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The Land of Milk and Honey Becomes a Land of High-End Chocolate

Chocolate Week begins in Israel, spotlighting dozens of artisan chocolatiers that have sprung up in the past few years

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Chocolate Week in 2013. (Noa Magar)
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Tiny new chocolate businesses continue to pop up in the north. One belongs to chocolatier Justin Fine, who grew up in Kentucky and lived in New York for five years before making aliyah. After spending a year in Israel with Young Judaea, Fine returned to the United States to get his undergraduate degree from Columbia University, during which he attended a pastry program at the French Culinary Institute (now known as the International Culinary Center). After graduating, he did an internship at a small chocolatier in Brooklyn, and in July 2012 made aliyah with his wife. He opened a small chocolate shop in Zikhron Ya’akov, selling his own brand, called Xocoatl, which is one of the only two artisan bean-to-bar chocolate companies in the country—the other being Holy Cacao in Ma’ale Hever, a settlement in the West Bank.

“We have cocoa beans from Peru and the Dominican Republic, although we are almost out of Peru and will hopefully getting beans from Venezuela to replace them,” said Fine. “Most of the chocolate that we make is dark chocolate. We grind dark chocolate from 60 percent to 100 percent with no added flavorings and also have flavored chocolates with our 60 percent and 70percent chocolates.” He also makes filled chocolates, baked goods, and chocolate flavored with everything from cinnamon to hazelnut, curry to chili.

“Most chocolatiers around the world buy ready-made chocolate, melt it, and add fillings to it. I personally think that it’s cheating,” said Fine. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling a product mine unless I made as much of it as possible. If you’re making a chocolate bonbon, how can it truly be yours if its main ingredient was made by someone else? I touch every single cocoa bean while sorting, and I hand pick the shell out of the nibs when the winnowing machine does a less than ideal job.”

Since Fine made aliyah not long ago, he still holds an outsider’s perspective on Israeli chocolate: “The Israeli palate is strange,” he noted. “The love of dark chocolate that is spreading through the United States has yet to make its way to Israel. The dark chocolate that I make is sweeter than what I prefer, and sweeter than it would have been had I opened in the States, because I’ve found that’s what Israelis prefer.”

Most Israelis aren’t yet aware of the high-end chocolate being produced domestically. “Today there is some great Israeli chocolate but not enough people are buying it yet,” said Dayani. But she hopes Chocolate Week will change that: “We’re optimistic and have a reason to be. In recent years we’ve seen a change in how the Israeli public views wine or olive oil, and we’re waiting for the same thing to happen with chocolate. I believe that after three or four more Chocolate Weeks and festivals, the message will really sink in.”

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The Land of Milk and Honey Becomes a Land of High-End Chocolate

Chocolate Week begins in Israel, spotlighting dozens of artisan chocolatiers that have sprung up in the past few years

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