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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Madison chocolatiers boast gourmet cocoa

Isabel Àlverez/The Daily Cardinal

Madison chocolatiers boast gourmet cocoa

By Victoria Statz

The Daily Cardinal

Oh sweet lord, the smell. The smell. Olfactory senses have been completely overtaken in the best way possible, a chocolate kind of way. Vision is next. Sleekly decorated shops, perfectly lit, impeccable displays and that's not including the gorgeous treats themselves. All of this, every single bit, is ambiance. More appropriately for this time of year, it's love's ambiance. This is the phrase of the season, and it's a damn good thing that Madisonians have Gail Ambrosius and David Bacco to help them set the mood this Valentine's Day. The Daily Cardinal spoke to the owners of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier and David Bacco Chocolats about spreading the love not only this February 14, but the rest of the year as well.

Both Bacco and Ambrosius entered the chocolate business relatively recently, the former nine years ago and the latter five. Ambrosius began to take classes on crafting chocolate after she got laid off from her state job as a cartographer. Bacco taught himself most of what he knows. Judging from their excellent product, both approaches seem to have worked well.

When asked how they come up with unique ideas for new chocolates, Ambrosius and Bacco cited nature as well as experiences and travels abroad. Ambrosius said she always keeps her eyes open when she travels, ""…not only for what other chocolatiers are doing … [but] how different foods are combined.""

Bacco's response was similar: ""Most of them are just food experiences that I've had, either from certain restaurants or certain countries and ethnicities, that truly lend wonderful flavors that the people in this world have.""

He also spoke about his philosophy for creating chocolate, based on ""the five elements of nature: Earth Air, Fire, Water and Spirit,"" and said that he's ""always been a very spiritual person, earth-friendly, so I've always [tried] to incorporate that sort of living and philosophy in with my chocolates as well, in order to breath more life into them."" 

Bacco said the amount of time spent from the inception of an idea until it is ready to be sold varies with each new concept, anywhere from ""a couple weeks to a couple years … depending on the ingredients and which chocolates are going to blend well with them the best"".

Example: ""I've got a couple that I'm working on right now that just aren't exactly there yet, or where I want them to be. And then there's others that flow pretty smoothly. I have a flavor or chocolate pictured in my mind, and I'm able to bring it out fairly quickly,"" Bacco said.

In explaining how she thinks up ideas for new products, Ambrosius said, ""I let the chocolate talk to me, and I take my cues from the chocolate."" She illustrates this point with the creation story of her Shiitake Mushroom truffle: ""I got this chocolate from Peru, and Peruvian chocolate is just so different than any other thing I had before, so I kept getting this idea of like walking through a forest after a rainfall. Mossy, just really very earthy and down low like that. Leaves, composting leaves, so just very earthy, and mushrooms just kept coming in my mind, and I thought, you know, it's weird but I'm just going to try it."" The verdict? ""It was perfection.""

""Share the love"", said Ambrosius in regard to her work helping farmers who grow her chocolate. She and Bacco try to not only show their good nature on Valentine's, but every day of the year. Ambrosius —who grew up on a dairy farm—said, ""For me it was really important to see how what I'm taking and selling here, where does it start from?""

This desire to find the roots of her operation has led her to visit farmers in Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica. Ambrosius talks with the farmers about growing their produce organically, and although many of the farms are not officially certified organic, she said when visiting the farms she sees that no chemicals are being used.

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""I'm not only learning from the farmers, but working with the women of the farms: the sisters, mothers, wives, teaching them how to make chocolate. So I donated a tempering machine, a bar mould, some wrappers and give them little workshops every time I go down,"" Ambrosius said.

Besides expanding her goodwill globally, Ambrosius said she gets her cream and butter locally as one part of her overall goal of reducing he businesses' environmental impact as much as she can.

Bacco also strives to be environmentally friendly, participating in Madison Gas & Electric's Green Power Tomorrow program, ""with 100% of the energy powering the retail shop and production facility from renewable energy sources, including solar and wind."" A program in which the companies involved, according to, ""offset more than 76,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.""

He is friendly to his patrons as well, and when asked what his typical customer is, he responded, ""We get everyone actually, our regular customers …  chocofiles that come in as well that like gourmet or artisanal chocolates, and then the consumer that is not so well-educated about what fine chocolate is and what goes into it.""

Bacco said they try to teach everyone, ""as much as we can about the chocolates themselves and the flavors, just to kind of bring about a much more comfortable experience with everyone.""

Moreover, Bacco is trying to create an exceptional experience for couples this Valentine's Day. When asked what his formula is for putting together the perfect box of Valentine's chocolates, and if it is supposed to have aphrodisiac properties, he responded affirmatively. ""The flavors and the chocolates are much more geared to the passionate aspect of Valentine's Day, where both can share the chocolates in intimacy of romantic moments together, so it's sort of a tool for the holidays but also for romance as well. It's not as if each person is just there, tasting the chocolates individually and they talk about them, and that's about it. … this is something that can actually be enjoyed together as a couple.""

Bacco said that they have received ""great, great feedback"" from the selection of flavors, but as far as the passion aspect is concerned, he can't be certain.

It is obvious that Gail Ambrosius and David Bacco are infusing love into their chocolate, but how about their business relations, especially during this chocolate-centered holiday? Surprisingly, no worries there, as Ambrosius summed up the chocolatier scene in Madison: ""I think it's neat that there are so many of us, because we all have a different style and like anything, everybody has a different taste … we're really lucky here, having that many different styles and all of great quality"".

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