The inventor of Milk Chocolate was Santa Claus. No, that’s not true, but it’s kind of how you want the tale to go. If not Santa, then Willy Wonka. Maybe even Jesus. You want the origin of milk chocolate to be mythical – a little magic, a little miracle, a little divine inspiration. As it turns out, milk chocolate was created by a guy named Daniel Peter. He was a Swiss candy maker but he did not work with Oompah-Loompahs nor did he drive a sled with flying reindeer. He was just a businessman looking for the next big thing plus he happened to be neighbors with Nestlé who had a pretty rocking creamery back in the day. In 1876, Peters came up with the first successful commercial recipe for milk chocolate using the Nestlé products and that changed everything. Prior to that, it was hard to find a recipe that was stable enough to create something tasty and marketable. Peter’s innovation changed all that and essentially changed how the world enjoys its chocolate. Today, on National Milk Chocolate Day, we leave stockings hung by the chimney with care in the hopes that Daniel Peters will come and leave us with bars of creamy, sweet milk chocolate bars. That would be joyous.
There were no stockings filled with chocolate today. I knew that my milk chocolate adventure would mean a visit to the store. Finding milk chocolate isn’t all that hard – it’s the chocolate of choice and almost all candy bars are made from milk chocolate. Hershey Bars are of course the leader in the clubhouse with their iconic bars with the chocolate covered wrappers and foil interior wrapper. The legendary Hershey logo written across the top and even engraved right into the chocolate. The way it breaks off into nice equal pieces. It’s kind of the perfect milk chocolate bar and most people see it that way. When I pictured myself buying chocolate today, that was my image. The only thing I had to decide was in what form I should buy it. The standard candy bar size? The minis? The Kisses? The 5 pound block? There is no shortage of ways to get that sweet Hershey flavor. After work I went to Clements to pick up some stuff for dinner and after picking up what I needed, I headed to the candy aisle. There I saw Hershey bars aplenty, but there was other chocolate bars too. Clements has a wide variety of gourmet chocolates so it’s always worth peeking at what they have. Most of the gourmet bars dabble in the dark chocolates and that wasn’t what I was looking for today on National Milk Chocolate Day (in truth, I never look for dark chocolate – I’m a milk chocolate fan). One bar caught my eye because it had some really bright packaging. There were a few different types of bars – Extra Dark Chocolate, Dark Pecan Coconut, Milk Caramel Sea Salt. All sounded great, but then I saw their Milk Chocolate bar. It had a screaming red label which caught my attention. I picked it up and it felt good in my hand with a nice heft to it. Then I read the label which proudly proclaimed it was 100% slave free chocolate. What now?
It was on the pricier side, as most things are at Clements, but I decided to pick up this candy bar as my celebration of National Milk Chocolate Day. When I got home, Lola was on the phone and I was unable to determine if it was the bank, a lawyer or a realtor. I tried to stay quiet in the background (which is not my forte). I unpacked my bag of groceries and got our steak marinating. I put the veggies in the fridge for our salad. Then I put the candy bar on the table. I was kind of hungry at this point and there was a giant candy bar sitting in front of me, so I decided to take a bite. I unpeeled the wrapper carefully. The outer wrapper had lots of info on it, so I put that to the side to read later. I peeled the foil slowly, like Charlie unwrapping a Wonka bar, and then I saw the beautiful brown color of chocolate inside. The company logo was etched into the bar and there were lines in the candy going in diagonal directions in which you could break off uneven pieces. It reminded me of the design on Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, but with the name Tony branded boldly over it all. The candy was called Tony’s Chocolonely. And it’s fan-friggin-tastic.
I learned a lot by eating this chocolate. First, in regards to taste, it really was delicious. It was a taste that grew on you. When I bit in, I didn’t much care for it. It tasted like hippie chocolate – you could almost smell the pachouli oils in the air (that could have been a bias my tastebuds were holding onto). But then it got better as it started to melt in my mouth. The sweetness came through, the creaminess. It was really good chocolate. I wanted to share a piece with Lola but she was on the phone still and nobody on the phone wants to be interrupted by someone going, “try this!” I had another piece, then another. Then I started reading about it. Here’s what I learned today thanks to this chocolate bar:
- Most of the cocoa that manufacturers get to make chocolate comes from West Africa specifically Ghana and the Ivory Coast. They farm about 60% of the world’s cocoa bean supply.
- The farmers who harvest the cocoa use children as laborers and 90% of all West African children (about 2 million kids) who work on cocoa plantations work under illegal and dangerous conditions. That’s modern slavery.
- Dutch investigative reporter Teun (Tony) van de Keuken did a report on the slavery on cocoa farms in Africa and it changed his life. He wanted to do something about it.
- Tony ate a couple of chocolate bars and then turned himself in to the authorities as a chocolate criminal saying that by eating chocolate, he was complicit in slavery. While this was supposed to bring the issue out into the open, it was not allowed to be prosecuted.
- In 2005, Tony decided to make chocolate using fair trade cocoa beans (thus being slave free). That’s where the company began and it has been growing ever since. Their mission is still to eradicate slavery in the chocolate industry.
- The name Chocolonely comes from Tony who was feeling like he was the only guy in the chocolate industry that cared about eradicating slavery from the industry. He was Choco-lonely.
- There is more to the candy being divided in uneven ways than just looking kind of cool. The unevenness of the bites represent the inequality in the chocolate trade. It’s also a mini-map of West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
- Info here comes from Tony’s Chocolonely
And it tastes good. Later in the night, Lola had taken a piece of the chocolate and immediately said how awesome it was. She had no idea about the message and mission behind it all – it was just tasty chocolate to her. I really felt like I learned something today and I was moved by the efforts. of this company. That’s powerful chocolate. It was interesting to me too that Nestlé was at the beginning of the creation of milk chocolate and they are still here today as a perpetrator of the inequality addressed by this company. It was interesting to see Roald Dahl’s wife comment here too – a direct connection to the candyman himself, Willy Wonka. That was a lot to digest.
Today’s celebration was like watching a documentary to me. It shed light on something that I knew nothing about and suddenly I was full of knowledge. However this also came with a delightful tasting chocolate to make me smile. If we are celebrating National Milk Chocolate Day than you really have to salute the pleasure of milk chocolate. The sweet taste that lies beneath the foil of any good candy bar. The joy of chocolate at its best. Not dark and bitter – this is light, smooth and sweet. That led me to picking up the Tony Chocolonely bar just to try something different. That’s when my mind was opened up to bigger things. Learning has been one of the joys of this whole quest. I’ve discovered so many things I never knew before. Today’s message was a little heavier than usual, but you can’t just look away. There’s always something more we can do, and if that means eating really good chocolate, then I will do what I can.
Next up: National Chicken Wing Day