It all started when the cocoa farmers of St. Mary Parish in Jamaica started talking about cutting down their trees. Prices at the government fermentary, the farmers' only market, weren't good enough to justify the crop. Nancy Nadel thought maybe they could do better. The Oakland city council member first visited St. Mary Parish on a family vacation almost two decades ago. Connections from that vacation grew, and she became friends with local farmers and familiar with their issues.
Nadel suspected there was an untapped market for the parish's beans, which seemed perfect for organic certification given that most small farmers couldn't afford pesticides or chemical fertilizer anyway. She researched the matter, working with farmers to create an organic fermentary and produce organic, fair trade, Jamaican-origin chocolate. The Oakland Chocolate Company was born.
Nadel took a class in chocolate technology at UC Davis and has been practicing ever since. Last summer she spent her Jamaican vacation getting hands-on experience with the fermenting process and its impact on chocolate's flavor. She carried home some processed beans to become leaves, bonbons, and bars. "I feel like I finally found my medium in chocolate," said Nadel, who has degrees in geology, fine art, and engineering geoscience. "It's such an incredible marriage of art and science."
Still in its start-up phase, the company offers tasty chocolate and a parade of seasonal creations. Last spring, her sister Susan suggested a truffle for Cinco de Mayo, with dark chocolate ganache rolled in cocoa nibs, crushed blue corn chips, chipotle pepper, and flor de sal. Cinco de Mayo came and went, but Truffles Susanna remain a hit. Nadel is now exploring Scotch Bonnet peppers, ginger, and spicy rum concoctions. "Lately, I'm working on a variation of a candy my grandmother used to make for the Passover holiday," she said. "Next month, I'm trying a quince-filled bonbon with quince from my friend Margo's tree in Berkeley."
Meanwhile, the company has organized meetings with organic farming experts. Along the way, they've found that the cost of getting international organic certification, currently $2,500 per farm, is prohibitive. One possible solution is forming a co-op, but different agencies have conflicting requirements.
This fall, Nadel brought a metric ton of the parish's cocoa beans back to Oakland. She also bought a lot of the local almonds, the proceeds of which helped local worker Churchill send his son Jarvon to school.
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