One luscious bite…introducing the “cluster” by Sue Ann Gleason

Sue Ann Gleason is a true busy hedonist: a food lover, writer and a culinary nutritionist who teaches women how to “take back their plates, one luscious bite at a time.” With her most recent endeavor, the multi-talented Sue Ann can now add chocolatier to her list of passions. She created the “cluster,” an exquisite morsel of 72% single origin chocolate from Madagascar dusted with Vietnamese cinnamon. After one bite, you may want to do what Sue Ann does: carry a tin of the cluster in your handbag.

Here, I speak with Sue Ann about the creation of the cluster:

Tracey: Can you share the story behind the cluster? 
Sue Ann: It’s a funny story. I began my Chocolate for Breakfast adventure with the intention of building a community of chocolate lovers who shared similar viewpoints on pleasure … and permission. I am a culinary nutritionist. My mission is to lighten up the conversation around food and nourishment so that the word “nutrition” embodies a more luscious, less restrictive quality.

Much to my surprise (and delight) the chocolate journey took on a life of its own. As my facebook fan base grew, chocolate makers from all over the world started sending me samples of their chocolates hoping to tease my palate and claim a space in my Top 12 Chocolate Finds ebook. Or, at the very least, on my fan page.

The more chocolate I tasted, the more refined my palate became. Pretty soon I was choosing my chocolate by origin, much like a connoisseur of fine wine develops a more informed and discriminating taste for the grapes of a particular region. It’s not that there is anything wrong with a varietal, it’s just that I became rather enchanted with the nuances of flavor that I had never before experienced in chocolate.

There I was, happily enthralled in this world of chocolate lust, falling in love with the Criollo tree and the flavors of Madagascar, when I got a call from the agent of a jazz singer in New York City. They were getting ready to cut a new CD and one of the songs was called, “Wake up and Live.” He thought it would be fun to send a Chocolate for Breakfast sample with the first two hundred CDs.

“Hi Sue Ann, I’ve been following you on facebook. I love your fan page. Do you make chocolate?” he asked.

“Absolutely. “ I replied, the words spilling out of my mouth before I could catch them and send them scurrying back to the safe place, where reason lives.

“Let me get back to you in a few days.” I said, thinking surely I had lost my mind.

I hung up the phone and immediately called Merideth Cohrs of MC2 Confections, a local chocolatier whose handcrafted chocolate truffles I adored. I asked her if she would be interested in a joint venture. She jumped at the opportunity and our culinary expedition began. Merideth is a truffle artist. I’m a purist. She taught me about tempering. I taught her about “source.” Together we produced what is likely to be one of the most unique products to hit the chocolate market in a very long time.

Tracey: What was your inspiration to create the cluster?
Sue Ann: There are so many chocolate bars on the market. I wanted to create an exquisite little nibble. I also wanted to create a chocolate that I could wholeheartedly promote to my clients—pure, organic, ethically traded, delicious. The clusters are 72% single origin (Madagascar) chocolate morsels studded with crunchy cacao nibs and a dusting of Vietnamese cinnamon to tease out the subtly complex flavor of the chocolate.

I wanted a “portable” product. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a taste for cacao and I’ve had to “settle” for a less-than-stellar piece of chocolate. I used to just assume that as long as a chocolate was at least 70% cacao and organic, it was probably a pretty good choice. Not so. As my palate became more sophisticated I discovered that there is a lot of really poor quality chocolate out there masquerading as “healthy.” Now, I have a darling little canister of clusters with me at all times—a chocolate lover’s dream.

I also wanted to come up with a “unique” chocolate product that represented a symphony of sumptuousness. In other words, I want your palate to sing when you taste it.

Tracey: How long was the process from first thinking of the idea to having it ready for customers?
Sue Ann: The idea was planted at least six months before we actually started playing with the ingredients. We spent a lot of time researching chocolate, talking about packaging options, tasting chocolate samples, and coming up with the design for the label.

Tracey: I love your message of “Chocolate for Breakfast” and how well the cluster resonates this message. Was this intentional?
Sue Ann: Everything about this chocolate is intentional. In fact, we’re calling it “Chocolate with Intention.” The chocolate for breakfast theme began as a chapter in a book I was writing. I found a study conducted by Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, a clinical professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. She found that sedentary, obese women on a “big breakfast diet” lost almost five times as much weight as did women following a traditional, restrictive low-carbohydrate diet. This was a very interesting and informative study, but my ears really perked up when I saw a piece of chocolate on the breakfast menu. Here’s the science behind that little gem. If you have a small piece of chocolate in the morning when your serotonin levels (feel-good hormones) are high, the brain won’t feel the same serotonin boost. It’s a win-win situation! You’ve allowed yourself the dignity of a treat. It’s part of a meal, rather than a binge-eating episode. (Have you ever eaten an entire box of Girl Scout Cookies in the midst of an afternoon slump?) And, you’re working with your body, not against it. So yes, this cluster would be a perfect addition to your breakfast table!

Tracey: Do you have any words of advice for someone wanting to create their own edible product?
Sue Ann: Merideth had LOTS to share on this question. She says the devil is in the details. In order to turn a dream into a marketable product, you have to go through some administrative processes that can be quite lengthy. You need to incorporate to protect personal assets, particularly important with a food product. You also need to research and obtain state licensing and liability insurance. After that, comes packaging and supplies.

But even more important than all of the administrative and logistical details, her biggest piece of advice to someone who wants to create and sell their own food product is to spend some “real time” in a kitchen as an intern or entry level food prepper to get a feel for what real production looks like.  

You need to know that this is something you really want to do, long term, once the initial excitement has worn off…when it becomes your job…when it becomes work. You have to know that there is enough passion to sustain you through difficult or stressful times. Making and selling your own food product is not just the glamour and creativity you see on reality TV. It is definitely a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of hard (and repetitive) work. In addition to the creative work, you’ll be prepping ingredients, doing dishes, packaging product, hauling heavy ingredients and working nights and weekends when you’d rather relax.

Once you’ve determined that you’re willing to put up with the devil in the details, GO FOR IT! Meet people, attend events, and get excited about sharing your product with others.  

And be sure to invest in quality ingredients. Your product and your brand will flourish, and so will you.

To purchase the cluster, visit Chocolate for Breakfast.

Interested in writing about your travels? Join me for Fly Away Travel Writing Class launching May 7th.

FREE Guide!

Join the Edible Adventures!

Get a FREE Guide, plus tips + recipes to feed your adventurous spirit.