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Old World Chocolates in a New World Market

Old World Chocolates in a New World Market

How Chocodiem is redefining standards by sticking to age-old traditions

In the search for gourmet foods the term ‘old world’ probably strikes a chord in most consumers. It paints a picture of centuries old technique and craftsmanship. One might imagine an Italian grandmother clothed in a flour dusted apron gently hanging long strands of fresh spaghetti to dry. Or perhaps a man in his Parisian shop serving delectable pastries and macarons made with care just that morning. Unfortunately, these days the words ‘old world’ have become a romanticized marketing gimmick to draw in the everyday consumer that wants products built on great quality and even better taste. Yet, finding a company that sticks to those old world values and serves food of great quality and taste isn’t easily done. Chocodiem, a Pennsylvania and New Jersey based Belgian artisan chocolate company, is setting those standards anew. Home+Table sat down with Chocodiem’s creative director, Katherine MacDonnell, to hear more about the company’s beginnings and how they continue to create some of the country’s best chocolate.

Chocodiem started in 2012 as the brainchild of owner and master chocolatier Jean Paul ‘JP’ Hepp. JP came to the United States from Belgium with a PhD in Biology from the University of Antwerp. He worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than twenty-three years but left behind his corporate ties to follow his true passion, chocolate. He followed it all the way to Switzerland and Belgium and became a master chocolatier. He was so passionate about this cause, according to Katherine, because he couldn’t find chocolate in America that satisfied his European palette. “Belgian chocolate isn’t a kind of chocolate”, she explained. “There’s no cacao in Belgium, it’s the standard. It’s the recipe, it’s what goes on the inside, it’s how it’s made, it’s the ingredients. He couldn’t find anything like that. I know so many chocolate companies here that claim to be [Belgian] but it’s just a label. It’s not truly the way and the technique that they make it and he wanted to bring that back here.” JP went on to set up shop in a tiny space in Clinton, New Jersey and he and Katherine met through a mutual friend.

In the search for gourmet foods the term ‘old world’ probably strikes a chord in most consumers. It paints a picture of centuries old technique and craftsmanship. One might imagine an Italian grandmother clothed in a flour dusted apron gently hanging long strands of fresh spaghetti to dry. Or perhaps a man in his Parisian shop serving delectable pastries and macarons made with care just that morning. Unfortunately, these days the words ‘old world’ have become a romanticized marketing gimmick to draw in the everyday consumer that wants products built on great quality and even better taste. Yet, finding a company that sticks to those old world values and serves food of great quality and taste isn’t easily done. Chocodiem, a Pennsylvania and New Jersey based Belgian artisan chocolate company, is setting those standards anew. Home+Table sat down with Chocodiem’s creative director, Katherine MacDonnell, to hear more about the company’s beginnings and how they continue to create some of the country’s best chocolate.

Chocodiem started in 2012 as the brainchild of owner and master chocolatier Jean Paul ‘JP’ Hepp. JP came to the United States from Belgium with a PhD in Biology from the University of Antwerp. He worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than twenty-three years but left behind his corporate ties to follow his true passion, chocolate. He followed it all the way to Switzerland and Belgium and became a master chocolatier. He was so passionate about this cause, according to Katherine, because he couldn’t find chocolate in America that satisfied his European palette. “Belgian chocolate isn’t a kind of chocolate”, she explained. “There’s no cacao in Belgium, it’s the standard. It’s the recipe, it’s what goes on the inside, it’s how it’s made, it’s the ingredients. He couldn’t find anything like that. I know so many chocolate companies here that claim to be [Belgian] but it’s just a label. It’s not truly the way and the technique that they make it and he wanted to bring that back here.” JP went on to set up shop in a tiny space in Clinton, New Jersey and he and Katherine met through a mutual friend.
She detailed her visit to his shop stating that is was in the corner of a store in a space not more than a 4 feet square. Katherine’s background lies in the fashion industry and she prides herself on her ability as a creator and designer. “The moment that I tasted his product, I mean…It really was amazing. It was fantastic, but it did not look good at all, everything down to the actual product, to the packaging, to everything, down to his business card. None of it was– but I saw the potential.” At that time, JP was looking for someone to help him market his product and Katherine knew that there was an endless potential when it came JP’s work.

If you’ve visited the Chocodiem Easton location inside the Easton Public Market or their Clinton location there is not doubt you have seen the beautifully arranged truffles in their display case. They are nestled inside sleek gift boxes that meet Katherine’s goal of matching taste with appearance. Their quality of product is only reflected by their quality in packaging. Chocodiem takes great pride in their display and great pleasure in hearing the wonderful things customers remark during their visits.

Speaking of a woman who praised their quality, Katherine said, “It makes me smile because it just makes me so happy that not only can we still deliver the quality of product but now people can see it in a different light. There is a whole other level, not just the taste, but the people feel it’s something special because it looks so beautiful. And they’re getting all of it. Sometimes you can buy something that looks good but it doesn’t taste good. I think we have all been there where you get a beautiful box but it’s not that good. It’s really been a labor of love to make it the whole package. To make it taste amazing, to have it be top quality and have it look good. Everything down to the product, to the presentation, to the package, to the box, to the bag, to the service, to the personal touch. We genuinely feel like there’s this personal connection, personal relationship, with our customers. We have customers that we have done everything for from weddings to celebrations for expecting mothers. We do the baby showers and the christenings and it’s kind of nice growing with these people. It’s the connection and that’s what keeps them coming back. It’s not just the product and the quality but also the beauty and the personal connection that we offer because it’s genuine. We care about what we do and it shows. We aren’t just here to love chocolate. It’s so much more than that for us.”

“I’m an extremist and it’s hard for me to do things halfway. So I said, okay, I can help you. And from there it just started growing. We changed the image and the product. I really felt like we were taking the product and making it look, matching it up, to what it truly tasted like.”

The Chocodiem team focuses on making each customer feel special and welcomed. Their bond as a team shows in the way that they treat their patrons. Their dedication to creating a company and a staff that cares and ensuring that quality came above all else started from the very beginning. “JP and I built this business together, it’s very hands on. We started with his recipes from Belgium and from there we have grown to other products. It’s him and I, together with this amazing team we have built,” Katherine continued, speaking on the flavors, “We work on those together, taste testing. We have different quality standards from different directions. I have my palette in my own way because I’ve always been around high quality brands, luxury brands and he has that wonderful European standard. So when we come up with a new product and we don’t love it, it doesn’t go out. Even today, just now Erica, one of Chocodiem’s chocolatiers, said, ‘I can’t wait for you to taste something!’. It’s a new recipe we have been experimenting with and JP has already taste tested it and now I need to taste test it. If we both don’t love it, it will not go out or we will keep working on it and keep working on it. JP and I collaborate on things until we get it right.”

When asked about how she and JP come up with new flavors Katherine explained, “Some of it is being inspired by other foods we love. We both love food and we are both so passionate about food. All kinds of food. So sometimes it’s an ‘ah-ha’ moment of, ‘oh wait, let’s try this’ and sometimes it’s the classic approach in which we try to reinvent something or put a twist on it. The beauty of all of our chocolates are that they are made in small batches and they’re all handmade. They’re made that way for optimal freshness. Our chocolates don’t have a long shelf life. There’s no preservatives, there’s no stabilizers. They’re not made to sit on a shelf for a year or two like the mass produced chocolates are. They’re freshly made and they’ll last a few weeks but you’re always going to get a fresh chocolate when you come here.”

 

She continued, “A lot of times our experiments a related to the seasons. We really pride ourselves on fresh ingredients as much as possible. We use local honey as a sweetener. We use milk and cream from a local dairy farm. Our hot chocolate is made from Apple Valley Creamery. When we sat and had our production meeting, we immediately thoughts about what is something we can do that is more fresh and newer? I love floral flavors so we are going to do an almond rose truffle for Valentine’s Day as well doing some strawberry flavors. It’s a fun challenge because sometimes stuff isn’t in season. We have this wonderful farmstand right here in the market so we can just go over there. For our red wine truffle, we use Tolino’s cabernet. We use Field Stone’s espresso for our espresso truffle. It makes it a unique local product that keeps everything indigenous to this area, it helps support the other businesses and it helps with their brand awareness too. It’s supporting on many levels and we really love doing that.”

“As for the fine balance it takes to perfect each truffle flavor and the work that goes into the finishing touches, whether it’s an iridescent sugar, salt sprinkling or hand painted, we have local artists that hand paint designs, depending on the season. We do corporate logos, weddings, and monogramming.” A tour behind the counter showed the work of chocolatiers and general manager, Erica, piping the Valentine’s Day almond rose truffles. Further down the counter, an artist sat painting the Valentine’s Day truffles with intricate cursive and tiny red hearts. The artist uses a tiny brush and extreme delicacy to keep from having a ‘heavy handed’ effect. The paint used is a cocoa-butter mixture that is carefully mixed to ensure the right color.

Chocodiem harbours immense pride in their products and that was brought to the attention of Forbes Magazine in 2017 when they were named as one of the “Best Chocolates for Gift Giving This Holiday Season”. With two locations currently open, the sky is truly limit for this passionate artisan company. Our Philadelphia readers can welcome Chocodiem this summer as they open a third location at The Bourse, one of Philly’s historic buildings located in Old City (right across from the Liberty Bell). They will be a part of Philly’s newest Food Hall, which according to Katherine, is reminiscent to NYC’s Chelsea Market. One thing is for sure, with their splendid boxes and delectable tastes, these little truffles will feel right at home in the city of Brotherly Love!

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