Ever since I can remember, I have always held the strong belief that the quality of your ingredients is absolutely essential to the success of the final dish. Growing up with a family who reinforced this (being foodies and always cooking meals from scratch) my love of food and the industry began. I literally love nothing more than a fresh food market; you know those ones in the Mediterranean which have the most beautiful colours scattered among rows and rows of vegetables - I get such a buzz from it. I have also always tried to work with ingredients that are as natural as possible, butter over margarine, fruit purees over essences, fresh cream over UHT, ingredients from my garden. It’s also important to me that at Studio Chocolate we don't use store bought / branded products. Oreos, Mars Bars, Dairy Milk topping a cake, or cupcake for example. I realise these are the nations favourites, we love to see something familiar, but as a seasoned chocolate taster (new job title?) I find the quality to be poor, incredibly sweet, and most of the time, using untraceable ingredients.
I first came across Belcolade’s 55% dark chocolate when I was studying in London - I always saw myself as a milk chocolate fan, but after tasting the bittersweet, rich 55%, my opinion changed. It’s a really great chocolate to work with too; it tempers nicely and rarely splits in a ganache. This was the chocolate that I wanted to work with when starting the business. I had a few customers ask me if we worked with Fairtrade chocolate, so I did a little research (naively thinking of course it would be) and quickly realised it wasn’t that easy to find out where our chocolate came from. A bit of a red flag. This specific company does produce fairtrade/UTZ/sustainably sourced chocolate, but the type we were using wasn’t coming up under any of these categories - and the ones that were, I couldn’t get from any UK supplier. Being a busy gal, it was always on my radar, but not something I prioritised after this - blaming the lack of time I had or ‘everyones using it, so it's obviously fine’ kind of attitude - ultimately I knew I wasn’t going to find out the answers I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this company’s chocolate is unfairly produced, by reading up on their website, I believe they look after their farmers, but my issue was that I didn't know this for sure, and I couldn’t access their fairtrade products easily, something which I, and other chocolatiers should be able to as easily as their non-fairtrade chocolate.
Since George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, my priorities have shifted. I wanted to find out the best way I can change my / Studio Chocolate’s everyday life, to be better and more accountable, supporting black communities and making positive change. Chocolate is a product grown exclusively in the 'cocoa belt', (mainly Africa and the Americas) and primarily farmed by people of colour. Instantly my first port of call was making sure that the chocolate we use is traceable, sustainable and cruelty-free. Of course, this naturally comes with a price increase - that's the whole point at the end of the day, fair prices for everyone involved. However, we’ve been looking at how we can cut costs in other areas so that we can keep our prices the same, continuing to provide the best possible chocolate products without charging our customers any more money (and we have managed to do just that.) We now work with Callebaut’s 54.5% Fairtrade Dark Chocolate and 33.8% Milk Chocolate - and I’ll be continuing my research into sustainably sourced, accessible chocolate.
We as a company are striving to build the following core values:
Sustainability - is our product traceable and sustainable?
Empowerment - is it fairly produced and empowering the lives of workers? Is it inspiring our customers and our team?
Creativity - is what we are creating innovative and true to our aesthetic?
Quality - is it a high quality, delicious and distinctive product?
These will be the four questions that we will ask ourselves when planning product launches, teaching classes, finding new ingredients and working with new clients.
This isn't something I’ve ever wanted to talk about before, (because of the lack of education I had) worrying I’d be asked questions I couldn't answer. However, as a business owner I’ve realised my voice is important, and I’ll be making the effort to speak up more often.
One thing that has bugged me throughout my research, is actually the lack of information and transparency out there. I have really had to dig - this is one of the problems. We live in a fast paced world, we have access to so much information on the internet, yet finding out where our ingredients come from is such a difficult, time consuming task. So we'll be writing to these companies, and if you work, benefit or are involved in this industry, I think it would be very powerful for you to do the same. Another great thing to do would be to become a member of the Cocoa Alliance - an organization who strives to create connections with farmers, makers, and entrepreneurs like myself to create a better cocoa industry - the link to their website is below.
It can be a really uncomfortable feeling reading up on these things, but this is where change happens - and boy do we need it. I’ve attached a really interesting article at the bottom of this post too, which is well worth a read on how female farmers are treated within the cocoa industry, and how we can help.
Sending you all the chocolate love,