Friday, April 14, 2017

Meet the Woman behind Ococoa

Diana Fill Cup Molds
Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, help me welcome Diana Malouf, the founder and chocolatier beyond Ococoa to our blog today. Thank you Diana, for joining us.

Diana, Ococoa started the same year as this blog, 2009, and we did a feature on your butter cups in January 2010. At that time we weren't doing interviews so we're very curious, how did you get started in the chocolate business?

I frequently hand-made edible gifts for friends. Often times they were baked treats but one year I decided to try my hand at making peanut butter cups. I hand-painted the inside of the paper candy cups with what I thought was tempered chocolate. I honestly don’t remember if it tempered correctly, but nevertheless I was hooked. After a few years of experimenting, a friend talked me into starting Ococoa. 

Ococoa Cut and Stacked Butter Cups

You began with butter cups, delicious butter cups, that were not limited to the commonly and mass produced peanut butter cups many of us in the USA grew up with. Where did you get the idea of making different types of butter creams to fill chocolate cups?

After making that initial batch of peanut butter cups, I became curious about how other types of nut butters might work with chocolate and began experimenting from there. 

My Middle Eastern heritage largely influenced the flavors I initially gravitated towards. I use a number of ingredients that are popular in Middle Eastern desserts such as tahini, rose oil, pistachios, figs. 

One of the rules you follow at Ococoa is to "Use excellent ingredients" so what type of couverture do you use and has that changed as your business has grown over the years?

I have always used E. Guittard chocolate for most of my confections. It’s excellent quality and Fair Trade. I find that it nicely complements the fillings in my bon bons. When chocolate takes center stage such as in our Valentine’s hearts and the peat smoked truffle, I’ll use Valrhona. 

We've tested and written about E. Guittard here on The Chocolate Cult and I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. What do you think has been the greatest challenge you've overcome to have a successful chocolate business?

I started Ococoa because I enjoy making chocolate confections, playing with flavors, and learning new techniques. However running a business isn’t just about pursuing a passion; it involves a lot of nuts and bolts. My business partner Liz and I have to wear a lot of hats. Luckily she and I are very curious and determined people. 

Ococoa Caramelized Almonds
I see that the types of chocolates you offer now has expanded into Truffle & Caramel Bars and Caramelized Almonds. Why did you decide to expand your product line and do you think you'll expand it again in the near future?

If it were possible, I’d be introducing new products all the time. I love experimenting. However, launching new products requires a lot of care and resources and since time and space are finite, we have to be careful about how many products we offer at any given time. That being said, I’ve been toying with the idea a new line of caramel bars for the Fall. 

Currently you have seasonal gifts as well as your year round flavors of bars and butter cups. How many seasonal lines do you offer?  What is your best selling season?

 We have seasonal confections for Fall, Valentine’s Day, and Spring. In fact, we are currently carrying our Spring Forget-Me-Nots, which are filled with layers of caramel, marshmallow, and truffle. Valentine’s Day is naturally a big season for us. We offer a gift collection of hand-painted raspberry hearts that are simply delicious. My favorite is the White Chocolate Ganache with Raspberry Shrub; you get the sweetness of the white ganache with the tartness of the raspberry vinegar jam. It’s such a surprising yet balanced combination of flavors.

Diana Malouf

Let's get back to a more personal question. We know from your story of how you decided to get into the chocolate business, that you have a lifetime relationship with candy. Do you have a personal favorite type of chocolate -- white, milk, semi-sweet, darker?

I like well-crafted chocolate and that can include dark, milk and even white. I am heartened by the rise of the bean-to-bar movement over the past several years and that people are learning that chocolate can be enjoyed much like wine where you learn about the terroir of the bean and the importance of how the beans are processed. A good couverture is the result of quality processes. Having said that, I mostly work with dark chocolate because my flavors tend to be more rich and savory, rather than the sweeter notes of white or milk chocolate. 

Of all of the flavors of butter cups that you make and sell what is your personal favorite(s)?  Is that the same best selling flavor you offer?

My favorite amongst the butter cups is Sesame Fig. I love the combination of savory tahini blended with dark chocolate and balanced with the fig jam. The Peat Smoked Truffle is also near and dear to me. I infuse cream with smoked organic peat; then the cream is used as a base for the ganache. It’s a strong flavor, and it’s not for everyone, but I’m partial to peaty scotch so this suits me. 

Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Ococoa?

Well, this is a fun fact. Ococoa’s tag line is “thoughtfully crafted chocolate.” The primary motivation behind that choice was to emphasize how much time and deliberation goes into each confection we create. But it’s also a nod to the fact that Liz and I were both worked in brainy professions in our previous lives: she was a professor and I worked at a think-tank. Our love of learning has transferred over to Ococoa and all things chocolate.

Thank you, Diana, for speaking with us. I'm looking forward to sharing your Forget-Me-Not line with our readers on Saturday.

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