Friday, September 19, 2008

Tribute to Robert Steinberg of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker

This week Robert Steinberg, one of the forces behind ScharffenBerger Chocolate Maker, passed away after many years of fighting cancer.

I'm happy to have known this brilliant, passionate man who started as a doctor then dedicated his life to creating a high quality dark chocolate as well as educating the palates of many. I tell people Scharffen Berger was the first great American dark chocolate. (Remember when Special Dark was the only American dark chocolate?)

I remember the the thrill of first hearing about Scharffen Berger, in a long profile in the San Francisco Chronicle, when the company was in its original location.

Then when volunteering for Transfair USA on Fair Trade chocolate, in 2001, we were giddy about being able to visit Robert at the new factory in Berkeley. I'd never met someone like Robert, with such fervor and deep scientific knowledge of cacao beans (back before the word "cacao" emblazoned the labels of every high end chocolate bar).

We learned the company was already paying its suppliers a price higher than required for Fair Trade certification. Their main concern was getting the best quality beans possible and educating more cacao growers on how to process their beans for quality.

Most memorably, he wanted us to truly understand the difference in chocolate flavor (mainly Fair Trade vs not). We held a chocolate taste test along with chocolate luminary Alice Medrich, attributed with introducing the chocolate truffle to America many years ago.

When I went to Paris, Robert gave me some bars to take the picture above (which now so au courant, with the Jeff Koonz show at Versailles.) After hearing he learned to make chocolate at Bernachon in France, I took a side trip through Lyon to see what Bernachon was all about. I decided I liked Scharffen Berger chocolate better.

Fair Trade chocolate has come a long way in just a few years, as has Scharffen Berger chocolate. Now you'll find it in many stores thanks to their acquisition by Hershey. I imagine Robert was proud to have influenced the quality of Hershey as well as other large chocolate brands.

Knowing Robert has left this world is bittersweet but I'm sure he's enjoying the great chocolate factory in the sky. Learn more about Robert on the Scharffen Berger website.

1 comment:

Shana said...

Thanks for the great posting about Robert, though I did not have the pleasure of meeting him, his story is definitely an inspiration to chocolate lovers and those can appreciate that quality only comes from hard work, dedication and a passion for what you do. He helped raise the bar on what people should expect from the food that they eat.
Have you seen John Scharffenberger’s tribute to his friend and business partner?