When Denise Castronovo was in high school, she made a commitment to do meaningful work for the environment. Many years later, after graduate studies in ecology and a stint at her own consulting firm, she stumbled on chocolate.
“Around 2008, I tried some of the cacao nibs that were coming out at the time, and I realized that was where chocolate came from,” she says. “No one in Florida was doing bean-to-bar chocolate—companies were adding flavorings to chocolate bars but not paying attention to the raw materials. They seemed to think that all chocolate was the same.”
She founded Castronovo Chocolate in 2012 and has won more than 100 international awards since then. Like coffee, beer, and spirits, chocolate has recently attained an aura of connoisseurship, and Castronovo is focused on elevating the product in the gourmet market.
The process of converting cacao beans to chocolate bars takes slightly over a week. Castronovo believes that “each bean has its own story” and sources her product from brokers and farmers in Latin and South America. The beans arrive already fermented and dried; they are roasted and the husks removed before being placed in a stone grinder for five days. After being tempered, the chocolate is ready to be formed into bars, truffles, and specialty items.
“Many people think chocolate is fattening, but our customers don’t gobble down a whole bar at once,” says Castronovo. “They tend to be nibblers, like people who sip fine wine. Our chocolate is more satisfying, and the flavor stays in your mouth for minutes afterward.”
Her specialty—and one of her most popular items—is dark milk chocolate. Her versions are infused with at least 60 percent cacao and have the sugar level of traditional dark chocolate. Customers may choose Colombian Tumaco or Sierra Nevada, or Lost City from Honduras flavored with fleur de sel (flower of salt).
Castronovo Chocolate is available at the Stuart retail store on Colorado Avenue, online, or from gourmet retail partners around the country. The ripple effects of the business model are far-reaching: By purchasing rare, heirloom beans, Castronovo is helping to protect genetic varieties of cacao. Farmers are paid directly, earning between three and five times what they would get from a commodity exchange. And by obtaining beans grown in rain forests, she is also fulfilling her high school pledge. 555 S. Colorado Ave. Suite103, Stuart; 772.521.1699