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Despite Loss, the Revolution Lives On

19 September 2008

R.I.P. Robert Steinberg, MD.

Dr. Robert Steinberg, cofounder of Scharffen Berger chocolates, dies at age 61. (via Serious Eats)

I didn’t know much about the works of David Wallace Foster, I admit. I had to look him up when I found out he died. But Robert Steinberg, I knew who he was. And his death saddens me.

I love chocolate. At first I loved chocolates, weaned on pralines and truffles from Wittamer when I lived in Bruxelles. And I have a soft spot for a well crafted morsel, so tiny yet so satisfying. But chocolate, dark chocolate, pure and unadulterated, is my passion. And Scharffen Berger was one of my early favorites. I still love it’s smooth mix of flavors, comforting with a healthy dose of vanilla.

Steinberg died of leukemia. It was in defiance of this mortality that spurred him to give up medicine and take to chocolate. He traveled to South America to learn about cacao, starting from the very beginnings. He learned how it grew, how to take care of it. He met the farmers, and learned how they worked, and made deals with them. He practise roasting and grinding the beans at home in his own kitchen, until they tasted perfect. He bought equipment, a mélangeur, a roaster, a conche, that were practically antiques. They wrapped the chocolate by hand. It was unveiled to the industry at the 1996 Apsen Food and Wine Festival. Julia Child liked it.

Steinberg’s beginnings were humble, his cause simple and passionate. But he helped start a revolution. A delicous revolution. Scharffen Berger is today, well deservedly, one of the largest American chocolate makers.

More about Scharffen Berger (.pdf)

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