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A Chocolate Long Shot

A Chocolate Long Shot

Hello and good day!

Sometimes I forget what a long shot it was for us to end up in the chocolate business. It was a long time ago now, so it has come to feel pretty normal. We've been living with it for a long time.

Our family had no plans to be a chocolate company and no inkling that it was something we were going to do.

Here is a moment in time that floors me to think about.

We'd already received results from the USDA verifying that my brother Brian had come across a variety of cacao that was thought to be extinct. Brian had already moved out to the jungle to start buying and processing cacao. After powering through many failed attempts, he had reason to believe that he'd mastered the process of fermenting and drying.

His confidence was based on results from a flavor testing lab in Peru. We didn't have any real world verification though. No chocolate company had made chocolate with our cacao yet.

There was a small machine that was being demoed in Las Vegas, called the Chocoeasy. It was an all in one chocolate making machine. It turned out to be a very finnicky machine that required a lot of maintenance. We almost bought one to try and make chocolate ourselves.

Thank goodness we didn't.

However, the gentleman putting on the demo needed cacao and we offered to let him use our cacao for the demo. This was the very first time chocolate was made with the cacao we'd been buying and processing. We had zero experience in the chocolate world.

My brother and dad started the business on pure instinct. We didn't even know what good chocolate was supposed to taste like.

As the machine started grinding up roasted cacao over heat, the most amazing aromas started to fill the air. The owner of the place where the demo was happening, who was a long time industry veteran, and who is still a friend of ours to this day, couldn't believe what he was smelling.

When the chocolate was finished, he told us that this cacao was something special. He started calling in chefs from around Vegas to come try the chocolate and they were blown away too.

This was a great moment, but it isn't the moment I am thinking of.

As we explored our options for making chocolate, the opportunity to go to Switzerland to meet with a company called Max Felchlin AG presented itself. Max Felchlin AG is a 110 year old Swiss chocolate making company. They are the company that manufactures our chocolate to this day.

Word had gotten out about our cacao and a friend of a friend put the meeting together for us. We didn't know what would come out of the meeting, we just knew that we couldn't pass up the opportunity to go see Felchlin.

They manufacture chocolate using cacao from the most famous cacao origins in the world and they sell their chocolate to the highest end dessert professionals throughout Europe and Asia.

Felchlin isn't very well known in the United States.Valrhona, Callebaut, Belcolade, and Guittard are much better known and more widely used in the USA.

But Felchlin is a big league place. They have an outstanding reputation. We sent a 100 pound sample of cacao in advance of my dad flying to Switzerland to meet with Felchlin's head of chocolate production, Sepp Schonbachler.

When my dad arrived in Schwyz, Switzerland he was astound to find Felchlin rolling out the red carpet for him. They were treating him like a hero. Sepp told Dan that this cacao was the best new origin he had seen in more than 6 years.

Sepp said that everything about the cacao was spectacular.

The natural flavors were delicious and Sepp was especially impressed with the post harvest processing protocol that my brother Brian had built from the ground up. The Swiss are fanatical about precision in processing.

I remember my dad calling me on the phone from Switzerland to give me an update on his trip. He was beaming.

Not only was Felchlin impressed, but we had managed to win our first customer, a chain of Swiss bakeries owned by a gentleman named Roger von Rotz.

Not only that, Felchlin agreed to do something that they weren't doing for any other American companies. They agreed to make chocolate for us on a contract basis.

They normally bought cacao and sold chocolate.

They weren't a contract manufacturer, but that is what we were looking for because it was the model that would allow us to pay cacao farmers much higher premiums. Because Felchlin wanted to be involved with such a special project, they bent their own rules and agreed to work on our preferred terms.

That phone call was such a good moment. It was such a long shot.

And here we still are 13 years later and Felchlin is still making our chocolate. They are using the same recipe that was formulated on my dad's very first trip. We'll be using that recipe for our 68% dark chocolate for the rest of time, hopefully.

Long shots aren't common. But they do come through sometimes. Kind of reminds me of an expression that I like. "You can't kick a lucky goal, if you aren't in the game".

My dad and brother are experts at getting in the game.

Thankfully they were able to score a lucky goal!

I hope at you have a truly blessed day!


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