May 24, 2024
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Chana Koenig: Innovating Israeli Chocolate Production

Chana Koenig has a passion for chocolate. She studied at the Culinary Institute for Education in Manhattan and spent four years working for French chocolatier Jacque Torres. So when she made aliyah from New York in 2019, she wasted no time exploring her career options in Israel as a chocolatier.

Chocolate lovers are well aware of the many delicious varieties of chocolate available in the land of milk and honey. But Koenig was frustrated that she could not find any suitable chocolate for her lactose intolerant nephew. She researched options for chocolate made from goat’s milk—a product that is easy to locate in the United States—and was surprised to find that no such chocolate existed in Israel. Rather than lamenting over what was lacking, Koenig vowed to find a solution, and just a short time later, her niche chocolate business Cacao HaGalil was born.

Cacao HaGalil is the first and only company in Israel that produces chocolate from goats’s milk. Koenig’s innovation was so unique that she even had to apply for a license to import goat’s milk powder from Austria, since it is not sold in Israel. Koenig’s chocolates are produced out of her Nahariya home, or, more precisely, her storage room (which doubles as a bomb shelter). She spent four months perfecting her recipe before officially launching her business, experimenting with different temperatures, ingredients and grinding tools until she arrived at the desired taste and texture for her chocolates. The result—a delicate milk, white or dark chocolate with a creamy taste that is easier to digest.

Koenig is attentive to the small details in every piece of chocolate she handcrafts. All ingredients are organic and are carefully selected. Koenig is especially conscious of the sugar content in each chocolate, being careful to balance sweetness with content. All ingredients are ground for 16 hours before being carefully deposited into molds. If the temperature is a bit off or even a trickle of liquid gets into the mix, the batch cannot be used. The details go down to even the packaging, which includes bio-degradable bags, baskets made from banana leaves and string produced from recycled materials.

Setting up a small business is no small feat for anybody, especially for a new immigrant who is still mastering the language. Koenig had her share of bureaucratic challenges while attempting to obtain her business license and approvals from the Health Ministry. It also took time for her to learn how to market her product to an Israeli audience, and to discover that what works in America does not always work in Israel. She is a one-woman show, running every aspect of the business—from the logistics and finances to the social media and marketing. She often enlists her family for help with packaging.

What makes the process all the more challenging is the location of Cacao HaGalil. Establishing a business in the Western Galilee means that Koenig is far away from the center of the country, where she would have more access to suppliers and distributors. When she is out of certain specialized food products, she must drive 30 minutes in each direction to the closest location to restock. Once she had to travel over four hours round trip to find a basket supplier in the center of the country.

But running a small business in the periphery is part of Koenig’s mission. “It would be easier in the center, but I feel it is important to move businesses to the north,” Koenig explains. “We need to build up the economy and communities up here.” Indeed, according to the Jewish National Fund’s website, 90% of Israelis are concentrated in the Tel Aviv-Haifa-Jerusalem corridor. This translates into massive overcrowding in Israel’s center, while the Negev in the south and the Galilee in the north are largely uninhabited. Bringing businesses to the north helps embolden peripheral communities and improve quality of life.

Koenig is still in the early stages of her business, but she has big visions for the future. Currently, she does not have a physical store and all her purchases are done online. Her dream is to partner with a boutique goat cheese company and offer customers a rustic experience where they can enjoy high quality cheeses and chocolates produced from goat’s milk in Israel’s north. In the meantime, her chocolates—bearing the company slogan “Israeli chocolate with a NY taste”—have reached many households around Israel, and satisfied customers can thank this immigrant from New York for introducing a healthier version of chocolate to the Jewish State.

Chocolates from Cacao HaGalil are shipped throughout Israel. Purchases can be made at https://www.cacaohagalil.co.il/.


 

Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.

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