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Growing Up With Cacao Trees in the Backyard

Maribel Lieberman turned from fashion design to making chocolate, so she turns her truffles into an art form

Growing up in Honduras, Maribel Lieberman said, "It was usual to have cacao trees in the backyard, so yes, I grew up with cacao trees,” she said. It wasn’t a direct line to chocolate making however. “My mother was a very passionate seamstress and my idea was to become a designer and continue with my mother’s tradition.” This led her to come to New York’s Parson’s School of Art and Design, intent on becoming a fashion designer.

“When I arrived in New York, I was absolutely in love with the city and its culture,” and all the different food cultures that have always been part of the city. “This is when I started experimenting cooking with unfamiliar ingredients,” and learning how to combine them into unique flavors. Her interests evolved from fashion into food, buying lots of cookbooks and learning to be a chef. She eventually started a catering company and maintained it for 5 years.

It’s during this period that she learned a lot about chocolate. “I experimented making truffles and really loved it,” but combining and fusing different flavors with chocolate is what fascinated her even more.

Bean-to-Bar

The vast majority of the cacao Lieberman uses comes from Hondouras, “although sometimes from Nicaragua or El Salvador, also.” She travels to Honduras several times a year. “I have a relationship with the growers, most of them are women farmers, I have about 60 women that I buy cacao from,” but from other farmers as well. She works mostly with Trinitario beans. “I work very closely with the Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola. The non-profit FHIA provides her with a wealth of knowledge about cacao, and “they help me pick the best quality bean.”

Products by the dozens

MarieBelle Chocolates offers about 50 different kinds of chocolates and truffles. Her shop in Manhattan’s SoHo district also has a café in the back, offering tea, coffee, desserts, and of course, her chocolates. The chocolates with ganache fillings, as well as her hot chocolate, are her best sellers. The cardamom-infused ganache is a particular favorite of hers.

She also entered the sugar-free market, “but I refuse to use other sweeteners.” Her 70% bar is sweetened only with organic whole milk powder. “I think it works well” and I agree. It has the creaminess of milk chocolate, but the intensity you’d expect from a 70% bar. She’s currently developing one sweetened only with raspberries and blueberries.

Her ganache chocolates all have unique airbrush designs on them. Some are her husband’s designs, other are the work of her in-house designer. All are whimsical and have their own explanations that come with the “paperwork” in each box sold.

Does all the “business” of cacao make her less interested in eating it? Not a chance. “I eat cacao every day,” she said happily. “Sometimes when I travel and didn’t bring any with me, I end up buying it at the local store.”

I’d say she was “one of us.” Check out more of my talk with Maribel here

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