In the first outing for our group of friends in Washington, DC, Pauline, Rootbeer, Writergirl, J and I went to Hershey, Pennsylvania to see the Hershey Chocolate factory. The day itself was a blast and we had a lot of fund spending time with people who would become our dearest friends. The one disappointment was that the Hershey tour was simply a bland, It’s a Small World-style ride with bad dioramas of chocolate plantations. We wanted to see THE FACTORY. We wanted conveyor belts and machines.
So J’s parents came into town last Tuesday. There were food things we absolutely had to do: go to Chez Panisse and go to the Scharffen berger chocolate factory. J’s mom LOVES dark chocolate. Because of its popularity, you need to make reservations for the free tour. We were lucky to get a slot at 1:30pm on Saturday.
Saturday was our foodie day. It was a perfect day with plenty of sunshine and cool weather. We went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in the morning and went straight to the chocolate factory to have lunch at their café. Lunch was wonderful. The service was the friendliest we’ve ever had and the food was excellent. The standout was the white bean soup which brought back Proustian memories for my Mother in Law of her own mother’s white bean soup.
As requested by the people at Scharffen Berger, we went to the gift shop at 1:20 pm to check in. It gave us time to case the joint and try the intensely sweet hot chocolate. Our group of 25, was led outside by our tour guide. I totally heart our tour guide. She was informative, cheeky, and fun. I really want her to have her own reality show. She’s that funny.
The tour started with a history of the neighborhood and building. Scharffen Berger only recently acquired the building, which was almost all brick and allowed for a more stable temperature. It had previously been owned by the Kona Coffee Company which fold under the scandal that they weren’t buying Kona Coffee beans but cheaper beans from somewhere else.
We were then led into the classroom where there were pictures of cacao trees and heavy machinery. We learned a lot during our hour with the tour guide. First Scharffen Berger Phun Phact – Mr. Scharffenberger was already a successful vinter with a namesake winery. It was sold to some conglomerate who had the rights to the Scharffenberger name. When Mr. Scharffenberger wanted to start his chocolate company, he made a deal to call his chocolate Scharffen (separate word) Berger so as not to violate the winery copyright. The other piece of info was the reassurance that even though they sold their company to Hershey, they had complete autonomy to make their chocolate however they wanted.
Next came the scratch and sniff portion. We were told about how cacao grows and what kind of fruit it is. I will say, I am the Tracy Flick of factory tours. I will answer every question correctly and ask more questions to stump the tour guide. There was no stumping this tour guide however, she knew everything and she presented her information in a fun and accessible way. We touched the big cacao fruit and sniffed unprocessed cacao beans and then sniffed the hulled cacao beans. We heard about the vintage chocolate process machines imported from Poland and Italy.
Our classroom time ended with the taste part of the tour. Our Friendly Tour Guide passed out samples of the dark, dark chocolate and talked about why Sharffen Berger is so awesome – it’s all about the ingredients: cacao, vanilla, sugar and cocoa butter with a little bit of soy lecithin. Along with the dark chocolate, we had a sample of their nibby chocolate bar, dark chocolate with cacao nibs. With less cacao, this chocolate was a great! And the nibbies! So tasty! In fact we got a taste of sugar coated cacao nibs from Dagoba (a sister company). But my favorite was their milk chocolate bar. With a 50% cacao ratio, the milk chocolate had all the flavor but less of the bitterness. Because the Berkley factory is kosher, the milk chocolate is send to a plant in Pennsylvania.
Finally we got to tour the factory. It’s amazing what a small artisanal operation they are. What they make in a year is what Hershey’s makes in a month. The “lecture” really set us up to be knowledgeable about what the machine did and how they made chocolate. Our tour ended at the gift shop where they shoved more samples of chocolate down our throats and we bought a hefty amount of chocolate ourselves.
I am totally impressed with Scharffen Berger. I love that they treat making chocolate they was most people treat making wine. I love that the entire factor smell like chocolate and they take so much care to educate people about the chocolate making process.
As an aside, while we were in Berkeley, we went to the Cal Berkeley campus forgetting it was game day for their football team. Walking around the campus, we passed by the band and pep rally running to the football stadium. The band stopped, pointed to my Fatheri n Law and chanted, “Take of that RED shirt.” They then pointed to J and said “AND HAT!” Ah football rivalries.