Councilwoman and Chocolatier

Nancy Nadel's Jamaican connection.

It all started when the cocoa farmers of St. Mary Parish in Jamaica
started talking about cutting down their trees. Prices at the
government fermentary, the farmers’ only market, weren’t good enough to
justify the crop. Nancy Nadel thought maybe they could do better. The
Oakland city council member first visited St. Mary Parish on a family
vacation almost two decades ago. Connections from that vacation grew,
and she became friends with local farmers and familiar with their
issues.

Nadel suspected there was an untapped market for the parish’s beans,
which seemed perfect for organic certification given that most small
farmers couldn’t afford pesticides or chemical fertilizer anyway. She
researched the matter, working with farmers to create an organic
fermentary and produce organic, fair trade, Jamaican-origin chocolate.
The Oakland Chocolate Company was born.

Nadel took a class in chocolate technology at UC Davis and has been
practicing ever since. Last summer she spent her Jamaican vacation
getting hands-on experience with the fermenting process and its impact
on chocolate’s flavor. She carried home some processed beans to become
leaves, bonbons, and bars. “I feel like I finally found my medium in
chocolate,” said Nadel, who has degrees in geology, fine art, and
engineering geoscience. “It’s such an incredible marriage of art and
science.”

Still in its start-up phase, the company offers tasty chocolate and
a parade of seasonal creations. Last spring, her sister Susan suggested
a truffle for Cinco de Mayo, with dark chocolate ganache rolled in
cocoa nibs, crushed blue corn chips, chipotle pepper, and flor de sal.
Cinco de Mayo came and went, but Truffles Susanna remain a hit. Nadel
is now exploring Scotch Bonnet peppers, ginger, and spicy rum
concoctions. “Lately, I’m working on a variation of a candy my
grandmother used to make for the Passover holiday,” she said. “Next
month, I’m trying a quince-filled bonbon with quince from my friend
Margo’s tree in Berkeley.”

Meanwhile, the company has organized meetings with organic farming
experts. Along the way, they’ve found that the cost of getting
international organic certification, currently $2,500 per farm, is
prohibitive. One possible solution is forming a co-op, but different
agencies have conflicting requirements.

This fall, Nadel brought a metric ton of the parish’s cocoa beans
back to Oakland. She also bought a lot of the local almonds, the
proceeds of which helped local worker Churchill send his son Jarvon to
school.

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