Saratoga Chocolate Co.
Saratoga Chocolate Co. prides itself on making delicious, unique but accessible chocolate bars from the finest sustainably-sourced ingredients. From their chocolate bars to their truffles, these treats show off Alli’s creativity and passion for food. Founded in 2016, Saratoga Chocolate Co. now has a storefront in Saratoga Springs and can be found at farmer’s markets and stores throughout the Hudson Valley–including the Farm Store! We spoke with Alli this month to learn more about Saratoga Chocolate Co. and her take on sustainability in the industry.
Can you tell me a little bit about what makes you passionate about chocolate making and what inspired you to take that passion and start a company?
For me those are really two different questions. At a young age, I was interested in entrepreneurship but then I went ahead and did a lot of the “should do’s” of life—I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees and did enjoy the work I did, but it just wasn’t creative enough for me. I come from a family who loves food, and we’ve always been a little competitive when it comes to making food (think brunch competitions, bake offs, one-upping each other on elaborate Christmas cookies, and you’ll get the idea). General kitchen prowess was pretty much owned by my dad who cooks and bakes bread that would make a grown man weep. My mom is a master of knife work, textures, and exacting perfection from any recipe. My sister is an amazing baker who is constantly innovating cookie recipes into divine submission until they look like something straight out of a food magazine. My brother can only muster spaghetti and meatballs. Being the youngest, most of the other food categories were taken already, and chocolate was an unoccupied frontier. The first Christmas after I met my husband, and now business partner, Hank, I decided to tackle chocolate truffles. We never really intended for it to turn into a business, but it all fell into place, and 15 years later, I’m still making chocolate!
There are so many chocolate companies out there making dozens of different kinds of chocolate products—what is it about chocolate that you think has enabled it to have such a committed fan base of consumers?
It’s addictive, and it’s good for you. Cacao really is a superfood, though it does depend on how you consume it. There are also few things that can satisfy like a piece of chocolate.
What goes into developing flavors that are unique but still accessible to consumers?
I create what I like and let my palette lead me. I do want my chocolates to be approachable so I try to limit the exotic ingredients but still add fun twists and takes to balance sweet and savory, spicy and salty. I also work to match the flavor profile so I’m using chocolate that pairs well with the other ingredients to give customers a flavor experience. Currently, I’m working on a chocolate and Aria pairing with Opera Saratoga. They selected six Arias from famous Operas, and it’s my job to align those with unique chocolate truffle creations that capture the spirt of the music.
I also refer to a flavor thesaurus I have. There are flavors we know go together, but it’s fun to read about and experiment with ones that aren’t so common, like orange and candied rosemary. I love the creativity of it, and try not to do things that are already being done, like chocolate and peanut butter. I want to get people to try something new.
Valentine’s Day is coming up—which of your chocolates are you giving your sweetheart?
I’m going to FINALLY make Hank some peanut butter cups and a spicy chocolate truffle and the spicy chocolate bar that he’s been begging for…maybe it’ll be a mash-up of those three things. We’ll see.
Chocolate is a very global product with ingredients coming from all over the world, from the cocoa and sugar to the citrus, spices, and other flavors. What do you think sustainability looks like in that context?
There are so many different ways to look at this question, but you really have to start with sustainable farming practices and fair compensation for the cacao farmers. Without that, it’s just an exploitative industry that exacts an unsustainable and unfair toll on farmers and farms. Moving beyond that base, we need to consider things like clean, sustainable shipping and packaging, as well as clean sustainable production. I often come at sustainability from an energy consumption perspective, as my professional background is in clean energy. My approach to sustainability starts with responsible sourcing of chocolate, ingredients, and packaging. I try as much as I can to buy value-added products from country of origin, which keeps chocolate jobs and industry opportunities in the countries the cacao comes from. From there, chocolate is a very intensive industry. Cacao is grown only 20 degrees up and down from the equator so it requires packaging and shipping this heavy product across a lot of miles. Once it gets to my shop, it’s still an energy intensive process to create the chocolate.
Sustainability is a big question in the industry, and I’m addressing it for our business in a few ways. For one, I try to buy fairly from farmers and purchase value-added products from their country of origin, which means the cacao is processed somewhat in the country it was grown. That helps keep jobs and R&D work in that country. I also do what I can to reduce waste from plastic and corrugated cardboard by buying what I can in bulk, and using paper packaging for our products as much as possible. I even shamelessly canvas my local post office to get people to drop off their used foam coolers, ice packs, and bubble wrap at our production facility for us to reuse.
I also think about my energy consumption from production to distribution to our retail footprint. Right now we’re considering installing solar panels and a charging station at our production facility and exploring options for an electric or hybrid delivery vehicle. Our storefront is in a building that already uses solar panels. My take on sustainability in my industry is wide-ranging and evolving over time, but the driving force is always to reduce our impact, and when possible, leave something better than how we found it. We have to drive change where we are at every level, looking to our leaders for policy setting but doing what we can in our own places.