Ghirardelli marks 160 sweet years

Getty Images File PhotoDelicious desserts: Treats galore are the subject of the 17th annual Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival at Ghirardelli Square this weekend.

A technique called conching is one of the main reasons for the long success of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, celebrating its 160th anniversary this year.

The process — which removes bitterness and strips astringency from roasted cocoa beans — results in the rich, indulgent flavor that characterizes confections made by Ghirardelli, which, incorporated in 1852, is America’s oldest premium chocolate maker.

“We manage every step of the process ourselves,” says Steve Genzoli, Ghirardelli’s vice president of development and quality assurance, who is leading chef demonstrations and “chocolate school” this weekend at the 17th annual Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival in Ghirardelli Square. The event is a benefit for Project Open Hand.

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Saturday and Sunday feature ice cream-eating contests in which competitors, using no hands or spoons, vie to consume an eight-scoop Earthquake sundae the fastest. Live music, 35 vendor booths offering samples of treats ranging from chocolate tea to chocolate marshmallows and hot fudge sundaes, and a bake-off — the winner will be announced at 3:30 p.m. Sunday — also are in the lineup.

One free activity is a scavenger hunt in Ghirardelli Square (which was named a San Francisco city landmark in 1965) in which participants discover fun facts as they make a virtual hot fudge sundae. Those who solve the clues win a treat.

Although Ghirardelli chocolate is no longer produced in San Francisco — factory operations, established by Italian immigrant Domenico Ghirardelli in the 19th century, moved to San Leandro in 1967 — Ghirardelli remains the country’s oldest continuously operating chocolate manufacturer.

Ghirardelli President and CEO Martin Thompson says, “For 160 years, customers have enjoyed our wide range of chocolate and we look forward to presenting exciting new flavors for many years to come.”

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