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Orfève – When Chocolate and Sustainability ignite Passion

sustainable chocolate orfève

This Valentine’s Day we express our love for the planet with Orfève, a small Swiss chocolate maker transforming taste through sustainable farming.

When Caroline Buechler and François-Xavier Mousin set up their workshop in Geneva, Switzerland, the objective was not to make sustainable chocolate. “The mission was in fact to make the best chocolate in the world,” explains Mousin.

But to make the best one in the world, they needed to work with the finest producers. They needed to find farmers who understood that quality comes from respecting and working with nature. The more they researched the matter, the more they realized that excellence, taste, and sustainability came together as a package.

What you need to know about cacao farming

Over the last few decades, cacao, the key ingredient in chocolate, has become a commodity.
A massive 95% of the world’s harvest is traded on global commodity markets.

This trading is prone to strong fluctuations as a result of political instabilities, weather-related farming problems, and overproduction. This in turn affects the livelihoods of the estimated 40-50 million people working in the cacao industry.

As it became increasingly harder for producers to make a living, they turned to hardier varieties of cacao bean, cleared trees, and started using pesticides.

The majority of producers had no choice but to turn towards the same higher-yielding crops. This hurt the environment, but also the flavor of the chocolate, which became standardized over time. This suited the buyers, of course, who were looking for a uniform flavor. But there was another downside, it threatened the survival of hundreds of different varieties of the cacao bean.

But Orfève is changing that.

The Orfève chocolate “bean-to-bar” method

“In Switzerland, there are chocolate makers and those who make chocolate,” explains Buechler. “There is a difference. A chocolate maker will buy chocolate and make chocolate candy, where we create just the chocolate.”

Only a few artisans make their own product and even fewer follow the “bean-to-bar” philosophy. This micro-batch craft process involves buying the cacao beans and cleaning, roasting, cracking, winnowing, and grinding them to make chocolate bars. It is a traditional artisanal process that preserves the nobility and originality of the flavors of the cacao bean.

Orfève works with five different sourcers across Latin America to find the finest cacao beans. They work with the rarest varieties of beans that have their own flavors, like raspberry or spices, that require no additional ingredients other than sugar.

They work as close to the producer as possible to reduce the number of links in the supply chain and pay the producers the best price.

“It is not about helping people, supporting the poor, it is about working towards excellence,” notes Mousin.

“This is the only way it can work. It is a very liberal approach. Nothing would make me happier than to see the producers driving a Rolls Royce!”

A question of taste

Orfève has two different recipes. The first is a traditional Swiss recipe where the sugar and cacao butter are conched for hours, giving a smooth and creamy texture. The second method sees the sugar added at the end where it stays grainy. Biting into the chocolate reveals a pure experience, followed by the melting of the sugar granules in the mouth.

For Valentine’s Day, they recommend their Perija 75, a bar of extra fine chocolate from Venezuela that is extremely delicate and sensual with floral and hazelnut notes.

So, for the consumer used to industrial chocolate full of sugar, nuts and raisins, there is a new world waiting to be discovered. A chocolate that is saving endangered varieties of cacao, paying the farmers the best price while respecting the environment. And a chocolate that will delight your tastebuds in a way that you never knew it could!

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day with Orfève.

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