Josie Pradella’s TerraSource Chocolates promote local self-reliance and are good for the planet, too
A shorter version of this article appeared in Brava Magazine
Column: Around the Table
Related recipe: Raspberry Truffles
Josie Pradella, all grown up and with a serious career as an air management specialist at the DNR, meditated.
She wanted to follow her bliss, but how? Which way lay bliss? And then she remembered.
“I had an image of a childhood phase I went through that was absolute rapture for me,” she recalls. “Making mud pies and foraging very locally for colorful leaves, flowers and other found objects.”
In that meditative clarity, Josie perceived the magical element that engaged that part of her soul that reveled in the dark, the gooey, earthen-rich and natural: chocolate.
“I’ve always loved baking chocolate desserts, especially for friends and dinner parties,” Josie says. For years, she had hosted “truffle-making parties for friends around the solstice holiday.” From mud pies studded with leaves and flowers to chocolates filled with fruit purees and tea infusions: what could be a more fitting evolution?
And thus was born TerraSource Chocolate Gourmet Chocolates, LLC, specializing in handcrafted chocolates using local fruits and flowers. The business is a comprehensive expression of Josie's values and her point of view: All the ingredients are either local, fairly traded and/or organic: the product line is completely free of animal products; the locally produced boxes are made from plantable paper embedded with wildflower seeds.
TerraSource started up in October 2007, and already the chocolates are available at A Room of One’s Own Bookstore, Bunky’s Café, Carl’s Cakes, The Dardanelles, Fair Indigo and Sentry at Hilldale, Jenifer Street Market and Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse, or via the Web at terrasourcechocolates.com. In the temperate months – but not in the high heat of summer – Josie vends at the Westside Community Farmers Market outside the DOT as well.
VVK: What are your chocolates like?
JP: Except for the Pecan Praline, all the chocolates have a blended center that combines the major fruit puree or tea infusion with chocolate, so they’re all kind of dense and creamy. Teas to date: Jasmine Green Tea, Masala Chai Tea, and Scarlet Tea.
VVK: No plain chocolate, or bar chocolate?
JP: No, as other local chocolatiers already do solid chocolates and bars.
VVK: You use local products like rhubarb, blueberries and red, black and golden raspberries. What are some others, and how did you find them?
JP: I’ve made most connections through the local farmers markets and food conferences. One of my best finds was Carandale Farms in Fitchburg. They grow unusual fruit crops for Wisconsin’s climate, such as aronia and seaberry. These are two super-nutritious fruits. Aronia looks like a cross between a large blueberry and small concord grape – very dark with a more grainy texture. It has three times the anti-oxidant value of blueberries. Seaberry has a mild citrus flavor and is very bitter by itself. It has a gorgeous golden color and seven times the vitamin C content of lemons.
In quite a few of my chocolates I use liqueurs and spirits, such as Lemoncella and rum made by Yahara Bay Distillers.
VVK: Are you able to buy local products in sufficient volume?
JP: As small as I am at this time, yes.
VVK: How much of what you use is organic?
JP: This question quickly gets complicated. The off-the-shelf products I buy, such as sugar, vanilla and teas, are certified organic, which means that they’ve gone through a formal registration process and are validated by a qualified third party. Often local growers use organic practices but can’t afford to become certified organic. I love working with these growers because their ethics are in the right place and they have wonderful products.
VVK: Tell me about the chocolate itself.
JP: I source the chocolate from two different producers. One is certified fair trade; the other is fairly traded, which means they adhere to fair trade principles but have not gone through the expense of a certification process. The cocoa comes from Columbia (single origin), Costa Rica, Peru, the Dominican Republic. I blend to get around 70% dark chocolate for my shells, going for some complexity on the palate without being too bitter.
VVK: What's your most popular chocolate?
JP: Probably the aronia because it’s so different. People like to have a unique experience and it’s fun to be able to do that with food.
VVK: And your personal favorite?
JP: Pecan praline. Heavenly with the dark chocolate around that nutty center. Great texture! It started out as a caramel, but with the vegan ingredients it became more granular and delectable.
VVK: How come you made your entire line vegan?
JP: Butter and cream are big in most gourmet ganache fillings. I wanted to offer something delectable to those who have food sensitivities so they can thoroughly enjoy a quality product like everyone else. At this point my intention is to offer only vegan products because it [helps] so many of the animal-free, lower-impact on the planet issues that people are concerned about.
By sourcing locally, we also have less impact on the majority world who often starve as they grow cash crops for large companies to export. They can’t eat that stuff and don’t have much land to subsist on. Choosing vegan ingredients lowers much of that impact.
VVK: How about bee products?
JP: Nope. I use maple syrup instead.
VVK: Your business is so green! Tell me about that.
JP: I am determined to exemplify what’s possible as a green business: to build local relationships, add value to locally grown products, procure eco-friendly packaging and print, bank locally and use other local professional services such as Web hosting and graphic design, and give back to the local community. My next goal is to offset the carbon emissions from my production, delivery and shipping practices.
VVK: I understand you’ve been active for years with organizations that promote environmental responsibility and local commerce and food systems.
JP: I co-founded Wisconsin Partners for SustainAbility (formerly the Wisconsin Sustainable Futures Network) back in 1999. Four years ago I helped cofound the Dane County Buy Local Initiative, now known as Dane Buy Local. I’ve been exploring local self reliance pretty fully the last several years.
VVK: Do you have a marketing or business background?
JP: I wish! I do the best I can with what makes sense to me; then hope the overall message can be refined and condensed for greatest effect. I took several courses at UW-Madison’s business school and have a rough business plan.
VVK: What's your favorite thing about what you do?
JP: Having the opportunity to converse with people about the eco aspects, then having them just physically enjoy indulging in the product. It becomes a full mind-body experience. The Westside market has been wonderful. People really want to learn about the products they’re buying. Grab ’n’ go is not part of their philosophy.
VVK: How about your least favorite?
JP: Part of the chocolate-making process involves vigorous shaking and tapping of the molds to coax out air bubbles. It’s noisy and disruptive to an otherwise peaceful process.
VVK: How did you learn your craft?
JP: Being invited by David Bacco to view his chocolate-making production when he was at CoCoLiQuot, for which I am eternally grateful. Getting a degree from the Ecole Chocolat. Experimenting with recipes and using friends and co-workers as guinea pigs.
VVK: There are some other chocolatiers in town. What sort of community is it?
JP: My experience, with the exception of David Bacco, has been that other local chocolatiers pretty much keep to themselves. When I approached several to do some research and try to learn about the local market and avoiding pitfalls as a new business owner, I didn’t get very far. That’s unfortunate, because I think we all do better when we help one another. I know I feel honored when someone thinks I know enough about a topic to ask me questions about it, and I want to share the knowledge. This experience is also an important factor in my commitment to make TerraSource as transparent as possible. So I list the partners I’m involved with on the Web site and have a short profile on each of them, along with a link to their Web site if they have one.
VVK: What are some chocolate challenges?
JP: Tempering is a very exact science to get that nice shiny, glossy exterior. One degree off and the chocolate comes out looking dull or streaky. It’s pretty unforgiving.
Another great challenge – some business don’t want to carry product with a relatively short shelf life. Because they have no preservatives or other added ingredients, they only last about two weeks. It’s the filling I’m concerned about keeping as fresh as possible. Right now I’m developing a system to track the dates that chocolates get delivered and to whom, and to stay on top of keeping the stock fresh at the various merchants.
VVK: How big is your operation?
JP: I’m making around 400 pieces a week. No employees. I do it all!
VVK: Where do you make the chocolates?
JP: Carl Loeffel, the owner of Carl’s Cakes, is a dear friend and wanted to support my vision of creating this business. He truly has made this effort possible. I’m lucky to have access to Carl’s Cakes kitchen when they’re not doing their bakery production, nights and weekends. Overall, I have the place to myself Saturday afternoons and Sundays.
VVK: Regulations prohibit you from using your home kitchen?
JP: That’s correct. I’m certified as a food handler working out of Carl’s Cakes’ kitchen.
VVK: So what’s next for Terrasource?
JP: I’ve gotten a request for a mint chocolate from a market-goer and will be experimenting with that as the next potential flavor. I’m working on more tea infusion flavors. If Carandale or some other grower has more superfood fruits, I’d love to get those into my chocolates as well. A future vision is to work more with edible flowers, such as rose geranium, and get even more creative with green packaging.
VVK: What do you like most about chocolate?
JP: It’s bliss on earth.