Ghirardelli’s chocolatiers

Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, a tourist destination in San Francisco, is offering something new: a “chocolatier” program.

view of Ghirardelli factory

The Ghirardelli complex of historic factory buildings as seen from the San Francisco maritime museum’s ship, the Balclutha.

The “factory” isn’t really a factory anymore. Ghirardelli’s chocolate production has moved to a more modern factory out of town and the historic buildings near Fisherman’s Wharf are now a complex of shops, with an emphasis on everything chocolate. There’s an ice cream place and a chocolate shop and a diner, but there are also gift shops and a wine tasting place.

Chocolate is an addiction for me, so a demonstration struck me as worth visiting. At a big counter, backed by views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, a chocolatier, Jessica Martin, demonstrated making chocolate by hand. In effect, this chocolatier program represents the return of chocolate production to the original factory.

Jessica holding a chocolate slab with "mom" drawn on it.

Jessica shows me a chocolate she made.

Jessica started at Ghirardelli a couple of years ago busing tables, working her way up to this job as a chocolatier. She showed me how she made chocolate slabs. The tempering machines keep the chocolate (milk, dark and white) smooth, shiny and at a constant temperature, stirring the liquid constantly to prevent it from hardening.

a tempering machine

a tempering machine

She mixes the chocolate with nuts or dried fruit or whatever she’s adding, and then pours it into a form. Since it’s not being heated anymore, it hardens quickly. When it has the consistency of butter, she cuts it to shape, then puts it in a fridge to cool down further.

chocolate slabs

Chocolate slabs. These have dried apricot and dried cranberries mixed in.

I always wondered how they make shaped chocolates like Easter bunnies. I knew they were poured into molds and then the two halves glued together somehow, but I didn’t realize how they created different colors, like the tie and buttons on this snowman (below). Jessica showed me a mold, and explained how the different colors of chocolate are painted onto the inside of the molds. After it dries, they are painted again, and again allowed to dry. The two halves are placed together and more chocolate is poured in, then poured out again. This coats both sides with chocolate, glues the halves together, and leaves a hollow center. It’s quite labor-intensive if it’s done by hand, as these are.

chocolate snowman

Chocolate snowman

Jessica could tell me all sorts of things about the process of making chocolate and about the history of the Ghirardelli brand. The real reason, though, that I was reluctant to leave the building was the smell: that wonderful odor of good quality chocolate. It was like breathing chocolate: my idea of heaven.

Nevertheless, I’m sorry that I visited when I did. Sometime next year, Ghirardelli will start offering visitors the opportunity to actually take part in chocolate-making, not just watch someone else do it. Details haven’t been settled yet, but you’ll be able to sign up for a “class” and make your own chocolates. I would love to do that; mine would involve dark chocolate and caramel and salt…

Did I mention that this place smells wonderful?

Keep an eye out for their press release about the classes sometime in 2015. This will be fun!

[Disclosure: While the chocolatier demonstrations are free to all visitors, I was accompanied by a PR person and given free chocolate (the way to my heart!).]


  • Sue

    December 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    The Ghiradelli factory is located in San Leandro, right next door to San Leandro Hospital. The aroma of chocolate wafts over the parking lot and sometimes makes its way into the hospital. Given the number of patients we serve who have diabetes, this feels a bit cruel. The factory has been there since 1968; the hospital has been there a bit longer.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.