sharon epler yaniv 298.
(photo credit: Meredith Price)
In the verdant tranquility of the Judean hills, dark confections are brewing. The rich aroma of chocolate fills the air. Its savory smell stretches from a small wooden building just up the hill to the gated entrance of Kibbutz Nahshon. A few kilometers away from the city of Latrun, the kibbutz is tucked away in a quiet corner of the Ayalon Valley, and today, not a soul is in sight.
Late morning sun filters through a canopy of skinny pine trees, and a gentle breeze pulls a few dry leaves across a small road as I make my way to the Corinth Chocolate factory. Apart from Ivory, Sharon Epler-Yaniv's lively guard dog who greets me with a ferocious tail-wagging, a hushed holiday stillness hovers over the entire kibbutz.
Even inside Sharon's cozy chocolate factory, normally animated with stirring pots, rolling pins and pouring tablets, things are quiet with operations at a standstill for the Succot vacation.
"We just moved here recently," says Sharon, giving me the grand tour of a snug kitchen and two long, adjoining rooms that constitute the Corinth chocolate company's new home. "And we're beginning to outgrow this place too."
Stacks of chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, and chocolate slivers line the walls of the outer room, revealing the origins of that intoxicating smell. Two large, white containers store most of Sharon's ingredients - crushed and roasted cocoa beans, a cashew and hazelnut mixture, orange peels, chai spices, shredded coconut and coffee beans.
"When I first started making my chocolate, I worked at home in a small kitchen and sold it in shopping malls and at food festivals," says Sharon. "But after about a year, I started getting orders from stores and I couldn't do it in my living room anymore."
Born in Kfar Vradim, Sharon studied sociology in Israel and then moved to New Zealand for four years, where she completed a Masters in Social Education. But after years of working with mentally challenged children, she wanted a change.
"When I got back to Israel, I started thinking that I wanted to do something different with my life," Sharon explains. "I knew I wanted to be self-employed, and when I thought about doing something I truly love, dark chocolate came to mind."
After completing an intensive course in chocolate-making at Le N tre in Paris two years ago, Sharon returned to Israel ready to begin inventing recipes of her own.
"I saw that people really liked my chocolate, and I took it from there," says Sharon. "It's a lot of trial and error, but it's never too difficult to find willing candidates for tasting."
Sharon, who only works with dark chocolate, says that true chocolate lovers prefer it because of the higher percentage of actual cocoa and the more authentic taste, which is not masked by loads of sugar. As an added bonus, some scientific research in recent years has noted the health benefits of dark chocolate containing 70% or more cocoa solids. Beyond providing essential trace elements and nutrients, among them iron, calcium and potassium, it is also a good natural source for magnesium. Some research has even pointed to the benefits of dark chocolate for relieving pre-menstrual tension. Dark chocolate also contains anti-oxidising flavanoids, thought to be helpful in cancer prevention.
"I focus on dark chocolate because I like it the best, but we sell it largely in health food stores because of its proven health benefits and lower sugar content," says Sharon, whose Corinth chocolates are carried by specialty stores all over Israel.
Today, the Corinth chocolate bars come with three different cocoa percentages: 58 percent, 70%, and 80%. For the true chocolate connoisseurs, Corinth also makes thin slivers with 90% cocoa beans.
"Cocoa has a strong flavor, so we make the 90% very, very thin so that the taste is not overwhelming," says Sharon. Corinth also carries chocolate gift boxes and truffles with an assortment of flavors.
Originally used by the Mayan Indians in mystical ceremonies, the beans from the South American cacao tree were thought to have magical, aphrodisiacal powers, explains Sharon. In fact, the word "cacao" literally translates from Mayan as "god food," but it was not until Cortez began importing the cocoa bean to Spain that the roots of modern chocolate were formed in the New World.
"I chose the name Corinth because it was the city of the gods in Greek mythology," Sharon says. Beyond the nomenclature, Sharon is working hard to make sure that in taste as well, her chocolate is suitable for the divine.
For more information, visit www.corinthchoc.com or email Sharon at [email protected]