Guittard Chocolate: A Fountain of Innovation
By Jennifer Woolley
Innovation and artisanry are thriving in the chocolate industry. From novel recipes and exotic ingredients to programs that improve the sustainability of raising cacao, there has never been better time to be a chocoholic.
However, only a handful of companies actually produce the chocolate used to develop these creative new bars, truffles and bon-bons. One of these companies is Guittard Chocolate Company, located in Burlingame.
Most consumers might not recognize the name but they have certainly enjoyed their products. Big names such as See’s and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory have been clients for decades. And some of the most imaginative pastry chefs and chocolatiers, both local and national, use Guittard products to take flavor and originality to new heights.
You might be surprised to learn that Guittard Chocolate Company is over 100 years old, with heritage dating back to 1868 when Etienne Guittard opened his shop in San Francisco. Since then, five generations of family have led the industry in innovation and quality. In this way, Guittard has been and continues to be a cornerstone for the creativity we see as consumers, as it has led the chocolate industry in sustainability practices, production techniques and product development.
Farmers and Cacao
Gary Guittard, fourth-generation chocolate maker and current CEO of Guittard, is proud of the work that the company has done to ensure the longevity and quality of the chocolate supply chain. Guittard uses Fair Trade Certified and Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa beans. The company works directly with cacao growers around the world to ensure farm success and crop sustainability. They have developed innovative community education programs and tasting labs near cacao growers to improve both the cacao and lives of these farmers. They also take time to give farmers a taste of the end product, which helps them understand the need for high-quality processes for harvesting, storage and fermenting (which is often done on the farms).
Guittard stands up for the sanctity of flavor. In 2007, Gary Guittard created the “Don’t Mess with Our Chocolate” campaign during which over 30,000 people signed a petition to urge the FDA to keep the addition of vegetable fat out of the FDA’s Standard of Identity for chocolate. They won, but not without upsetting some of the bigger industry players who wanted to lower costs.
The Guittards were also instrumental in helping the Fine Chocolate Industry Association to create the Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) Initiative in 2012 in partnership with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. The mission of the HCP is “to identify and preserve fine flavor (Heirloom) cacao for the conservation of biological diversity and the empowerment of farming communities” (FineChocolateIndustry.org). Right now, hybrid cacao trees that produce a lot of poorly flavored beans are being planted all over the world to increase crop size. These hybrids often push out native trees that have more unique flavors. The HCP works to maintain diversity in the crops by finding and preserving heirloom cacao trees. Someone is watching out for the next generation of chocoholics.
Gary emphasizes the importance of innovation in chocolate production. Each bean requires different roasting and grinding techniques depending on its fat content, origin and other distinguishing factors. Employees must artfully control the process to develop the best flavor out of the beans. This takes knowledge, experience and skill, which has helped Guittard to become the first in the United States to develop single-origin cocoa, and make it available to chefs and consumers.
Guittard is always looking to improve the flavor of their product. According to Gary, “Our customers drive us to push the envelope in flavor diversity as well as new applications for cocoa. Our customers make us a better company!”
Before launching their Collection Etienne professional line in 2000, they rediscovered some of the company’s old manufacturing techniques that produced a deeper flavor profile. So, Guittard integrated old and new techniques into their state-of-the-art facilities to create the Collection Etienne line. “There isn’t anybody in the world that creates as wide a variety of flavor as we do,” says Gary.
Chocolatiers are also pushing their artisan flavors and styles to new levels. Chocolatiers are the masterminds that take bulk chocolate and transform it into bonbons, truffles and flavored bars. In addition to their own innovative products and blends, Guittard chocolate is used as the basis for hundreds of artisan chocolatiers.
Guittard’s environmental and sustainability efforts are important to many of their clients. For example, Poco Dolce in San Francisco specializes in tasting tiles and bars made from GMO-free Guittard chocolate. Poco Dolce integrates their own brand of artisanry to create such flavors as Aztec Chile, Olive Oil and Sea Salt, and Five Spice.
Audrey Vaggione at Dolce Bella in San Jose values the tradition and heritage of Guittard Chocolate, using it for hand-molded chocolate shells and ganaches. Dolce Bella brings artistry to the table with their garden-inspired seasonal truffles using fresh berries, herbs and flowers. Highlights include Peppered Rosemary Orange and Picked at Peak Raspberry.
Oscar Baile of Landru Chocolates in Hayward has over 50 confections including the LC Ordaz infused with Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosemarie Cole with fresh rosemary leaves and Lavennise Truffle with lavender and anise, all using a Guittard base.
Cork N’ Andy’s in San Francisco deconstructs the traditional nut turtle to create their “torttles”—made with California almonds, caramel made from butter and cream from local Sonoma dairies, Guittard dark chocolate and sea salt. The simplicity is divine.
Belinda Quintanilla of Belinda Chocolates in San Mateo creates Fair Trade, single-origin bars and truffles with the freshest ingredients from Latin American and local vendors. Although coffee and rum truffles are almost always available, Belinda says that the inspiration for her new creations comes from getting the best ingredients and finding ways to work with them. She also teaches truffle-making classes at KitchenTown in San Mateo.
Recchiuti chocolates in San Francisco blends E. Guittard, El Rey and Valrhona to create their own proprietary line of confections. Standouts include the Honeycomb Malt truffles, Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn squares and Burnt Caramel Almonds. As Gary says, Michael Recchiuti “is a real artisan.”
Bakeries and Pastry Chefs
Executive Pastry Chef Donald Wressell runs the Guittard Chocolate Studio in Los Angeles, which brings in expert guest chefs from around the world to teach other professionals the latest techniques and styles.
Closer to home, Copenhagen Bakery and Café in Burlingame offers a Bay Area favorite with their round Guittard chocolate chip coffee cake with Danish filling. Add a cup of coffee and you are ready to take on the world. Vanilla Moon Bakery in San Carlos features hi-hats on Fridays for those in need of chocolate cake with marshmallow meringue covered in more chocolate. Kika’s Treats introduced Brazilian Honey Cakes to the Bay Area, wonderfully dense, slightly sweet blondie-like pastries covered in Guittard chocolate. Rich and wonderful. You can find these in shops throughout the Peninsula. Pacific Cookies in Santa Cruz has an amazing Almond Joy cookie that blends Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips with almonds and coconut. They are worth the drive!
Local ice cream makers are also playing with new flavor combinations to come up with some really exciting recipes. Treat Ice Cream Company in San Jose uses Guittard in their incredibly popular Tin Roof Sundae ice cream and the seasonal favorite Raspberry Truffle. With flavors like Burgundy Cherry, Macapuno and Black Walnut, it is easy to please everyone in a crowd.
Rick’s Rather Rich Ice Cream in Palo Alto has a range of fantastic flavors including lavender honey, Kulfi, lemon cookie and toasted almond. For cocoa overload, their “Industrial Chocolate” is sure to please with chocolate ice cream, Guittard chocolate chips, chocolate chip cookie dough and fudge.
I remember the first time I had Guittard chocolate. It was 1987 and a friend bought me a mocha at a small coffee shop in Seattle. The ethereal blend of chocolate and coffee swirled together to create heaven in a cup. To this day, I can still smell the sweet aroma and decadence. Turns out that the recipe was simple: espresso, Guittard’s sweet ground chocolate and milk. This recipe remains one of the worst-kept secrets of top cafés throughout the world including Bitter + Sweet in Cupertino, Barefoot Coffee in Los Gatos and Philz Coffee throughout the Bay Area.
In addition to solid chocolates in playful shapes and patterns, Pagan Chocolates of Arcata offers five Beer Truffles. The Royal Raspberry Chipotle bar is a fruity innovative treat with a kick.
Rachel Dunn Chocolates of Concord sculpts pure Guittard chocolate bowls that are too gorgeous to eat. They come in three sizes and are hand colored with floral and abstract designs that are one of a kind. RDC is also known for their insanely large caramel and chocolate covered Fuji apples. At two and a half to three pounds, each apple can easily serve 10 to 12, but who’s sharing?
Are you hungry yet?
Jennifer L. Woolley is an associate professor of management at Santa Clara University. Her research focuses on the emergence of firms, industries and technologies around the world and has been published in management journals including Organization Science, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal and Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. She teaches classes on entrepreneurship and international business.