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Apr 18, 2007 11:44 AM

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.