All around the Jewish world, Chanukah is chocolate season. But that doesn’t have to mean you’re stuck with the waxy chocolate coins known as gelt. In fact, a new wave of boutique chocolate makers in Israel are redefining this beloved indulgence in Israel. Many of their skillfully crafted products are already available in the United States. One taste and it’s clear: Gelt has grown up.
This new guard of chocolatiers, contributing a reported $5.3 million to Israel’s domestic $40 million market, are savvy business owners and gourmands. Among them, only one — Joe Zander — imports whole cacao beans, working with the raw material from start to finish. This New Jersey native resides about 40 minutes outside of Jerusalem, in the Southern Chevron Hills, and like his comrades in chocolate, he is the definitive Israeli chocolatier: independent and artisan. Zander maintains his own piece of land in Peru, where he cultivates organic beans. Akin to the layered flavors of wine, his 72 percent Peruvian chocolate reveals delicious, complex, fruity hints of berries. His Dominican is darker, richer, more coffeelike. His 56 percent contains imperceptible ground hazelnuts that lighten and sweeten each bite.
Zander’s Holy Cacao label features sketches of the machinery used to make chocolate from bean to bar: a roaster, mill, conche and winnower. Seasonally, Zander makes truffles in a wide variety of flavors. Currently, he markets his wares online and through in-person individual sales in Israel, with plans to export on the horizon. holycacaochocolate.com.
Less than an hour’s drive from Zander’s base of operations, Sima Amsalem handcrafts chocolate in a pastoral setting within Jerusalem. Ein Karem is an ancient neighborhood resembling a Tuscan village. Amsalem’s brand, Sweet N’Karem, is a tasty homage to this beautiful setting. This self-professed chocolate addict leads a small but critical team of three women chocolatiers. Together, they produce about 40 kilograms of dark, milk and white chocolate pralines, truffles and bars each month in a former Crusader building with thick stone walls and arches. In addition to high-cacao content pieces, there are liqueur infusions and other fresh ingredients, including marzipan, whole nuts and dried fruit. Everything is packaged with the whimsical logo: a truffle fairy resting on a massive chocolate pod. The self-educated Amsalem also leads workshops for groups of 10 to 20 people seeking to learn how to make chocolates at home. Visitors also personalize Sweet N’Karem products for bar mitzvahs, weddings, corporate events and more. Minutes away, the Chocolate House retail shop at 2 Mevo HaShaar offers coffee, ice cream, gifts and more. 2eat.co.il/sweetnkarem.
Chocolate that goes down easy is the sole aim of Chocoholique, a cottage industry that began when former chef Marc Gottlieb tasted an inferior homemade version of chocolate liqueur. Inspired to make his own libation, this 2006 immigrant from Cedarhurst, N.Y., showed off his creation to his friend and neighbor, Shimona Gotlieb. It was so delicious that, soon after, the pair launched Chocoholique. In two and half years, “Gottlieb & Gotlieb” have introduced eight pareve, mehadrin flavors. Top seller Peanut Butter is a boozy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Intense Chocolate is made with 60 percent cacao content. And in all flavors, the alcohol level is kept low, just 7 percent, to ensure the alcohol’s astringency doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the chocolate. Other than acknowledging that it is sourced from various bars, the pair keeps their provenance confidential. Keep your eyes peeled for imports — Chocoholique plans to launch in the United States at Kosherfest 2012. chocoholique.com.
Galita’s Chocolate Farm
Galit Alpert founded her namesake Galita’s Chocolate Farm in 1999 with methods she acquired during three years’ training in Belgium. Consumed by chocolate’s flavor and texture, Alpert set up shop in a beautiful stone building that once housed the historic Kibbutz Degania Bet’s first cow shed 85 years ago. The Galita chocolateria boasts an extensive line of products, family-friendly guided tours, a coffee and homemade ice cream bar and chocolate-making workshops for all ages. Nestled amid banana groves and green lawns near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Galita’s embodies Alpert’s nine reasons to love chocolate: for health, soul, energy, childhood memories, relaxation, joy, desire, love and for yourself — as outlined on her charming (Hebrew-language) Web site, galita.co.il.
De Karina Artisan Gourmet Chocolates Handmade Mountain Chocolate
Tucked away in a small “chocolate house” in the Golan Heights town of Ein Zivan, De Karina Artisan Gourmet Chocolates surprises the palate with a hint of South American flavor. Named for its founder, Argentine immigrant Karina Cheplinski, this third-generation chocolatier incorporates subtle tastes and contrasting flavors, carrying on the tradition of her grandfather, an emigrant from Europe. Her factory features a coffee shop, guided tours, tastings and workshops on tempering, making truffles and other mouth-watering adventures in chocolate-making. Advance reservations required. de-karina.co.il.
When Roy Gershon grew tired of working in technology management positions, he turned his zeal to creating Roy Chocolate. He operates a factory, a flagship store in Tel Aviv and another in Ramat Gan’s Ayalon Mall. Greshon also supplies franchises in Rishon L’Zion, Afula, Cinema City, Haifa and Jerusalem with more than 100 flavors of pralines, truffles and intense liqueurs in innovative bottles. There are also fun gifts galore: chocolate hearts on cinnamon sticks ready to melt into hot chocolate, LoveCakes filled with ganache, gorgeous French macaroons, cupcakes topped with chantilly cream, chocolate lollipops with romantic sayings and much more in pareve, dairy, and lactose- and sugar-free varieties. Each week, Gershon also conducts several workshops around Israel. roychocolate.co.il.
In Gush Tel Mond, in the Lev HaSharon industrial area near Netanya, Ornat considers itself the grandparent of Israel’s handmade chocolates. Established in 1987 by the La’or and Ronat families in the tradition of Dutch chocolate making, it ships pralines around the world, personalizing them for special events and corporate clients. The Ornat company operates a visitors center. Guests ages 6 and older are welcome for tours and chocolate-making workshops. cho.co.il.
Though once handcrafted, Max Brenner’s “Chocolate by the Bald Man,” was acquired in 2001 by Strauss Group, which, in 2004, also merged with Elite, Israel’s leading mass-market brand. The bald man is a composite creation of founders Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner. Visit their Willy Wonka-inspired Chocolate Bar in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall and other locations around the world for signature products such as high-impact “cigarette packs” containing almost equally addictive wafer-thin bars and chocolate-covered caramelized pecans in colorful, reusable gift tins simply labeled “Nuts.” Of course, there are also pralines in a wide variety of flavors, including sea salt, as well as truffles and scrumptious creamy/crunchy “Feuilletine Fingers.” Innovative menu items include chocolate pizza topped with milk and white chocolate (and optional banana slices, melted marshmallows and whipped cream), a speckled “Cookieshake” of Oreos, carmelized pecans and white-chocolate creme, a “cappuccino of milk chocolate” and the not-to-be-missed, pudding-like Italian hot dark chocolate. Worth every calorie. maxbrenner.com, max-brenner.co.il.