Our love affair with chocolate has always been strong, but since the craft chocolate movement began, our burning desire for the flavorful escape has only deepened. Bean-to-bar chocolatiers create better chocolate – yes, better than that bar of Sea Salt Soiree you have hidden on top of your refrigerator – by controlling each step of the chocolate-making process. They roast the cacao beans, crack and winnow, grind them into cocoa, and then add their own unique flavors before tempering, molding and packaging the chocolate.
One such company is our very own Castronovo Chocolate, which is the only small-batch artisanal chocolate factory in Florida, located near downtown Stuart. Owned and operated by Denise and Jim Castronovo, Castronovo Chocolate was started three years ago and has been in its current retail location since July of 2013. Denise produces single-origin chocolate bars as well as truffles, bonbons, meltaways, white chocolate, and, on Thursday and Friday, Denise bakes up Castronovo’s famous chocolate chip cookies.
“At a glance, all chocolate making looks the same,” explains Castronovo’s website. “We salute the few craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate-making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.”
Denise has not always been a chocolate maker; in fact, she spent many years working as an ecological consultant. Her foray into chocolate making was actually quite an organic (pun intended) progression.
“I have been interested in rainforest ecology for a long time and I began realizing that the cacao can play an important role in protecting the rainforest in a sustainable manner by building an economy for the products of the rainforest,” she explained. “I was able to find some unique sources for cacao and once I started learning more and more about chocolate, I realized that you get different flavors depending on the region that produces the cacao … and I wanted to bring some of the finest quality cocoa beans here and start making some of the finest quality chocolate in the world.”
Denise took home a bronze medal at the International Chocolate Awards’ Americas Semi-Finals in New York for her Rare Cacao Collection’s Sierra Nevada Dark Milk Bar in the single-origin milk category. The 63% cacao bar, which retails online for $48 per four-pack, is produced with a mix of Criollo and Trinitario cacao from Columbia and is harvested by indigenous Arhuaco workers.
As well-versed as Denise is about chocolate, she is also very educated and aware of the hardships that cacao farmers face in countries all over the world.
“We pay three to four times the commodity price for the bean,” explains Denise. “We also trade directly with the farmers or the cooperatives, which ensures a higher value goes right to the farmers. In Belize, where we’ve worked with some of the farmers, there has actually been some research that has shown that, through transactions like ours, the income of the farmers has grown about 20 percent and the enrollment of school-age children has increased like 85 percent.”
In addition to these tangible and positive outcomes, Denise gushed about a current project going on in Belize: Maya Mountain Cacao, an organization that connects 330 cacao farmers in Southern Belize to chocolate makers in the United States, is planting an organic agroforestry cocoa farm with the indigenous Maya. The farm will provide environmental conservation by conserving the canopy and creating a diverse ecosystem by planting, in addition to cacao, agriculture such as avocado, bananas, plantains and black pepper while avoiding slash-and-burn farming. Additionally, the farm will increase cacao production 50 percent over current countrywide production and will create jobs for Belizeans. Furthermore, the farm will serve as an educational tool, providing both farmers and those in the cocoa industry with information on how to farm with an environmentally friendly, commercial attitude.
“Belize has sold out of beans to six craft chocolate makers and there are currently 70 craft chocolate makers in America on the waiting list for beans, myself included. So the agroforest will create more production, which will give us more supply, which will help the farmers make more money,” Denise said. “I really love when the whole story just comes together like that – conservation of forestry, better prices for the farmers, and I get to make really great chocolate and share it with the world.”
For more information on Castronovo Chocolate, please visit www.castronovochocolate.com, call (561) 512-7236, or stop by their shop at 555 S Colorado Ave. in Stuart. Additionally, you can find Castronovo Chocolate at the Palm Beach Gardens GreenMarket on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the City Hall Municipal Complex, 10500 N Military Trail.
To find out more about Maya Mountain Cacao and their agroforestry endeavor, please visit www.mayamountaincacao.com.