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Oct '08

A Passion For Chocolate: Remembering the Co-Founder of Scharffen Berger

“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” –African Proverb

19 years ago, after being diagnosed with a deadly form of lymph cancer, Harvard educated M.D. Robert Steinberg traded in his stethoscope and decided to follow his passion wherever it would take him.

That passion turned out to be chocolate. Soon Steinberg found himself flying to Lyon, France, about to start an internship with the Bernachon Chocolate Company.

“It was like pulling the disguise off of something. Here’s chocolate, this thing that we all think we know, but you look under the surface and it’s something different.”

When he returned, he teamed up with former patient John Scharffenberger who was in the process of selling what had been his namesake winery.

Together, using such simple tools as a mortar and pestle and a coffee grinder, they experimented with dozens of varieties of cacao beans in Steinberg’s kitchen, using a hair dryer to help control the texture and flow of the chocolate, according to this interesting Los Angeles Times profile.

As the article states…

Scharffen Berger was the first U.S. chocolatier to prominently feature the cacao content on its wrappers — the higher the number, the darker and more bitter the chocolate. The source of beans was also noted, undoubtedly a point of pride for Steinberg, who traveled the world searching for flavorful beans…Julia Child reportedly proclaimed Scharffen Berger the best chocolate she had tasted in the U.S.”

According to this Wikipedia article, Scharffen Berger imports beans from a range of cacao-growing countries and regions, including Venezuela, Ghana, Madagascar, the Caribbean, and Indonesia. Each bean variety is individually roasted and melanged in small batches, then blended with large-crystal cane sugar and whole bean Tahitian and Bourbon vanillas before being conched into liquid chocolate. Manufacturing takes about 40 hours.

In 2006, Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger collaborated on the cookbook, Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate.

You can also enjoy some of Scharffenberger’s chocolate recipes which are online here.

As John Scharffenberger once said in the Oakland Tribune, “We’ve gone through a food revolution in this country. The one thing that remained to be done was chocolate, and that’s what we hit on.”

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