‘Tis the season for hearts, flowers and yes, chocolate. Valentine’s Day is around the corner. The holiday that divides the universe into happy couples and everyone else.
Take heart! Chocolate is not just for Valentine’s Day and it’s not just for those in love. It’s actually good for you, or at least the dark chocolate is, and it apparently contains lots of chemicals that make you feel good. Who can argue with that?
Florida is home to many chocolatiers, some small, and some that have grown nationally through franchising. Peterbrooke and Schakolad come to mind. Peterbrooke opened its doors in Jacksonville in 1983 and Schakolad Chocolate Factory debuted in Winter Park in 1995.
There are some new kids on the block that are raising the chocolate bar.
Tucked into downtown Stuart, on the state’s Treasure Coast, is a piece of chocolate heaven. Its name is Castronovo Chocolate and it is a small chocolate factory with a BIG list of international awards.
Founded in 2013 by Denise Castronovo, a Massachusetts native, her love affair with chocolate began when her cousins in Switzerland sent her treats when she was a child. A wife and mother of two, she holds a doctorate in ecology. A previous consulting business she ran looked at threats to rainforests and other ecological problems around the world. A self-proclaimed “foodie,” she devised a plan to combine her love of conservation with her love of chocolate since chocolate comes from cacao trees in the rainforest canopy.
They grow in hot, rainy tropical areas within 20 degrees of latitude from the Equator. There are three main varieties of plants: Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario. Forastero is the most widely used and accounts for 95 percent of cocoa production.
Castronovo works with the rarer Criollo and Trinitario beans harvested from farms in Central and South America. She was the first in the state to offer bean-to-bar service, working with the cacao beans to produce the chocolate bars. Castronovo is committed to every facet of chocolate production. They work with dedicated farmers paying fair wages through an ethical and sustainable supply chain to those farmers who grind, roast and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence. (As of 2014, less than 1 percent of the chocolate market was fair trade.)
Most chocolate consumed in the U.S. comes from large manufacturers that mass-produce candy from cocoa beans harvested at different plantations, with the addition of sugar and artificial flavoring.
Castronovo’s mission is paying off. In late December, The New York Times conducted a blind taste test of 14 bean-to-bar chocolates made in the U.S. Stuart’s own ranked No. 3!
In Pete Wells’ article of Dec. 29, 2015:
“72 percent Sierra Nevada from Colombia ($10 for 2.2 ounces). A first impression of burned sugar and dark bread crust gives way to baked fruit – wild blueberry pie?”
Other awards for the Sierra Nevada Colombia Dark Milk 63 percent include:
- Silver Winner of the International Chocolate Awards Finals 2015 (single-origin micro-batch milk chocolate)
- Gold Winner of the International Chocolate Awards Americas Semifinals 2015 (single-origin micro-batch milk chocolate)
- Bronze Winner of the 2015 Academy of Chocolate Awards (London) (single-origin milk chocolate)
And while not bean-to-bar operations, the Sunshine State has many other chocolate companies that satisfy the most discerning sweet tooth.
As mentioned, Schakolad (combination of words “Schaked” and “Chocolate”) is a Florida success story. Baruch Schaked, co-founder of the company, had been a chocolate maker since 1969, starting his career in Argentina working at his father-in-law’s chocolate factory, one of the largest in South America.
Fast forward to Barcuch’s retirement from a chocolate shop in South Florida, which led to his son Edgar, giving up his engineering career, to keep the family business going. The first Schakolad Chocolate Factory opened in Winter Park in 1995. Then in 1999, the company began franchising their unique process and there are now stores in nine states, with more coming on line.
The Schakolad Factory in Tampa is a popular location. Like all shops, its chocolates are made fresh on the premises using their European-style family recipe. Elsewhere in Florida it has locations in Davie, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, with its corporate headquarters in Kissimmee.
Some other noteworthy chocolatiers around the state:
- Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory in Daytona Beach
- Cacao Art in Miami
- Hoffman’s Chocolates in Lake Worth
- Norman Love Confections® in Fort Myers and Naples
- Oh My Chocolates in West Palm Beach
- Viktoria Richards Chocolates in Tampa
- Whetstone Chocolates in St. Augustine
- William Dean Chocolates in Belleair Bluffs (Pinellas County)
Florida not only has a wonderful variety of chocolatiers around the state, many of the candies are made here and artisanal craft chocolates are contributing to the state’s growing culinary reputation nationally and internationally. And that’s sweet.