) -- There's a subset of Americans that handles imported
chocolate like a precious commodity. Few, however, treat it like gold.
Just as Cadbury rebuffed
$16.7 billion bid in early September and invited a potential hostile takeover, the company rereleased its caramel-filled Wispa Gold by offering one bar wrapped in gold leaf for more than $1,600. If Cadbury feels Kraft undervalues its product, it feels quite differently about a fan base who petitioned and pleaded for a return of a candy they grew to love in the mid-'90s before it was scrubbed for the utilitarian Dairy Milk in 2003.
Cadbury chocolate is often more elusive and expensive for its cult following in the U.S.
In the U.S., where the Wispa is virtually nonexistent and the Dairy Milk is contracted out to
, Cadbury is known by Anglophiles as the maker of the dark chocolate they adore and by the rest of the populace as the company behind those Easter-centric cream eggs. Cadbury and American chocolate makers Hershey and Ghirardelli began making non-baking, confectionary chocolate within decades of each other in the mid-1800s, but the divide between them is as broad as that between two other U.S. and U.K. innovations of the time: baseball and soccer.
"When discussing differences between European and American chocolate, it is not a matter of the quality of basic ingredients," says Guy Crosby, a food scientist at Harvard University. "It primarily comes down to preferences: Europeans have preferred dark chocolate, while Americans prefer milk chocolate."
Like Premier League Football, Cadbury chocolate is often more elusive and expensive for its cult following here in the States. Though Hershey frowns on sales of Cadbury favorites like the nut-and-raisin-packed Picnic and airy, fragile Flake (occasionally sending stores cease-and-desist notices), British and Irish specialty shops are more than happy to help cocoa-addled customers relive their semester abroad at a premium. At London Food Co. in Montclair, N.J., for example, Cadbury's caramel-packed Curly Wurly is its Web store's best seller at $1.20, with a crunchy cookie Time Out going for $1.75 and a bag of treat-sized Flake offered for $9.75.
A Kraft or Hershey takeover of Cadbury may deaden that demand, but it also could diversify the American chocolate palate. British boutique chocolatier Hotel Chocolat recently opened its first U.S. outlet in Boston, offering a stable of sweets crammed with cocoa and starved of sugar. The group takes a page from Cadbury by offering several grades of dark chocolate (including a 100% cocoa bar that, while stark and savory, remains moistened with cocoa butter), but disagrees that the differences between British and American chocolates are as simple as dark or light.
Applying the same approach that many European chocolatiers restrict to their darker brands, Hotel Chocolat makes a milk chocolate stripped of its sugar content and bolstered by an increased measure of cocoa butter extracted through a fermentation process similar to that of wine. Taking the Cadbury Dairy Milk approach to ingredients like fruit and nuts one step further, Hotel Chocolat also has implemented a "no nasties" policy on its accoutrements and uses real peppercorns and chilies in its spicier recipes and ground strawberry for its colorful red concoctions.
Nicki Doggart, the company's CEO and a former Midwesterner who joined the company in Britain after rekindling her love of chocolate as a student traveling through France, says her earliest memories of chocolate feature campfire s'mores made with Hershey bars. After tasting the best of both worlds, Doggart says she sees no reason why U.K. Cadbury cravers and milk-mad Americans can't combine their transatlantic schools of thought.
"People sometimes need to be re-educated about chocolate," Doggart says. "They'll come in the store, see a sample of milk chocolate and say 'Isn't that worse for you?' A bit, but it has far less sugar in it than any milk chocolate you're used to."
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.