I have to admit that I'm not as big a chocolate fan as one might expect from such a food-obsessed person. Likely it stems from my pre-pubescent inability to eat the "food of the gods." I grew up with vanilla Easter bunnies (gross), Tiger's Milk Bars, and carob powder in my milk. But once I hit puberty, things changed. All of a sudden the world of chocolate opened up to me. You might think that I just went crazy and ate as much chocolate as I could stomach, but having lived my whole life up until that point without it, I didn't have much of a taste for it. Besides, this was back in the 80s in Texas, where there wasn't much more than Hershey's bars, M&Ms, and Little Debbie snack cakes to feed your chocolate fix.
As I grew older, and more food-savvy, I learned that I actually did enjoy chocolate, but only the finest, darkest, and typically European chocolate. And when I moved to the Bay Area over a decade ago, my chocolate world really did open up. It started with Scharffen Berger, a local chocolate manufacturer. The company was founded in the mid-1990s by Dr. Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger, two friends who decided to bring artisanal European chocolate production methods back the the States (lucky us!). In 2001, the company became so big that they moved to their current Berkeley location.
Recently, a group of us went on the factory tour, which I highly recommend. You should especially try to go during business hours when they are producing the chocolate. Free, one-hour tours are available every day, but you have to reserve in advance. The guide takes the group into a large room where the story of chocolate is told. You even get to play with the cacao and taste different types of chocolate (including the yummy, nutty nibs). The guide then leads the group through the factory, explaining each of the stages of chocolate-making. Having toured the Guittard Chocolate Company, located in Burlingame, a few years back, I was surprised by how small the Scharffen Berger factory was, given the amount of chocolate they produce. But keeping the chocolate production on a smaller scale makes all the difference in producing a truly artisanal product.
And speaking of that product, Scharffen Berger offers a range of dark chocolates, including semisweet, bittersweet (my favorite), extra dark, and milk chocolate. I even like their milk chocolate, something I never thought that I'd say. They also offer a new line of single-estate chocolates which if you can believe it are a step above their typical offerings (we recently tried Venezuela, which might have surpassed their bittersweet as my new favorite). So, while I'm definitely not obsessed with chocolate, I'm happy that I have my very own boutique chocolate maker on my side of the Bay.