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By Sharan Street
Published Feb 12, 2024

John Kelly Chocolates, based in Los Angeles, expanded its color palette to include ruby cacao, a new chocolate variety created by European chocolatier Barry Callebaut in 2017. John Kelly Chocolates, based in Los Angeles, expanded its color palette to include ruby cacao, a new chocolate variety created by European chocolatier Barry Callebaut in 2017. Image credit: John Kelly Chocolates

State of (Chocolate) Nirvana

For a baby boomer growing up in Southern California, a box of See’s Candies was meant to be savored. Unlike mass-produced candy bars, these chocolates required a special occasion. So it was disconcerting when a colleague from the Midwest wrinkled her nose at See’s, eschewing its nuts and chews for Daffin’s milk chocolate, a tradition in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

We would argue that for those who love dark chocolate, California rules. In a 2022 article titled “The Best Snack in Every State,” Food & Wine writer David Landsel asserted, “no place in America carries the humble cacao bean to greatness quite so ably as the Golden State. From everyday treats to the darkest single origins best nibbled by the shard with a glass of full-bodied red (local, of course), California has achieved chocolate nirvana.”


The Darker Side of Chocolate

It’s not just taste that sets our chocolate apart. It’s also the prevalence of “bean to bar” producers. Like so many raw materials in world history, cacao beans have been extracted cheaply from poor countries and processed into a commodity that profits wealthy ones. In the last couple of decades, a new generation of bean-to-bar chocolatiers began buying directly from farms that grow organic, sustainably produced cacao, and processing the beans themselves.

California has a plethora of chocolatiers who make traditional European-style bonbons, as well as those who craft rough-hewn bars from raw chocolate. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ve assembled a travel guide to California chocolate, from Eureka to San Diego.


Beans, Bars and Bonbons: A Guide to California Chocolate

From its factory on the San Francisco Peninsula, Guittard makes chocolates that are used by professional pastry chefs and confectioners, including See’s Candies.
From giant companies with roots in the Gold Rush days to local microproducers with a focus on fair trade, California is ground zero for high-end chocolate.

History Channels

While we’re on the subject of California history—one of our favorite topics at California Local—here are a couple of quick reads. One is an evergreen story published by the Sacramento Observer a couple years ago about Sacramento’s African American historic landmarks. This registry of dozens of local sites, from churches to schools to civil rights organizations, was put together by Sacramento Girl Scout Maya Lee.

The other is a story just published this week that offers guidance on where to learn more about the history of Yolo County. We’ve published similar articles about other counties in our network, and here are the links where you can find those pieces: El Dorado County, Monterey County, Placer County, Sacramento County, San Benito County, Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz County.


Harvesting Information

The Woodland Opera House—George M. Cohan played there, as did John Philip Sousa.
Want to learn more about Yolo County’s history? Here are some good places to visit and sites to browse.

Landmarks of Black History

The Sacramento Observer broadcasts the Black community’s cultural heritage with its guide to landmarks.
Where is Sacramento’s Black Wall Street? Which park was named after LeVar Burton? Find out on SacObserver.com.


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