Interview with Tom Rogan of Goodnow Chocolate by Stephanie Sketchley of @thechocpro.
Could you briefly introduce yourself and Goodnow Farms?
I'm Tom Rogan and my wife Monica and I are the owners Goodnow Farms chocolate. We started the company in 2015, although we were making chocolate long before that. We spent several years developing our cacao sources in Central America, South America and Mexico before deciding to start making chocolate professionally. Our goal with Goodnow Farms is to make incredible craft chocolate while also sourcing our cacao beans ethically and sustainably.
Where did you get your company name?
In 2015 we bought a farmhouse in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The house was built in the 1700’s and the farm is known as Goodnow Farm, named after a former owner. We felt the name was a good connection to Massachusetts, which is where the first chocolate in America was made, and also to the many small, small farmers around the world who grow and harvest cacao.
When did you start making chocolate?
We started making chocolate over 10 years ago. At the time we were living in Los Angeles and came across craft chocolate by chance, but the first taste opened our eyes to what chocolate really could, and should, be.
How did you become interested in making chocolate?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the store where we discovered craft chocolate was an hour drive from where we lived, so we decided to try making chocolate ourselves. At the time we thought “how hard could it be?” But, we quickly learned that while it was easy to make chocolate, it was extremely hard to make great chocolate. The more we learned about the process the more fascinated we became, especially with the idea of how beans are sourced. We spent a long time learning about different cacao varieties, and especially the post harvest processes. We then spent a long time finding great farmers with great cacao, and visiting them to ensure that we had a sustainable supply of high quality cacao beans, and also developed equitable partnerships.
You visit each cacao farm that you source from, and have just returned from a trip. Why is this important to you to do, and how does it impact cacao-growing communities?
It’s important to us for many reasons. One is that the only way to ensure a consistent supply of high quality cacao is to know what’s happening at origin. Other reasons are that we want to be 100% sure that farmers are farming the cacao in a way that’s sustainable long term, that they are being paid fair prices and are engaging in fair labor practices.
One example of the benefits of our hands-on approach to sourcing is the village of San Juan Chivite in Guatemala. We visited the village and loved their cacao, and were incredibly impressed at how dedicated the farmers were to growing and post-harvest processing. The problem was that their fermentation and drying facility was substandard, and prevented them from consistently creating a top quality bean. Working with Cacao Verapaz and the villagers we contributed funds to allow the farmers to construct a new fermentation and drying facility. The association can now ferment and dry a much larger volume of beans, and do so with a consistently high quality. The resulting cacao won us a Silver Medal for Best Dark Chocolate at the Northwest Chocolate Festival!
Why do you choose to press your own cocoa butter for each origin bar? What happens to the cocoa solids after pressing?
We press our own cocoa butter because in our opinion it’s the only way to make extremely creamy chocolate that has intense single origin flavor. The extra cocoa butter adds an extra smooth, melt-in-your-mouth quality to the chocolate, which we love. At first we tried adding off-the-shelf deodorized cocoa butter but that always diluted the flavor of the chocolate, or added off flavors. Once we started pressing our own we were blown away by how sweet and flavorful the fresh pressed butter was compared to everything else, and how it enhanced the single origin flavors of the cacao. Although the process is time consuming, expensive and often troublesome we feel it’s more than worth it because of the quality of the end product. As for the cocoa solids, we grind those into cocoa powder and add sugar to make our single origin Hot Cocoa mix, which is also available on our website. Since we’re one of the only makers to press our own butter we’re on of the only makers who can offer true hot cocoa!
What has surprised you the most about making chocolate?
How close knit the chocolate making community is. When we first started making chocolate we were on our own, but as we began to reach out and connect with more people we discovered a great network of people who are more than willing to share their knowledge of and insights about cacao and chocolate, with the goal of making craft chocolate more accessible to a larger audience. It’s been a pleasure getting to know so many people in craft chocolate who share the common goals of making incredible chocolate and doing so sustainably. In the spirit of collaboration we hosted a “Makers Melt,” last summer here at our farm - it was a gathering of New England chocolate makers, and even some cacao suppliers and makers from Canada. It was great to have a day dedicated to having fun and tasting everyone’s chocolate.
I enjoy the details on your packaging, especially the artwork (such as the stickers on the foil packages). Who designed/painted these? And are they scenes from your farm?
Yes! All of the artwork is by Dan Marshall of Dan Marshall Art in Colorado! He’s an incredibly talented artist, and he came and stayed with us here on the farm for a few days in order to create the paintings you see on our bars and on our website. I’d encourage you to follow him on Instagram and to visit his website. As for the bar design itself, for our launch we worked with a company in Boston for help with creating all of that - we wanted a whimsical, fun feeling that also reflected our New England roots. We now work with an even more local designer, Liz Abbate of Someone Creative in Waltham, who helps with all of our designs.
We are very excited to be carrying your full line of single origin chocolate, and we will be having a special tasting day to debut them. Thank you for sharing your passion with us!
(Cover Photo: Tom and Monica of Goodnow Farms, from their website)