The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

Ghirardelli’s sweet history

Biting into the rich background of Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Heidi Poole
Ghirardelli Square has an ice cream/chocolate shop. The ice cream shop is an iconic town favorite for many San Francisco residents and tourists. “I used to bring my kids there for sundaes on the last day of summer, and now I bring them and their kids. It’s a nice family tradition that we created,” said San Francisco resident Cathy Gerstbacher.

Founded in 1852 by Italian chocolatier Domingo Ghirardelli, “Ghirardelli makes life a bite better” by carving a prominent part for themself in the world of confections. First established in San Francisco to supply the Gold Rush pioneers, this nearly 200-year-old iconic San Francisco symbol is America’s longest continually operating chocolatier. 

“In our family, chocolate is more than a treat; it’s a shared love that binds us together. Every moment becomes sweeter when we share chocolate as a family,” said San Francisco resident Cathy Gerstbacher.

The History

The beloved chocolate company dates back to the 1850s when it started as a small confectionery shop in Peru called Ghirardely & Girard, run by Italian Chocolatier Domingo Ghirardelli. Ghirardelli then met American Businessman James Lick, and the two became close business partners.

Chasing after the California Gold Rush, Ghirardelli and Lick set out to San Francisco in 1849. After failing as a prospector, Ghirardelli opened a general store in Stockton, California, selling tools and confections to local miners.

After several months of this successful business, Ghirardelli decided to split from Lick and open his own shop solely for confections, which quickly grew in popularity across the city and was known as some of the best chocolate around. 

As his businesses flourished, Ghirardelli brought his wife, Carmen Alvarado, and their six children, Angela, Elvira, Domingo, Eugenio, Giuseppe, and Luigi Ghirardelli, to America. The sons will later take over the business. 

Later that year, the company moved to Jackson Street in San Francisco, California. Two years later, in 1855, the company relocated again to the corner of Greenwich and Powell Streets, which also served as the family’s living quarters.

Ghirardelli retired in 1892, leaving the company to his sons. He died two years later on a trip to Italy.

At the turn of the century, the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed mass amounts of the city, causing many companies to go out of business. Fortunately, the Ghirardelli building was unharmed. Manufacturing and operations resumed just 10 days after the tragedy.

In 1923, Ghirardelli’s lightbulb sign was created that still passes through the Golden Gate Strait. 

Ghirardelli celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1952, and 10 years later, construction for a modern specialty shopping center, now known as Ghirardelli Square, a San Franciscan tourist attraction, began. 

Ghirardelli Square received National Historic Register status in 1982. One of the requirements for this status is the building being older than 50 years old.

In 1996, Ghirardelli held its first annual festival in Ghirardelli Square, where chocolate enthusiasts from all over the country gathered to enjoy the sweet treats.

Lindt and Sprüngli, a Swiss chocolate company, acquired Ghirardelli as a whole in 1998. A year later, Ghirardelli released their now famous filled chocolate squares.

Making the Chocolate

YouTube-Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

Select high-quality beans

High-quality cacao beans are the starting point of every Ghirardelli creation. For the last 160 years, Ghirardelli has selected top-quality beans worldwide and subjected them to rigorous proprietary testing. After the beans are chosen and fermented, they are left to dry in nature, starting the journey to become chocolate in the sun’s warm rays.

“The machines do most of the work, but the workers have to sort the packed chocolates. It’s very satisfying to see the chocolate being made though,” said an anonymous Ghirardelli employee.

Nibs roasting for intensity

Only the heart of the cacao bean, the nib, is roasted rather than the whole bean. By going straight to the pure heart of the bean, a more consistent chocolaty flavor can be produced.

The cocoa seed is cleaned to get to the nib, and the outer shell is removed. Once the nib is bare, that’s when the roasting process begins. 

Depending on the roasting time and temperature, different chocolate flavors develop. For example, to produce milk chocolate, the nibs are roasted for a shorter amount of time at a lower temperature, and vice versa for darker chocolate.

Once the nibs are roasted, they move to the grinder where the cocoa butter is released, and the chocolate becomes liquid, also known as chocolate liquor.

Refined for smoothness

Now that the nib is chocolate liquor, all the ingredients that go into the chocolate are refined. The ingredients are refined to 19 microns to avoid coarse textures. In comparison, human hair is around 100 microns.

Dark chocolate contains chocolate liquor, sugar, vanilla, and lecithin. Milk chocolate contains chocolate liquor, sugar, and milk powder. White chocolate contains sugar, milk powder, and cocoa powder. 

Conched for flavor

The conching process in the ice cream shop of Ghirardelli Square. (Heidi Poole)

The refined chocolate is then conched for hours to reduce moisture and drive off any bitter essence. This process also allows each chocolate particle to be coated with a layer of cocoa butter, resulting in a smoother, more intense chocolate flavor.

Conching is an extended process of intense mixing, agitating, and aerating of heated liquid chocolate. Various off-flavored and bitter substances and water vapor evaporate from the chocolate during this process.

The chocolate is now ready to be made into Ghirardelli’s signature products, such as filled squares and chocolate chips.

The products are then wrapped and packaged at high speeds and sent out into the world of chocolate lovers.

Lindt & Sprüngli

In 1998, Lindt & Sprüngli, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, acquired Ghirardelli Chocolate Company as a wholly owned subsidiary of its parent company. The business transaction was under undisclosed terms; however, Lindt said the deal would make the company number two in the U.S. premium-chocolate market.

Lindt & Sprüngli’s website says, “Ghirardelli, with its creativity and passion for quality, proved to be a perfect fit for Lindt & Sprüngli and has been part of the brand portfolio since 1998.”

Now, Lindt and Sprüngli own multiple different chocolate brands such as Lindt, Russel Clover, Caffarel, and Hofbauer-Küfferle. These chocolatiers have elevated the premium chocolate industry over the years and are now considered the third-largest market for chocolate overall.

Fan Favorites

Ghirardelli is mainly known for the flavorful fillings of its chocolate squares, which were introduced in 1999. The squares often feature a smooth texture and rich taste, making customers return for more.

“I really like the dark chocolate. I think it has a very rich flavor that’s different than a lot of other chocolate brands,” said Alice Mun, a Ghirardelli customer visiting from Nashville, TN.

Ghirardelli constantly creates new flavors and varieties for customers to explore, including seasonal treats. During the holiday season, Ghirardelli offers various chocolate squares ranging from the new Pumpkin Spice Caramel during autumn to the classic Peppermint Bark during winter.

Ghirardelli Square’s ice cream shop has a choose-your-own-adventure station for Chocolate Square lovers. The option is a bag or a box to fill with as many sweet treats as one’s heart desires. “My favorite is the dark chocolate sea salt caramel, but I always fill up with a bunch of different ones,” Gerstbacher said. (Heidi Poole)

Ghirardelli is not only limited to chocolate squares; It has a whole line of baking products, such as caramel sauces and cocoa powder. The result is often a delicious homemade confection. One of the more common baking products is chocolate chips, which includes a recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the packaging. 

“I have used their chocolate chips in the past for baking and it was definitely better than other brands like Nestle because the chocolate flavor is more noticeable,” Mun said.

New and old bakers alike use Ghiradelli products to make cakes and brownies. Ghirardelli started creating recipes in 1994 to attract more people to their products since the recipe calls for specific Ghirardelli products. These recipes have been featured in cooking magazines and newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle. There is also a Ghiradelli cookbook. Luckily, they offer a baking essentials bundle to make grocery shopping quicker. 

“I used to make chocolate chip cookies with my kids after school, and we would always go out to Ghirardelli for ice cream sundaes on special occasions like birthdays or last day of summer. Those traditions kind of made an unwritten rule in our family that there’s no such thing as too much chocolate when you’re surrounded by the people you love,” Gerstbacher said.

Ghirardelli has been a staple in the chocolate industry for centuries. Over the years, Ghirardelli has continued to improve its recipes to produce high-quality chocolate with rich flavors and silky textures.

“Chocolate has a way of turning ordinary moments into extraordinary memories. For us, it’s not just a yummy treat, but a symbol of the love that makes us a sweet and united family,” Gerstbacher said.

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About the Contributor
Heidi Poole, Staff Writer
Heidi Poole (Class of 2026) joined the journalism program this year where she primarily covers local news. Outside of journalism, she enjoys hanging out with friends, playing guitar, and biking.

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