Mother’s Day is coming up and you may be thinking about getting someone special a chocolate bar. Considering so many women receive chocolate on this holiday, We thought why not focus on a few women who do the chocolate-making?
At Provisions, we carry several companies that are women owned/operated. In the chocolate world, both historically and in the bean-to-bar sector, most of the companies are owned by men, which you may find surprising given the demographics on chocolate consumption. Nonetheless, either as a holdover from the male dominated culinary world, or as an outgrowth of the male dominated business world, there are relatively few woman-owned chocolate makers. (Interestingly there are numerous female cheesemakers -at least in the U.S.). So let’s dive into a few of our female favorites and take a journey from Ouanaminthe, Haiti to Bentonville, Arkansas and on to Washington D.C!
New to Provisions (and Michigan) this week, is Askanya Chocolate which is made in Haiti from Haitian cacao! Corinne Joachim Sanon Symietz, founded Askanya Chocolate in 2015. Born and raised in Haiti, she had accomplished many of her personal goals by obtaining a degree in Industrial Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!), and going on to a successful career in business, before earning an MBA from Wharton in 2011. Corinne made good money and had done well for herself, but she wanted to do more for others - especially her fellow Haitians. While many people in the craft-chocolate industry are driven by a passion for the products, Corinne is passionate about the people behind them. Someone with her education and resume could easily work in almost any field with great earning potential but she had three main goals for her next endeavor:
- To create jobs in Haiti
- That those jobs would employ farmers, since many Haitians participate in agriculture for low wages and also create blue-collar jobs in the process
- That the benefits of this endeavor would primarily impact areas outside Port Au Prince
With these goals in mind, she began to research agricultural products that could achieve this mission. In this research, she found that Haitian cacao was a high quality product and had a number of advantages over other more traditional crops. Also, because cacao could be grown and then made into chocolate within Haiti, it was a crop that could benefit farmers while creating blue-collar jobs. Interestingly, Corinne doesn’t really eat much chocolate but her passion for the product itself does not suffer. From the labor and sourcing to the packaging, her chocolate speaks of a passion for the natural bounty of her homeland and the people who live there.
Just as many other makers are meticulous and dedicated to their craft, Corinne’s background in engineering shines through with a carefully conceived product made to exacting standards. She refines her chocolate for 72 hours in a rotary conche, also known as a melangeur. This is no small feat in a country that suffers from constant rolling blackouts; and as such, Askanya requires the use of a generator to make the chocolate. Because the refining is done on generator power, some may take issue with the carbon footprint of Askanya Chocolate. While not ideal, it seems that the trade-off is worth it. Corinne is intent on employing people in a country with a GDP per capita of less than $800 per year. In fact, she is now buying cacao direct from farmers. Currently, she is paying each farmer around $2000 a year which, at 2.5 times the per capita GDP, puts those families into the Haitian middle-class. So, if you get a chance, try some Askanya and support a person who is using her skills and education to truly impact the lives of others ...and making something sweet in the process! We are currently carrying four Askanya chocolate bars in the store:
- Perle Rare - a 90% dark chocolate that is slightly rustic and superbly deep without getting into the "dirt" territory of many bars this dark
- Minuit - a 60% dark chocolate, straightforward also on the rustic side but not coarse
- Wanga Nègès - the "hummingbird" in creole. This 50% bar has rapadou, an unrefined cane sugar in place of white sugar. The rapadou gives it a very strong rum and brown sugar flavor profile
- Paradis - a beautiful and rustic 47% milk chocolate bar. Darker than most but very approachable!
Now, onto Bentonville Arkansas for a visit to Markham and Fitz! We recently brought Markham and Fitz chocolate into the shop after tasting some of their great work. They are headed up by Lauren Blanco, co-founder and CEO, who, with her partner Preston Stewart, began Markham and Fitz in 2014. She had worked for non-profits, traveling to Africa, and wanted to do something in the the private sector. Lauren’s ideal organization was one that had a positive impact on the environment, community and could also turn a profit - something called a “triple bottom line” company. One thing we at provisions love about Lauren’s company is how transparent they are with their cacao sourcing! Every bar not only lists a country of origin for the cacao, but also specifies the exact farm or co-op that they are buying from. They also use recyclable and compostable packaging for their bars! Right now, we have three options from Markham and Fitz in the store:
- a really great 52% Dark Milk Chocolate and Pecans from Matagalpa, Nicaragua
- a bright 70% Dominican Republic straight dark from OKO Caribe (my favorite)
- and a 75% Haitian from the PISA co-op
Finally, we wanted to highlight Harper Macaw. Right now, we only have one bar from this awesome woman-owned company but we certainly plan on carrying more in the future. Sarah and Colin Hartman opened Harper Macaw in 2015 and quickly made a mark on the craft chocolate industry with their unique approach and catchy branding. The two met at NYU for undergrad. Sarah is Brazilian and Colin was a former Marine. I had a chance to speak with Colin about the company since Sarah is on maternity leave after the birth of her second child.
Sarah had always had a passion for cooking and culinary pursuits and she realized no one in the craft chocolate industry was focusing on Brazilian cacao. Initially, she hoped to make the chocolate in Brazil but eventually realized there were numerous logistical and market barriers to doing so. Eventually, she and Colin settled on Washington D.C. Nonetheless, her commitment to the home country is strong with the use of Brazilian-built equipment for making chocolate and direct trade relationships with farmers. Like Markham and Fitz, Harper Macaw’s packaging is recyclable and compostable. They are also working on sourcing from a new origin in the Dominican Republic with the goal of getting great cacao from Zorzal Cacao - a company which is establishing a 1,000 acre bird sanctuary and cacao farm. We currently have the Bourbon Barrel aged 75% dark chocolate from Harper Macaw on the shelf, but expect more in the coming months. Happy Mother’s Day to Sarah!