The Slow Food movement, which began in Italy in 1986 to preserve traditional foods and their preparation, is about to make a big American splash. Slow Food USA is hosting a four-day food event in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend. The gathering, expected to draw 50,000, is meant to teach Americans about artisanal food production and provide them an opportunity to share a veritable banquet at various tasting events.
Called Slow Food Nation, the event invited select growers and producers from every state to attend, but only those who met stringent guidelines in their methods and use of organic ingredients. Two Missouri chocolate makers are among the merchants who have been invited to bring their wares to the festival. Ladue News asked them about their unique businesses and their hopes for the Slow Food movement.
“There is no school for learning how to make chocolate, so I had to create my own school of sorts,” explains Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate. “This meant spending a lot of time tasting the best chocolate in the world, don’t feel too sorry for me, making test-batches of chocolate in my spare time, studying the science of chocolate, and talking to others in the know.” As he progressed, McClure decided to focus on only single-origin dark chocolate, in which each bar is made only of cacao from a single place. “I have been working on creating solid relationships with small farmers, which will be beneficial to everyone involved,” McClure reports.
Interestingly, Patric Chocolate and the other Missouri chocolate maker, Askinosie Chocolate, are the only two small American chocolate makers who press their own cocoa butter. All of McClure’s chocolate is also aged, which enhances the flavor. “Unfortunately, the practice of aging chocolate largely fell by the wayside as quantity, instead of quality, became the all-consuming goal,” he explains.
McClure points out the distinction between chocolate makers and chocolatiers: “Chocolate makers start with cocoa beans, clean them, roast them, winnow them, refine and conche them, a flavor-changing and texture-improving process and then, in my case, age the resulting product,” he explains. “Chocolatiers take pre-made chocolate, melt it down and make confections or chocolates plural out of it. There are approximately 20 chocolate makers in the U.S., about seven to 10 of which are small, artisanal companies. On the other hand, there are many hundreds of chocolatiers.”
Only five chocolate makers were invited to Slow Food Nation. At the event, McClure hopes to be able to talk about fine chocolate in the U.S. and what makes the product from small companies different from the mass-produced chocolate we are all so familiar with. “And, of course, I want everyone to taste some of our delicious products!” he adds.
Chocolate maker Shawn Askinosie found his new calling in 2005. “I was a criminal defense lawyer for almost 20 years in Springfield and I just needed some kind of outlet, so I started grilling. I went from grilling to baking, in particular cupcakes, I was obsessed with them for a while and then I started making chocolate desserts. From there, I learned about very good, dark chocolate, and that’s where it really started for me,” he says.
The only ingredients in Askinosie chocolate are cocoa beans and organic sugar. Askinosie was also the first small-batch chocolate maker in the country to create his own cocoa butter. The company carefully cultivates direct trade relationships with farmers, from whom Askinosie sources the beans directly, no brokers involved.
Like Patric Chocolate, Askinosie Chocolate can be purchased online (www.patric-chocolate.com, www.askinosie.com). Askinosie products are also available locally at Straub’s and the Wine & Cheese Shop, as well as The Smokehouse Market and Deli in Chesterfield and Union Station downtown. Askinosie has cast his net much farther than St. Louis, though. This past year he shipped nearly a metric ton of chocolate bars to Sweden, and the same amount to Australia.
“I feel honored to be selected to attend Slow Food Nation and have the opportunity to share our chocolate with people who will be attending from around the world,” Askinosie says. “This is a chance to interact directly with people and answer questions and really get to know some of our customers on a more personal level, which is very important.”
Askinosie speaks to the kind of mindful food production that Slow Food is championing: “We realize we’re part of something that’s much bigger than a little company. We’re trying to help farmers and to engage in the community, so we feel like we’re part of something big. That makes for a lot of dedicated people, including myself.”
Other Missouri producers represented at Slow Food Nation include Stone Hill Winery, Adam Puchta Wine, and Newman Farm. For more information on Slow Food Nation, including events and tickets, visit www.slowfoodnation.org.