Budding chocolate industry may put Utah on culinary map

Published: Thursday, Nov. 28 2013 5:50 p.m. MST

Topher Webb, owner of Mezzo Chocolate, says Utah is a budding artisan chocolate market, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, in Salt Lake City. This week, Caputo's is hosting its annual chocolate festival.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Phil Davis closed his eyes and described what he was tasting.

"It is almost like being on a roller coaster," he said.

"Clack, Clack, Clack," he says, describing the sound.

The flavors in the chocolate began to increase until he experienced "crashing waves of grapefruit" with undertones of lime, a brief taste of mustard, more grapefruit and a final hint of blue cheese.

Davis' company, Coleman and Davis Artisan Chocolate, is among the fine chocolate companies in Utah that just might put the state on the industry map, said Matt Caputo, chocolate expert and Tony Caputo's director of marketing.

“The trade in Utah is definitely growing,” Caputo said.

He predicts that within five years, Utah will be the central hub for chocolate in the country.

“It will be undeniable,” Caputo said.

The bold prediction is backed by the growing popularity of the "bean-to-bar" chocolate movement, and the number of new companies expected to begin operations in Utah.

Domestic bean-to-bar producers in the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Idaho and New Mexico, have grown 83 percent over the past year, John Balmer, specialty chocolate buyer for Whole Foods Market, said.

Coleman and Davis Artisan Chocolate is one of at least four new chocolate companies that will launch in Utah in the next year. Caputo has tested three of the four and said they, in addition to Amano and Solstice chocolates, “will be better than the absolute best in San Francisco and New York.”

The bean-to-bar industry is "a very young industry," gaining popularity within the past eight to 10 years, Caputo said.

That means what Seattle is to coffee, Utah could become to artisan chocolates.

Understanding terroir

Growth in the chocolate market has been particularly evident in the past six months, Balmer said.

“People are moving out of the perception of a commoditized product to one that has terroir and origins,” he said. Consumers are developing an increased awareness of the process behind chocolate–making and how that influences the flavors.

Terroir, a term typically associated with soil types as it relates to growing grapes for wine, is now a part of the conversation for beans. The beans take months to grow and up to several weeks to ferment. Consumers are willing to pay more for the unique differences of each chocolate product.

“It’s become a product with a deep story and deep meaning,” Balmer said.

When Balmer is looking for a bar to buy, he looks for the story behind the chocolate, or a chocolate maker who uses an innovative process to make or market their product. In other words, a unique roasting or grinding method may compensate for chocolate that is sourced from Belgium instead of Madagascar.

Utah’s “broad scale impact” has yet to be determined, he said, because coastal cities still have the biggest impact and reach.

Although there are “some amazing things happening in Utah,” he said, there are also great things happening in New York, Colorado, San Francisco and elsewhere.

However, Utah is one of the bigger national names because of its “innovative environment,” he said.

“They’re laying the groundwork for a lot of grassroot” growth, he said.

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