How is it possible that another year has come to an end? It seems only weeks ago we were counting down to the ball drop in Times Square. As I reflect over the events of the last year, I realize how fortunate I am to write this column – and not just because I get to sample chocolates.
The stories I covered this year brought me a delicious array of experiences. I interviewed famous pastry chefs…peeked behind the scenes to witness the creation of iconic brands…met energetic, eco-minded chocolatiers and found inspiration in the story of one company’s dedication to changing lives. My travels even had a chocolate theme with an amazing trip to the source of cacao. In case you missed any of these stories, click the links in the following paragraphs to read more as we close out another chocolate filled year.
Among the chocolate companies I covered in 2012 there were three that stood out as unique, enterprising and incredibly delicious. In Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg neighborhood I met Rick and Michael Mast who have pooled their creative talents, their sense of adventure and a natural curiosity to develop a line of American craft chocolates that is New York’s only true bean to bar chocolate. Mast Brothers’ Chocolate offers six single origin bars and a house blend appropriately named Brooklyn Blend. A visit to their factory yields to-die-for aromas as employees take turns roasting, willowing, mixing, tempering and tasting!
Nestled in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, I discovered another enterprising duo. Dan and Jael Rattigan – owners of French Broad Chocolate Lounge – have travelled a most unusual path to their current lives as chocolatiers. After meeting at Jael’s brother’s wedding – where Dan was bartending and Jael did a bit of flirting – the couple spent time living in Costa Rica before returning to the US to open French Broad Chocolate Lounge in downtown Asheville. Committed to sustainable living, Dan even designed a solar powered roaster for roasting cacao.
One of my sweetest discoveries emerged from a trip to Florida’s forgotten coast where George Stritikus opened the Apalachicola Chocolate Company in a beautiful old building in Franklin County, Florida’s biggest town – population 2,200. The waters around Apalachicola are teeming with oysters, clams and other seafood, but George chose to work with something else native to this area. The Apalachicola River basin and nearby Ochlocknee and Chocotahatchee Rivers are the only places in the world that produce certified tupelo honey. This all natural, fat-free honey has a distinctive taste and is the only honey that does not crystallize over time. Turns out the tupelo honey was the perfect ingredient for George’s chocolate walnut turtles. And it turns out these turtles are the best I have ever tasted. Ever.
Besides these amazing chocolatiers, 2012 was a year of anniversaries. We celebrated the 60th birthday of Lindt’s iconic Gold Bunny with a birthday party at the New York Palace Hotel. Thomas Linemayr, President and CEO of Lindt, USA, and celebrity guest, Holly Robinson-Peete were on hand for this very special birthday celebration which also served as the kick-off for the annual LINDT GOLD BUNNY AUCTION to benefit Autism Speaks.
Luxury Belgium chocolatier Neuhaus celebrated the 100th anniversary of the praline with the launch of its dazzling “Precious Collection” where quality jewels and fine chocolate merge to make an exquisite line to rival the likes of Cartier and Tiffany & Co. – but you get to eat the jewels! The celebration took place at Neuhaus’ flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York where this lucky chocolate writer had the opportunity to dip pralines and sample each of these indulgent jewels!
Not only did I sample chocolates this year, I experienced the making of iconic brands with a visit to Ben & Jerry’s headquarters and factory in Vermont where I sampled “off the line” ice cream, said my goodbyes to dearly departed flavors at the Flavor Graveyard, earned my “degree” at Scoop U and even hung out for a bit with ice cream legends Ben and Jerry.
And there was a really cool visit to the M&M’S plant in Hackettstown, New Jersey where Plant Director, Brian Suwalski, gave me a tour and showed me exactly how the world’s cutest candies are made. I loved watching the little M&M’S marching down the conveyor belts to get their colors!
The year 2012 also took me to the ends of the earth (well at least the ends of Belize) to harvest cacao, watch demonstrations of ancient chocolate making techniques and even make my own chocolate bars during Chocolate Week at the Cotton Tree Lodge.
Amid all the chocolate tasting and experiences, I also found inspiration in the story of Greyston Bakery. Founded in 1982 by a Zen Buddhist meditation group led by Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, Greyston Bakery was started for the purpose of creating jobs for people who were considered to be unemployable by customary businesses. I sat down with one of those people, Drew, who (after spending time in prison) was able to turn his life around because of this bakery. His is just one of many stories…inspiration for us all. Their motto: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”
So as we bid adieu to 2012, I wish you all a Happy New Year filled with inspiration, adventures and all things chocolate!