool thing? You could spend a year eating a different bar a week – now that’d be an experience!

  13. #13 Jessica Palmer
    February 3, 2009

    Thanks, cybele – that’s really helpful. It’s hard to tell from the websites and press whether the materials that these chocolatiers source is really raw. That’s why Scharffen Berger’s tour was so great – they showed you everything from fermenting the beans through the production of chocolate. You knew the conditions in which it was taking place and exactly what they started with. So unusual in today’s industrial food chain!

  14. #14 Mark
    February 3, 2009

    “Tangy and bitter” — just how I like my women! 🙂

    I really like Dilettante Chocolate here in Seattle, but I think they’re mostly local. And they’re not generally tangy or bitter.

  15. #15 Jessica Palmer
    February 3, 2009

    ‘”Tangy and bitter” — just how I like my women!’

    has that line worked for you before, Mark? It’s pretty good! 😉

    You remind me that Dilettante (which has a kiosk in the Seattle Airport) makes amazing hot chocolate. Chocophiles, if you’re flying through Sea-Tac, check it out. . .

  16. #16 wunx~
    February 6, 2009

    May I offer for your viewing pleasure, “Unwrapped – Chocoholic”,
    on the Food network this coming Sunday, 2-9-09, 9:00 p.m. eastern.

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