Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

A Bitter Bar To Swallow

Friday, October 18th, 2013
Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique
Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011

Here’s a bit of bitter, not better, news for chocolate enthusiasts. Due to higher world-wide demand for chocolate and bad weather in the cacao growing regions, the price of chocolate is expected to rise, especially for premium chocolate.

Rising demand in Asia along with bad weather for major cocoa crops in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia are driving costs up significantly. The price of cocoa butter, which is used to make chocolate, is at an all time high—up 80% in just the last 7 months.

The cost of making the average milk chocolate bar is up 25% in the past year; however retail prices have only risen by 7%, because the big chocolate makers want to avoid pricing consumers out of their cravings.

If you like higher-quality dark chocolate, you’ll probably see prices going up much more. If left to our politicians, who want to control everything, they might propose creating a Department of Chocolate and a chocolate welfare program to manage the “global chocolate crisis.”

If you want a unilateral solution, however, you might wait until Nov. 1 and then stuff your freezer full of Trick or Treat leftovers to tide you through the end of the year. After all, as I write this, we don’t even have a functioning government. Better yet, indulge early and often with the good stuff—Choclatique.

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The ChocolateDoctor’s Tracking Down the Source of Chocolate: Equatorial Guinea

Friday, August 9th, 2013
Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique
Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011

I have had four careers in the last 45 years….a producer for ABC-TV covering the war in Vietnam, an art director and director in the film industry, a restaurateur with over 350 establishments and the co-founder of Choclatique. I’ve shot great action films and been shot at. I have directed famous and popular movie stars and have been credited with producing one of the top ten worst movies in history. I’ve opened restaurants that have been spectacular successes and one which was a spectacular failure. The most fun I have had has been the development of the brand and the fantastic products we make at Choclatique.

Last month I spent several weeks in Equatorial Guinea which, up until the mid twentieth century, was a large exporter of cocoa beans. I was in search of discovering great chocolate on the Dark Continent (If you prepare the recipe for Sofitel’s Cold, Welcoming Chocolate Beverage you will see and taste exactly what I mean about great chocolate). The Spanish brought a cocoa culture to Spanish Guinea, now known as Equatorial Guinea, West Africa in the late 1700’s.

Equatorial Guinea is on the west coast of equatorial Africa, bordered by Cameroon to the north and Gabon to the south and east. Malabo, the capital, is exactly 3 degrees north of the equator (I proved this out with my trusty iPhone compass and GPS system). It has the perfect climate and just the right amount of rainfall to grow great cacao, the fruit from which chocolate is made. A tiny country, it is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. This includes the mainland (Río Muni), as well as three coastal islets (Corisco, Elobey Grande, and Elobey Chico) and two islands (Bioko and Annobóon). The larger of these is Bioko, formerly known as Fernando Po which is 25 miles off the coast of Cameroon. Mangrove swamps lie along the coast of the island. Río Muni is mainly tropical rain forest and is home to a variety of animals, including gorillas, snakes, chimpanzees, monkeys, leopards, elephants, and crocodiles.

Bioko was most important because of its cocoa plantations and proved to be one of Spain’s most profitable territories in Africa. When the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, the Spanish began to invest more in the development of Equatorial Guinea. The country experienced increasing prosperity with the aid of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church. Industry grew, and cocoa and timber contributed to a strong economy.

Independence was declared in 1968. With the departure of Spain the country was left in dire straits. Many of the plantations were deserted and reclaimed by the rain forest. Today the country is rebuilding and establishing a great degree of political and economic stability. With the discovery of oil and other valuable natural resources their efforts are noticeable. On Bioko, the majority of the population lives in the City of Malabo, which is Equatorial Guinea’s capital. The city is clean, and its older architecture exhibits Spanish influence while the new buildings resemble the skyline of a major American city. There are new roads being built and construction cranes throughout the city showcase the efforts of Turkish and Chinese contractors.

The main foods are cassava root, bananas, rice, papaya, mango and yams. People also hunt and fish for protein. Palm wine and malamba (an alcoholic drink made from sugarcane) are both mild and popular.

Before independence, Equatorial Guinea’s primary source of income was from Spanish-grown cocoa production. With their departure, production fell significantly leaving plantations to be reclaimed by the jungle. Over the last couple of weeks I hiked into the jungle to find these old plantations and see for myself what remained of these vast growing areas. I was pleasantly surprised to see many old heirloom plants had survived the neglect and lack of attended cultivation. The cacao I found is most likely Forastero or Criollo (only testing will tell for sure). I estimate that the trees are probably about 200 years old and may very will be derived from the ancient cacao plants that would have been found in ancient Aztec civilizations and shipped to the colony.

Like superb wine and premium olive oils, fine chocolates all carry a signature flavor. Their distinctive flavors start with the original ingredient… the cacao bean. Wine grapes vary by varietal, region of origin, harvesting methods and weather. So, too, do cacao beans with the additional complications caused by the remoteness of the growing area and the fermenting and drying environment. Sophisticated connoisseurs of chocolate claim they can identify the country of origin, cacao tree type and processing methods; and can detect whether a chocolate comprises beans from a single estate (“terroir”) or blends. I’m pretty good at tasting, but not that good.

Before the mapping of the cacao genus a couple of years ago it was thought that there were only three varieties of heirloom cacao: the Criollo, the Trinitario and the Forastero. This is now being rethought as testing is proving that there may be more varieties than originally thought. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) now has the technology to help identify and map the various plants around the world.

Grown mainly in Central America, the Criollo represents only 1% of world’s fine chocolate production. Some exceptionally rare Criollo is harvested only by dugout canoe deep in the Amazon rainforest. Its cacao is fine and sweet, with complex flavor notes. The Forastero, grown largely in West Africa and South America, comprises about 80 percent of world’s fine chocolate production and has a strong, bold taste. The Trinitario is a flavorful bean and contains qualities of both trees and is grown throughout the world, producing about five percent of world fine chocolate output.

The most exciting part of the venture which eclipsed most everything else was the national energy to make a better life for all of the people who live there. It is more than just the construction of new buildings and roads and the discovery of oil which pays for much of it. It is the people who were most giving and hospitable. With all that is going on in the world today it was great to be welcomed as an American and treated so well by everyone I met and worked with. I am looking forward to returning back later in the year.

Choclatique creates chocolate for connoisseurs and for people who just love great chocolate. Our award-winning truffles and bars demonstrate our attention to artistic presentation and flavor perfection. Every day, our chocolatiers craft each piece using the finest ingredients. We use our premium blends of dark, milk and white chocolate made from premium cacao beans from around the world. And we continually search for rare and emerging cacao plantations from which we can source. We use only the finest ingredients: fresh cream and butter; and the finest liqueurs, nuts, fruits and spices. The secret to our success is allowing the natural chocolate flavors to dominate our truffles. We don’t use artificial flavors or preservatives.

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Authentically American

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique
Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011

Made In USAI’m old enough to remember when the words, Made in America, printed on the back of a label still meant something. It stood for both functional and innovative products made by caring United States labor.

Evening NewsNow I don’t have to watch the evening news to realize finding Made in America products has become a challenge. I tried to take a simple test this week to “buy American” and it was hard for me to identify eco-friendly, stylish items that are both beautiful and affordable and Made in America. There are still small, innovative companies, like Choclatique that are proving that job creation, manufacturing pride and technological innovation still allow U.S.-based companies to win the battle to survive in this challenging economy, but they are few and far between.

Manufacturing JobsMany people think only about price when making a purchase. They should also think about the quality of what they are buying and where it is manufactured… not only for the carbon footprint, but also to keep people employed in the United States. For the last 150 years, a factory job was an opportunity to step into the middle class—and to ensure opportunities for the next generation. In the past twenty years, we have let many manufacturing jobs slip away—shipped precious equipment and knowhow overseas neglecting to pass down the intellectual knowledge base to our offspring thus crippling our ability to preserve the manufacturing sector for future generations.

FordFinally, some of our leaders are starting to understand that this may very well be our undoing and they have begun a return to a somewhat ethnocentric view of purchasing items that are made in the USA, not only to preserve jobs and skills, but also to assure they’re purchasing quality products. The manufacturers must also continue their emphasis on quality and remain focused on being price-conscious as well. This is the only way to ensure that the manufacturing sector will begin to rebound.

Hot Fudge Sundae TruffleWhen we started Choclatique, one of our marketing group co-workers’ children was celebrating his 11th birthday with a box of Choclatique chocolate truffles. After eating Root Beer Float and Hot Fudge Sundae truffles he declared to his dad that these were Authentically American. First thing Monday morning, Tom came in with our new tag line thought up by his son.

Chocolate MoldsThese two words help us continue to execute our company mission. It became an imperative to buy as much Made in America products as possible. Choclatique’s procurement policy is to buy sustainable, American-made and sourced products. Obviously there is very little chocolate grown in the United States—just a few farms on the Hawaiian Islands. But all of our chocolate is processed right here in California along with all of our natural flavors, extracts and compounds. Double-faced satin ribbon is made in New England, molds are made in Buffalo. Everything chocolate we make is made right here in our California Chocolate Studios by professional artists and chocolatiers who are all American citizens or craftsmen and women with legal status to work in the United States. We are proud to be Americans and support the United States economy.

Chocolate ChipsLike this week’s blog above, I want to share an Authentically American easy-to-make recipe—No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares—that uses American Chocolate from Choclatique, Grape Jelly from Smucker’s and Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter made from US-grown peanuts. I hope you enjoy it.

The ChocolateDoctor’s No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter SquaresTotal Time: 45 minutes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Refrigeration Time: 30 minutes

Makes: 24 squares

This is one of those habit forming Authentically American favorites that everyone remembers from their childhood—only better. It has a layer of creamy sweet peanut butter topped with jelly and a layer of chocolate. It is similar to those famous peanut butter cups you find in an orange wrapper, but with an added treat of the grape jelly. This recipe is quick and simple to make, requires no baking and is luscious and fulfilling every time.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter
2 cups creamy peanut butter (I prefer Skippy)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup Concord grape jelly (I prefer Smucker’s)
2 cups (12 ounces) Choclatique Dark Chocolate Chips

Directions:

  1. Melt 1/4 pound (1 stick) of the butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar and graham cracker crumbs. This will make a stiff dough for the base.
  2. Spread dough in a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Press down evenly. Next, evenly spread the jelly over the graham cracker base. Refrigerate while making the next steps.
  3. Melt remaining 1/4 pound (1 stick) of butter over low heat or in a microwave oven. Add the chocolate chips and continue to heat. When the chocolate is soft, stir gently. Continue heating until lumps are all melted. Stir, and then spread this mixture over the peanut butter layer.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, and then cut into squares. Store covered in the refrigerator.

If you’re interested in learning more about chocolate, its effects on the human body and improving your disposition, buy Choclatique—150 Simply Elegant Desserts. It is a great anytime gift and most importantly, the recipes make luscious tasting desserts perfectly the first time and every time thereafter. It is a foolproof guide to making all of your favorite desserts and improving your sweet disposition and those all around you.

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The Mouse That Roared

Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique
Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011

In the 1959 movie The Mouse that Roared, staring Peter Sellers, an impoverished backward nation declares war on the United States of America, hoping to lose, but things don’t go according to plan. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick decides that the only way to get out of their economic woes is to declare war on the United States, lose and accept foreign aid.

While not the fantasy story, from the late ’50 through the 60’s the United States and Vietnam suffered though a terrible war that in one way or another disrupted both countries. But here is a great example of the resiliency of the Vietnamese and the benefits and generosity of foreign aid from the people of the America.

The Sustainable Cocoa Enterprise Solutions for Smallholders (SUCCESS) Alliance program in Vietnam is a public-private partnership consisting of USAID, USDA, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), Mars Inc. and ACDI/VOCA. Since the $5.5 million program started in 2003 under USDA’s Food for Progress funding, it has grown to include new farmers, areas, partners and donors.

This initiative builds on past successful cocoa programs in Indonesia and the Philippines and on ACDI/VOCA’s strong relationship with the cocoa industry. The SUCCESS Alliance increases smallholder farmers’ incomes in Vietnam through the introduction of sustainable, diversified, cocoa-based agroforestry systems. Since cocoa is a new crop to Vietnam, the program is focusing on building a sustainable cocoa industry from the ground up. When the first SUCCESS Alliance cocoa seedlings were planted in 2004, there were only about 1,600 hectares of cocoa plantings in all of Vietnam, mainly at state-owned farms. Over the past 6 years, the project has increased and diversified farmer incomes in southern Vietnam by producing high-quality cocoa on approximately 8,500 hectares of land. It has trained over 22,000 smallholder farmers in southeastern Vietnam and the Central Highlands in cocoa production using sustainable cropping practices. In addition, ACDI/VOCA has established cocoa bean quality standards and provided monitoring and training assistance to ensure farmers meet and maintain a level of cocoa bean quality that is required by the global market.

The initial program, focused on cocoa production areas in the four main provinces—Ben Tre and Tien Giang in the Mekong delta and Ba Ria Vung Tau and Binh Phuoc in the southeast region. These areas have favorable climatic and soil conditions and local government commitments to cocoa development. Cocoa farms in these provinces began to produce cocoa within 18 months of initial planting and as of 2009 were reaching full production. Peak production is expected to be between 1.5 to 2.0 metric tons per hectare. These new cocoa farmers are independent smallholders who sell their cocoa through private, free enterprise channels into the world market.

To date, 5,147 smallholder farmers in the Central Highlands who received cocoa seedlings and training in cocoa cultivation have adopted cocoa production as part of their farming system. USAID’s assistance in the Central Highlands has helped the SUCCESS Alliance to distribute over 900,000 seedlings and expand cocoa cultivation area in the Central Highlands by 1,547 hectares. Cocoa planted in 2007 in the Central Highlands has started to produce early fruit.

Another addition to cocoa development in Vietnam was a small pilot project that was started in 2007 in the Lam Dong Province of the Central Highlands. This pilot program helps local growers on 40-hectare plots of land develop cocoa within the forest ecosystem. This demonstrates that cocoa can successfully be grown under the forest canopy and intercropped with other economic trees. While some commercial agriculture has led to land clearance and threatened biodiversity, cocoa farming can be part of the solution for both local livelihood and conservation.

With donor support from USAID, USDA, the U.S. chocolate industry, and local partners, the SUCCESS Alliance is well on its way to building a new and sustainable smallholder cocoa economy in Vietnam.

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