Jo Zander came to the Land of Israel in 2003, He began his journey by working in some restaurants but never really found his footing in the restaurant world. Going back as long as he could remember, Jo had always wanted to get into chocolate. His family had been
bakers for four generations and as a young child he had worked in his fathers bakery, giving him his love for baking and specifically for chocolate. Jo began making chocolate full time in 2007 with Zev Stender, his business partner who also attended yeshiva with him. Together they set up their factory just outside the city of Hebron in a little community nestled in the Judean hills, and began making high quality chocolate using the ancient craft of "bean-to-bar" chocolate.
Bean to bar chocolate is a craft going back centuries, which has seen a revival in the past several years mainly in the US. Until the Spanish conquered the Aztecs in the 16th century, cacao was indigenous to South America and was used as a drink, a cooking ingredient and even a form of currency. Since its spread across Europe from Spain, nobility and the upper class paid particular attention to the flavorful fruit from prized trees in particular regions.
Talking with Jo about the different flavors of cacao beans he says:
“Just as wine is Sauvignon or Merlot, depending on where the grapes are grown, the taste of our chocolate is influenced by where the cacao was imported from, It’s a magical tree; and when we transform the fruit into chocolate, the origin of the cacao is essential to its flavor.” But finding the right trees with the specific cacao flavor they wanted wasn’t easy, especially thousands of miles from the South American sources. For months Jo was searching for a good contact until he gave a lift to a Peruvian girl in Gush Etzion and
discovered that her father had direct connections to farmers in the South American cacao industry.
There are a lot of different ways of making chocolate. But they chose to go the Old World route. It sometimes creates difficulties, but they have always found a way to keep their dream of producing quality chocolate in Israel alive.
As for the bean-to-bar method itself, the process works like this: Selected rare cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, refined with pure cane sugar and put through a process called “conching,” which Holy Cacao’s owners describe as the point “where all other chocolate factories in Israel start.” Constructed in 1879, the original conch machine looked like a giant seashell, hence the name. Depending on time and temperature, conching gives the chocolate maker freedom to enhance or diminish certain flavors. Finally, the chocolate is poured into large blocks, aged up to six months at a time. When it reaches the point where confection artists Jo and Zev believe it’s ready, it is melted down, poured into molds and packaged.