Black Dinah Chocolatiers
Whoever says “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get,” clearly has never tried Black Dinah Chocolatiers. Each confection has carefully chosen ingredients, unique flavor and texture with every bite of chocolate sure to please.
As part of our Meet the Maker series, we recently had the pleasure of touring Black Dinah’s Westbrook factory store where the local chocolate we carry in-store is produced. We enjoyed the pleasure to talk one-on-one with owner, Kate Shaffer, whose infectious energy is reminiscent of the boundless exuberance of Willy Wonka.
Where does the name Black Dinah come from, and how did you get started? Black Dinah is the name of a mountain (really, more of a large rock) on Isle au Haut, where we founded our business in 2007. We started making chocolate in our home kitchen, located at the base of Black Dinah Mountain. We also ran a small cafe May-October there for 8 years where visitors from the island and from around the world, would come and enjoy a homemade breakfast, our iced drinking chocolate and handcrafted chocolates before they hit the Black Dinah Trail, which began at the edge of our cafe deck.
What makes your chocolate different from others? One of the main things that makes our confections different from other chocolates is that we start with fresh, whole ingredients. We don’t use extracts or oils to flavor our chocolates; instead, if we’re making a mint truffle, we use mint grown right next door. Or real, foraged apples in our Northern Apple truffle. It’s an expensive and labor-intensive process to protect the flavor of fresh fruit, vegetable, herbs, and flowers so that it comes through in just the right way in our confections. Since our ingredients - often brought into our kitchen on the day they are harvested - are subject to fickle Maine weather conditions, soil, and harvest times, our recipes need constant tweaking. This is what makes it fun for us, and is also what makes our chocolates taste so different than anything else out there. I see it every day when I offer a chocolate to someone new. Their face tells me that all that work is worth it. A thousand times worth it. Chocolate should make people smile like that!
Can you tell us about your process/where you source your ingredients? For all of our recipes, we use single-origin chocolates from companies that don’t use slave or child labor to harvest their cacao. Additionally, the chocolates we use are either organic, or grown without pesticides or clearcutting. We also prefer to use chocolates that are produced in the same communities where the cacao is grown, making it more likely that the harvesting community is benefiting and profiting from the sale of the final product. (This is different from the traditional model where raw beans are sold to European or American chocolate making companies as a commodity at the lowest price possible, and then made into chocolate.) Likewise, we use cream, butter, cheese, and produce that is grown and produced right here in the state of Maine. We are wholly committed to using the freshest, tastiest, most sustainable, and fairly traded ingredients out there.
What are your plans for the future? Right now we are fully focused on increasing Black Dinah’s presence online and acquiring new retail partners across the US. Personally, I’m making more time for writing, both freelance and work on larger projects. I have a great team at both our factory in Westbrook, and our Tasting Room in Blue Hill, whose work and dedication allow me to step away from Black Dinah for a few hours a week to pursue these other interests and discover time to consider planning a future!