Some of the best chocolate in the world is made in Lancaster, NY by JoAnne and Dan Sundell, owners and chocolate makers of Dark Forest Chocolate. Inspired by small-batch craft chocolate makers in other cities, The Sundells became obsessed with the unbelievable flavor of bean-to-bar chocolate – something they had never experienced locally. Cut to today, through intense research and lots of test batches, these dark chocolate enthusiasts turned full on experts make internationally recognized, award-winning chocolate bars.
It all starts with the bean.
The bean-to-bar chocolate making process uses minimal ingredients and the star of the show is quality cacao. Much like wine grapes and coffee beans, The Sundells learned that many cacao varieties are grown in different parts of the world. Cacao’s growing environment – soil quality, amount of sun and rain – determines the quality and unique flavors it will impart on the chocolate. The name Dark Forest is a nod to the ideal growing conditions of cacao in equatorial regions: in the shade of overstory trees often in protected valleys.
Although it is costly, Dark Forest only uses fairly traded cacao beans and cacao butter to make their chocolate bars. Period. “Dan & I feel very strongly about the unethical practices of the industrial chocolate industry,” said Sundell. “If a chocolate producer doesn’t tell you their products are slave-free, they probably aren’t.” Dark Forest supports a social media campaign that spreads awareness on common practice among cacao producers of using child and slave labor.
Good Ingredients = Really Good Chocolate.
Imported cacao beans are first roasted to enhance their flavor, then de-shelled. The nibs of chocolate are ground with milk and sugar for four days to wipe out the bitterness. Depending on the variety, the chocolate is aged for a few weeks to months, then tempered to become smooth, luscious chocolate that won’t melt in your hands. Once formed into bars, the chocolate is hand-wrapped in packaging designed by Dan.
Each type of chocolate is unique in flavor depending on many factors including the origin of the beans, length of roasting and stone grinding, as well as ratio of cacao to sugar. JoAnne’s favorite bar is Dark Tanzanian 70% and Dan’s is Excelsior Dark 75%, while their teenage sons can’t get enough of the Salted Malted Milk Chocolate.
Along with worldly ties, Dark Forest Chocolate makes exciting local connections. Partnering with local coffee roaster and co-op favorite, Gimme! Coffee to create a mash-up between Dark Forest’s Dark Tanzanian 70% Chocolate and Gimme! Coffee’s signature Leftist Espresso.
The collaboration began because basically, they’re fans of each other’s products. While JoAnne was sampling chocolate at a co-op in Ithaca (shout out Green Star!) Gimme! Coffee’s buyer had a taste, got hooked, and ordered bars for some of their coffee shops shortly after. JoAnne personally delivered the first order, met the team, and was introduced to the best coffee she’d ever had–truly a whole new world, “it was like the first time I tasted good bean-to-bar chocolate,” she said. Gimme! Coffee Dark Chocolate bar has won multiple awards including a Good Food award in 2019. This month, JoAnne’s heading to Ithaca to do coffee pairings at Gimme! Coffee shops. Stay tuned to see what they come up with!
You can find Dark Forest Chocolate at both Co-op stores. We love it paired with dried cranberries and Top Seedz Sea Salt Crackers, or on a cheese plate next to Beemster Aged Gouda. At home, JoAnne & Dan like some dark chocolate with a little bourbon.
Since opening in 2015 Dark Forest has won silvers and bronzes for their bean-to-bar chocolate from the Academy of Chocolate and the International Chocolate Awards. Their chocolate does not contain soy or nuts. Cacao is a natural mood lifter and more health benefits include antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, and iron.