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Scharffenberger - Were the pessimists right?

When news broke that Hershey's was buying Scharffenberger, my dark-chocolate-loving friends wept and mourned, assuming that it was just Hershey's way of driving out some of the competition, or selling some of their junk for a higher price under a ritzier name. But I'm an optimist. I'm thinking that maybe it's more like Anheuser-Busch buying Red Hook. The Scharffenberger would still be great, and it would give H a vehicle (brand) for some more adventuresome enterprises that don't fall in the identity of their main brand. They have resources to buy ingredients and try processes that the original owners maybe couldn't (or wouldn't) afford.

Then my chowspouse, who knows I prefer creamy milk chocolate (think Milka, or Ritter white) bought me a Scharffenberger milk chocolate bar - something she had never seen before.

Well, to all my pessimistic friends - I think you were right. The Scharffenberger had a taste and texture somewhere between Whitman's and Russel-Stover. Ech. I almost didn't eat it (well, it IS chocolate).

So I guess, is this just me? Or is it just the milk chocolate? Or has the brand truly tanked?

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  1. There was a recent post SOMEWHERE on the SF board saying there were no changes to the Scharffenberger factory in Berkeley.

    Two things
    - I've never been a Scharffenberger fan ... even in pre-Hershey days.
    - I have always like Hershey's

    If anything I think that Hershey's has elevated their brand. They have those single source chocolates and the truffles. The only thing I haven't been thrilled with is the choclate square with cranberry, almond and blueberries. They grind up the fruit too finely so it just gives an unpleasant texture. The one alarming, to me, thing about Hershey is that in some of their less expensive bars they use vanillan. So read the label.

    12 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Agree with you.

      Honestly, I think for milk chocolate, I don't anyone tops Hershey's.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        I beg to differ. Hershey's doesn't have as much of the creamy mouthfeel, and always tastes too sugary to me. Try the Belgian milk chocolate bar from Trader Joe's. I bought both a dark and a milk chocolate bar for baking over the holidays, and they were both excellent (for eating out of hand or baking). Scharffenberger is still my number one choice for baking, but the TJ's were really every bit as good. And I'm not even a true chocolate lover/fanatic.

        1. re: CynD

          For baking perhaps you are right, but for eating straight out of the wrapper, I still prefer Hershey's.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            I'm with you, ipsedixit! Plain Hershey's is pretty darn good. (But the bars only, because what's going on with the kisses? I think you could put a wick in some of those things and have a long-burning, chocolate scented candle!)

            1. re: tokyorosa

              It's been so long since i've had a hershey's bar, i just assumed they were the same stuff as the kisses. Maybe they can't temper real chocolate correctly when it's squirted out of that machine. Maybe i should try a bar again. Any excuse for chocolate...

        2. re: ipsedixit

          I have eaten chocolate in many different countries but Hershey's is without doubt one of the worst I ever tried.

          1. re: honkman

            Then try Nestle's. What do you like?

            1. re: rworange

              There are many good chocolates in Europe I tried but forgot the names. But just to go for the bigger names - Milka, Rittersport and Lindt are far better than Hershey's.

              1. re: rworange

                Valrhona, Callebaut, Michel Cluizel, Dagoba, El Rey, Lindt, to name just a few. All readily available in the US.

                I prefer these brands in flavor and texture to Hershey's and Nestle's. It's not only that these brands are European/Venezuelan/Central-South American in origin, it's also the quality of the cocao beans (the more expensive criollo beans vs. the cheap forastero), the length of conching to create a silky texture and many other quality-control techniques that are employed to insure a better product. Very similar to making a good wine. The choice of raw ingredients and extra care in the production of the product (old story) really do make a big flavor difference.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  The brands you mention are very good, but I almost think of them as being in another league. When you have to pay £5 for a bar of Valrhona (yes, that's now $10) like I do, it becomes something less than readily available!

                  I really like the texture of Cadbury's milk chocolate, which is the ubiquitous, Hershey-like brand in the UK. But I find the taste too sweet and not intensely chocolatey enough.

          2. re: rworange

            I'm not a fan of hershey's. mostly cause of the mouthfeel. But I had one of their kisses truffles recently and was very pleased.

            1. re: rworange

              Right, supposedly no changes whatsoever. Hershey couldn't break successfully into the high-end market because their name is synonymous with low-end. So they went on a buying ramage. I believe they bought Joseph Schmidt too, no?

              The Scharffen Berger milk chocolate: it seems they did not want to make it from the beginning but demand was such that they did. The ex-roommate who worked there really disliked it himself. Their go at making candies (you know, the kind of chocolates that come all pretty in a box) wasn't very successful IMO either...

            2. John Scharffenberger was still representing the line at the IACP Conference last week in Chicago, and teaching a chocolate seminar. What I tasted at our Culinary Showcase was every bit as delicious as always, but I've never tried the milk chocolate, only the various darks.

              I am in the camp, however, that thinks that Hershey's makes some pretty decent chocolate... It's not my favorite, but I'll take it any day over the (imo) highly overrated Callebaut.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ChefJune

                I just bought some bittersweet Callebaut and baked some of Nick Malgieri's supernatural brownies with it. They were fantastic. I bake a lot, and have tried many different chocolates in my baking and specifically in brownies. The brownies that I made with the Callebaut were by the far the best so far. And my usual taste testers agreed.

                1. re: flourgirl

                  I agree. I had a chocolate taste-off with 7 different chocolates (all dark, plain, and as a ganache) and Callebaut came out on top with almost all of my 8 testers.

              2. Callebaut makes a knock-your-socks-off milk chocolate.

                Does Hershey's regular chocolate bar contain any true chocolate?

                2 Replies
                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I totally agree with you about Callebaut!! It is the single best milk chocolate I've ever had. In addition to eating it plain, it makes the most remarkable hot chocolate! I get it at Whole Foods here in St. Louis.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    What do you consider true chocolate? What do you think they use?

                    Hershey's regular bar's fault is that it is sweet and one dimensional. However, unlike other chocolates in its class it doesn't taste waxy.

                    Seems similar to Callebaut milk chocolate down to the vanillin. From what this site implies they use that in some of their bars like Hershey. In addition, Hershey's uses cream or milk in their milk chocolate. Callebaut uses milk powder. Surprising to read ingrediant lists.

                  2. I'm not a big fan of Scharffenberger since the sellout.

                    But as for Milk Chocolate bars, La Maison du Chocolat makes the best milk chocolate bar I've ever tasted. It has a kind of caramely note and a nice melt in your mouth factor.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Non Cognomina

                      La Maison du Chocolat is outstanding. It's one of my regular stops whenver I'm in Paris - but do they have any retail outlets in California? Their website only lists two in NY.

                      1. re: CynD

                        I usually order through the Willams Sonoma catalog.

                    2. Not being a fan of milk chocolate, generally, I can't comment on the Scharffen Berger. However, I continue to use their, semi-sweet, bittersweet, and unsweetened chocolate for baking and find it unchanged.

                      1. hello, Hersheys acquired a number of 'boutique' chocolate operations incl. Dagoba who makes a good organic mesoamerican-styled choc. drink powder with chili and cinnamon. When Scharffenberger and his partner started out, reviving the the artisan small batch way of making chocolate(distinct from crafting confections from chocolate made elsewhere like Belgium or France) was innovative and helped fuel its rise to popularity, which of course had to be backed up with quality. Its being different at the time definitely helped.

                        Unless you are considering single-origin chocolates (not the case here) , it's a matter of how the "house blend" styles compare, and that's personal taste of course. Similar to comparing scotch whiskeys, the big house blends (Dewar's, Chivas,J&B,Johnny Walker etc.) are in a separate category from the single malts. Inferior-quality milk chocolates give more leeway to the manufacturer to cover up cheap, haphazardly fermented cacao beans because the dairy and non-chocolate ingredients are a much higher percentage compared to the bittersweet and darker stuff. From visiting the factory, I doubt Scharffenberger changed their approach to putting together their house blends; the biggest change is scale of production and having back-up equipment to keep things going. Milk chocolate was the last 'blend' added to the original repetoire, and it might represent too far a departure from what they do best. After tasting 8-10 of their lines, I preferred the dark, 62% or higher, limited edition bars with specified origins(one was single country, the other two origins incl. Madagascar).

                        Besides the differences between the cocoa beans chosen for the house blends, the percentages of the non-choc. stuff will greatly affect "mouthfeel", therefore how we taste, not just what. If your palate is more compatible to what Hershey's does, so much the better for your pocketbook. Sorry if this chocolate info is old hat and obvious, hard to tell from the original post. cheers

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: moto

                          Did a chocolate tasting the other day at a friend's house; she'd just ordered a bunch of different chocolates to test (she's a caterer and does a lot of baking). The differences were amazing (these were all high-end, expensive chocolates). Some of it was taste, some after-taste, but a huge amount of the sensation was mouthfeel. This was a very educational experience that anyone could replicate if they're interested.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            Yeah, but comparisons are more complex than one might think. First, good eating chocolate isn't necessarily the same thing as good cooking/baking chocolate. Flavors that are overpowering or unpleasant in an eating chocolate can be muted when mixed with other ingredients. Also, as moto notes, blended chocolates represent someone's effort to mix the flavors of various types of beans to achieve a particular profile, but this is really hard. First, the tastes of the person doing the blending can change over time. Second, and perhaps more importantly, cacao beans are a highly variable agricultural product whose flavor can change, sometimes dramatically, not only from region to region, but from season to season.

                            I really, really love dark chocolate and eat some pretty much every day, but I definitely notice that even within a particular brand, there can be noticeable changes in flavor from year to year. In some ways, as a product, I think good chocolate is sort of like wine; if you find a batch that floats your boat, best stock up. (Unfortunately, it doesn't age as well as wine.)

                            Personally, I've never really liked Scharffenberger much; to me, it has a sour, acidic aftertaste that bothers me. (On the other hand, I've had baked goods made with Scharffenberger that kicked ass.) Right now, I'm really enjoying the Pierre Marcolini Venezuela and Equateur bars. I also like the Santander Colombian bars which have an interesting, sort of marshmallowy flavor; one can often find these at Whole Foods, in 62% or 70%, although I think Whole foods may have trouble storing or transporting them because one end of the bars is frequently damaged. Domori Blend No. 1 can be very good, but the flavor definitely moves around over time. Lastly, in a fix, the Dove dark chocolate "wishes" or whatever the hell they call them, are passable (if a bit on the sweet side), and can be found in most supermarkets.

                            1. re: David Kahn

                              I don't eat chocolate striagh that much, but I bake a lot, so my opinion of chocolates is based pretty much on how they perform as an ingredient.

                              1. re: David Kahn

                                David are you saying that if we taste the chocolates straight to see whether they'll turn out well in a baked good, our reactions might differ from tasting those same chocolates in baked goods?

                                Curiosity question -- mouthfeel matters when eating chocolate out of hand. Does that translate at all to tasting chocolate in a prepared item?

                                1. re: KTFoley

                                  Some chocolates (even some high-end ones) are definitely grainy. This unpleasant (to me) characteristic would come through in a pudding or sauce.

                                  1. re: KTFoley

                                    That is exactly what I'm saying. I affirmatively don't like Scharffenberger as an eating chocolate, but I've had baked goods made with it that were excellent. Diluting chocolate by combining it with other ingredients will absolutely change the way it tastes, sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not. It also depends on what you're making. As pikawicca points out, some chocolates (like, for example, the El Rey Venezuelan chocolates, have a grainy mouth feel; this might bother one in an eating chocolate or a sauce, but would almost certainly be unnoticeable in brownies or chocolate cake, for example. Temperature also makes a difference; the same chocolate will taste different in a souffle than it will in chocolate ice cream. Seems to me that, like lots of stuff, if you drill down a bit, this gets pretty complicated, and many chocolate recipes could probably benefit from some trial and error with respect to chocolate selection.

                                    1. re: David Kahn

                                      Good points. It took me a while to really accept the fact that if I wanted to make truly outstanding chocolate desserts I would have to commit to experimenting with different chocolates. And your point about temperature is dead on. This stuff does, indeed, get complicated. That's part of the attraction for me as a baker.

                              2. re: moto

                                To compare Hershey's to European Chocolatiers is like comparing Starbuck's to the little coffee shop on the corner, there is no comparison to the French, German, Swiss Chocolates !!! Period

                              3. I tried the Scharffenberger milk chocolate when they first released it, and a few times after that, and thought it was the best milk chocolate I had ever had. Since I mostly eat dark chocolate, I don't think I've had their milk chocolate since the buyout so can't comment on whether it has changed or not. Maybe it's just different tastes for different folks; it was definitely different than Hershey's. I also like their dark chocolate for eating as long as I remember to chew each bite many times to bring out the flavors. I find the flavor of their dark chocolate not as easily accessable as other brands and needs that chewing.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                  I love their bittersweet and dark for eating. Small bites, much chewing just as you said.

                                2. It could be that particular bar. A friend bought a bag or box of SB squares, the quality was really good and I was really enamored of the milk chocolate and I am not a milk chocolate fan.

                                  1. I do not recall SB having a Milk Chocolate version prior to the Hershey's takeover so I do not know how to compare that version, but I can say that the standard chocolates have not changed at all. That is a good thing. I can still remember my first bar of 60% - yum! And this comes from someone who never liked dark chocolate before. I am also one of those weird ones who appreciates the flavor of the SB Milk Chocolate; most MC use the milk to mask the flavor of the pure chocolate, but SB seems to accentuate the flavor - like adding half-and-half to a strong cup of Sumatra coffee.

                                    My favorite is still the SB 1.5 oz 60% bar from Trader Joes and I have seen no change in quality or flavor since the takeover.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                                      >I am also one of those weird ones who appreciates the flavor of the SB Milk Chocolate<

                                      I don't think we're weird at all. And I agree with your description of the SB Milk Chocolate vs most others.

                                      1. re: Gary Soup

                                        That review is, in an odd way, really pretty encouraging. The pessimist in me says
                                        they bought SB as a way to wrap their uniform, bland bars with some expensive
                                        paper. But this review says they're not only still willing to try unordinary experiments,
                                        but to ship them too.

                                      2. I didn't even know they made a milk chocolate. I have however been using scharffenberger as my primary baking chocolate for at least ten years and haven't noticed any difference. I love the winey flavor it brings, especially to ganache.

                                        1. GREAT Chowhound Grinder link with a bunch of pertinent blurbs at

                                          1. I was at Costco today and it hit me that it's only since Hershey's acquisition that products of both Scharffen Berger and Joseph Schmidt have been making appearances at Costco. Now, if Dagoba products also show up, I'll consider my paranoia justified.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Gary Soup

                                              The fact that those brands are now at Costco doesn't mean they are of lesser quality. I'm not saying they haven't slipped, but just that their appearance at Costco doesn't necessarily mean that they have.

                                            2. I've used Scharffenberger unsweetened cocoa poweder in my brownies for years and kept using when Hershey's bought them. I also use their jarred ganache and enjoy several varieties of their bars.
                                              In fact, I had no idea that they had been bought by Hershey until about 3 weeks ago. I've noticed absolutely no difference in their products over the last few years.