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A little more than three years ago (this past May) the kosher world was in a tizzy. Was it a ban on schita (ritual slaughter)? A scandal in a kosher agency? Bugs found in water? No, no, and no. It was news that a high quality yet affordable chocolate chip – namely the Trader Joe’s pareve chocolate chip – was going dairy – and Jews around the U.S. were up in arms! Petitions were signed, Facebook groups were started, and hundreds of articles – including a piece in the Wall Street Journal – were written.
Why all the fuss? Having never tried them myself, it’s hard for me to understand. But these chocolate chips seem to have almost a cult following in the Orthodox Jewish world. For the chalav Yisrael eating folks, a non-chalav Yisrael dairy chocolate chip would be inedible. For the entire kosher community, Shabbos dessert – which usually follows a meat meal – would need to have another source of pareve chocolate chips.
Apparently the recipe didn’t change, but the practice for how Trader Joe’s cleaned their equipment did. (Get this: you clean chocolate equipment with liquid chocolate. Willy Wonka, anyone?) Because of the cleaning process, the product could no longer be certified as pareve. I made the mistake of telling people on social media that the chip was still pareve (which I had heard from a reliable source) and some of my friends were very upset with me.
Why? Because not only were articles and advocacy part of the response, so was hoarding. Lots of it. Cases and cases of chocolate chips hoarded all over the U.S. of A. Some people thought they would just ride it out. “It happened to Duncan Hines,” they told themselves, “eventually those went pareve again. The day will come for this too.” But it didn’t, and after a year of waiting and finishing up her supplies, a Chasidic woman from Pittsburgh, who is a teacher by trade and a chocolate chip lover by passion, decided it was time to find a solution.
In Ethics of the Fathers our sages teach “In a place where there are no men, strive to be one.” For Chana Schusterman (who would regularly give out chocolate chips to her students as treats) it was more like “In a place where there are no men making high quality yet affordable chocolate chips, strive to make them.” And make them she did.
She gathered a group of investors – mostly families members – who shared her passion for the confection and began doing taste-tests. Chana gathered a small group of chocolate connoisseurs and put their taste buds to the test. They were able to narrow down the best tasting, high quality (45% cacao!), pareve chocolate chip. Chana then got a group of designers together to make an attractive, affordable, air-tight package (many have noted the chocolate chips stay fresher in this bag than what Trader Joe’s offered.) The trickiest part was balancing quality and price. There are other chips on the market, but they can cost up to seven dollars a bag. Knowing that her customers were most likely going to buy 3-5 bags at a time, Chana wanted to be sure her product was affordable. Together with her dedicated team they created California Gourmet, a line of superior pareve chocolate chips for fewer than four dollars a bag.
Her company is now preparing for their fifth run (in anticipation of the High Holidays) and is sold in 100 locations. There are even plans to roll out California Gourmet chocolate chips on Amazon Prime in the fall. I told Chana that many people see Orthodox women as those who are always barefoot, pregnant, chained to their kitchen. I wondered where her entrepreneurial spirit came from. She explained her father has a bunch of patents and raised her and her siblings to believe that just because it doesn’t exist yet doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen. (I loved the sound of that!!)
Why chocolate as her cause? Besides loving the stuff, Chana saw this vacuum in the Jewish community and knew how many lives she could improve by making people’s Shabbos and Yom Tov meals more special. While I never tried the Trader Joe’s version, I was able to sample California Gourmet when I spoke in Pittsburgh recently and they are DELICIOUS. (P.S. It is good to know people who work in chocolate!)
We at Jew in the City wanted to help spread some sweetness to all of our fans who have been suffering since the fateful day the Trader Joe’s chips went dairy and are running a contest with California Gourmet. Head over to over Facebook or Instagram to enter the contest!