Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chocolate Conference 2010

As I pulled up to the Addison Conference Center , keeping an eye out for a possible parking space, I saw my friend Erin seated-- legs crossed, wearing a black dress with white polka dots, matching heels and purse, donning movie star-like sunglasses. Her face lit up and she began to wave frantically when she realized it was me in my little silver Dodge Dakota. Her heels clicked on the pavement as she shuffled towards me and hopped into the passenger seat.

Erin is the type of woman with a creative mind, generous heart, and a love for sweets. Her current obsession is with cupcakes…giant cupcakes. I figured, who would be more perfect to share my chocolate excursion? We entered the building, greeted by a blast of cool air and a wall speckled with the paintings and photos of local artists. After a brief glance around we were waved over to the counter by a man who directed us to the booth where tickets are collected. Each adult ticket, for the price of $15, grants you entrance to any of the seven seminars and comes with ten tickets to trade for the chocolate samples of your choice.

           The 12 o’clock session had already begun, “Chocolate Making 101.” Art Pollard, the founder of Amano Artisan Chocolate, stood behind a podium adjacent to a projector with a slide show of photos flashing scenes of cocoa plantations, cocoa pods, and the smiling faces of farm workers. All seats were full, and the overflow stood against the walls listening intently as Mr. Pollard explained the process of chocolate making starting from the cocoa tree. Keep in mind that Amano Chocolate does things differently from larger chocolate producers, such as Hershey’s. Here is a link to the website where their “passion and dedication” to creating the highest quality chocolate is put into their own words: Amano Artisan Chocolate.

Art Pollard founder of Amano Artisan Chocolate http://www.amanochocolate.com/

Illustration of cacao plant http://www.amanochocolate.com/
The cacao tree, pronounced ka-kow, is native to the tropical regions of the Americas. 1 of 100 flowers on the cacao tree will become a cocoa pod. Over a three month period the pods will mature, encasing roughly 40 beans. Art Pollard stressed to the audience that the pods must not be picked, rather cut from the tree so that the pod will be able to re-grow and the tree will not be damaged. Once harvested, the beans go into large wooden boxes where fermentation takes place. Like coffee, cocoa is very tannic and astringent and processing removes unwanted flavors. After 3 to 7 days of fermentation, where the growth of aerobic bacteria is encouraged, the beans are dried slowly. Too slow and they will over ferment, too fast and they will become bitter.

        Mr. Pollard pointed out that Hershey’s does not ferment their cocoa beans; instead they are roasted at a very high temperature. Amano Artisan Chocolate uses whole bean roasting, where the shell is left intact to seal in the flavor. Roasting temperatures range from 200 to 425ºF and then the beans are quickly cooled to room temperature. The beans are broken and the shells are removed leaving what he referred to as “cocoa nibs.” The nibs or roast bits of bean are transferred to a large rotating bowl where a roller grinds them slowly. The roller applies 4,000 psi and grinds the beans until smooth. “The tongue can detect texture down to 20 microns,” Art Pollard explained. The texture of their chocolate is right at 12 microns.

Once the chocolate is smooth it is put into a giant conch where it is heated and unwanted flavors are volatized off. The sugar and the cellulose rub together making the sugar crystals more round; creaming the sugar with the cocoa butter. The amount of time it takes to conch depends on the chocolate maker since it is done according to flavor. Mr. Pollard personally tastes the chocolate at 5 minute intervals, 2 minute intervals, and eventually 30 second intervals. He told us there is a 30 second window to under or over-conching. “There is an art to it, and it’s really hard to articulate…you need an artist in there tasting it." The chocolate is formed into blocks and allowed to rest before it is re-melted in a heating and cooling process which allows the cocoa butter to crystallize properly. “As much work as we go through (to make the chocolate), it pales in comparison to what goes on at the farm,” he stated.

Chart of Chocolates

              1:00 p.m. marked the beginning of the next portion of the conference: A Tour of the Chocolate Shop, by Chef Tina Buice. Had we stayed we would have learned the difference between a truffle, chocolate and bon bon; however, Erin and I had to collect our samples before they ran out! Each of us with 10 tickets in our possession, hurried down the hall to where all of the chocolatiers had set up their booths. The room was already bustling with people, eagerly waiting in line to ask questions and sample chocolate. Where to begin? My eye was drawn to a booth arranged neatly with beautifully decorated chocolates: Dude, Sweet Chocolate with Chef Katherine Clapner aka “the dudette.” Patiently, we waited in line to catch a glimpse and choose our samples. Each chocolate had a unique design that you could match with a chart that would tell you the name and flavors. I chose the Marwan, flavored with Texas stonefruit jam and raz al hanout. A woman nearby asked what would possess someone to flavor chocolate with foods such as garlic, olive oil, beets, hemp, or yellow curry. “Why not?” insisted the woman behind the booth. Erin and I found this quite humorous because it was clearly not the kind of answer she had expected to hear.
Some of the chocolates on display for Dude, Sweet Chocolate

My box of chocolates!
            We had other booths to visit and tickets to burn! Cocoandre Chocolatier was our next stop. Their selection was just as picked over but enough remained for me to gather two samples. The first truffle was flavored with lavender raspberry and the next with ginger rosemary nutmeg. I collected a business card from each booth so that I could look them up online later. At the booth for JDorian Chocolatier we asked them which chocolate was their favorite. “This is our best seller,” she replied pointing to a chocolate with a yellow cursive writing across the top. In the photo it is the chocolate that says JDorian and unfortunately I cannot remember what she told me about it. I had hoped to find out on their website, but when I checked it did not have a page where each individual chocolate was explained. I suppose it will be my excuse to pay them a visit next time I’m in Dallas! I do happen to have one of their chocolates left in my box and I will try it right now. There is a red swirl design on top and when you bite into the outer shell of velvety dark chocolate it collapses onto a soft and light filling with a fruity scent and flavor. It is the sort of thing that you have to savor to truly appreciate.

Arturo Romanillos from Le Cordon Bleu
         The fellow at the booth for Le Cordon Bleu graciously allowed me to snap his picture, and when asked to tell us about their chocolates he immediately suggested the bacon chocolate. This sample is long gone because it was the first that I was eager to try, bad me! It takes a moment for the flavor of the bacon to come forth and once it does you also begin to feel tiny bits of bacon on your tongue. Proof again that bacon makes everything taste good! Erin and I were also instructed to try the Rocher, to which I immediately asked if it was similar to a Ferrero Rocher. He laughed and said that theirs were much better, but yes, it is like a Ferrero Rocher. This truffle was delicious and one of my favorites! As you bite into it there is a delightful crunch; very light with the delicate taste of hazelnut and smooth chocolate that makes it impossible not to want more. My other favorite truffle came from Le Cordon Bleu as well, with a dusting of cocoa powder on the outside and caramel on the inside. To die for! I wish I could do it justice by description!

          The longest line was forming near the booth for Wiseman House Chocolates. There must have been something about these truffles because no other line was this long and people were actually cutting in front of us! When we finally reached the table I swiped a flyer that read “Chocolate: proof that God is good…Very Good.” A single ticket allowed us to take two samples: a piece of the toffee and a truffle either dark or milk chocolate. After trying both of these I am sad to report that I did not find anything particularly remarkable in comparison to the other chocolatiers. Of course they were delicious, don't get me wrong! 

Wiseman House Fine Handmade Chocolates

         Others that were present at the conference include Collin College, Nib Chocolates, Sublime Chocolate, Toffee Treats, Paciugo and Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. Chef David Collier proudly displayed his hand decorated truffles from Rosewood Mansion and even gave a course on chocolate decorating at 3:00 p.m. following Clay Gordon’s “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Chocolate.” In the photo the two truffles in the top left hand corner above my thumb were made by Chef Collier. One is buttered popcorn and the purple one is peanut butter and jelly, reminiscent of Jelly Belly Jellybeans I think! They were certainly the most fun to look at and sample.

          You will have to forgive me, my dear reader, if I have any of my facts mixed up. I did my best to collect the samples and write down the flavors without taking up too much time in front of each booth. I have provided a list of links to all of the businesses mentioned in this blog on the top right side of my page.

       Once Erin and I were satisfied with our selections (and out of tickets) we had just enough time to get a seat for the 2:00 p.m. seminar with Clay Gordon. Mr. Gordon was full of energy, barely able to stand still as he led an open discussion of all things chocolate. Maybe he had too much chocolate beforehand?? His enthusiasm was contagious, and his sense of humor was spot on. It was difficult to take proper notes on everything that was said so I will provide a few highlights of the discussion. His knowledge of chocolate was impressive to say the least! His first question from the audience was "Why do people like chocolate?" To paraphrase, Gordon explained that chocolate has an addictive mouthfeel due to the texture of the cocoa butter and it's tendency to melt in your mouth. Like chili peppers, chocolate affects the endorphin levels in the brain making us feel good while we eat it. This may also be why people enjoy spicy chocolate!

Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate
Image from http://www.thechocolatelife.com/

          Is white chocolate actually chocolate? According to Clay Gordon, white chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa powder. Erin glanced at me in disbelief and then whispered that she didn't like white chocolate anyway. ;-) The next question was about Belgian chocolate. Is it actually a superior type of chocolate? Turns out that Belgian chocolate was campaigned throughout the U.S. to be associated with quality and is not necessarily the best. Americans like Belgian chocolate because it is light and sweet. Mr. Gordon shared his story of why, if asked, he would say that Chilmark chocolate is the best chocolate there is. "Chocolate is the only gormet food that we start eating as children." He points out that we "form strong emotional ties." As a boy his favorite aunt would take him to Chilmark chocolate in Martha's Vineyard, giving him a fond memory to associate with the taste of this particular chocolate.

           The cocoa plant was again discussed and Gordon described cacao plantations as "mystical, magical places." He reiterated a similar statement that Art Pollard made about plantaintion workers having a very tough job. The genetics of the cacao plant ulitimately determine the quality of the chocolate that is produced and farmers can be persuaded by chocolatiers to produce the highest quality. When asked why chocolate is not made in the same place where the cacao plants are grown, Gordon said that these places do not have ubiquitous refridgeration and the temperature is too hot and humid. The cocoa beans travel thousands of miles to the places where they will be made into actual chocolate.
          I will leave you with some information that is useful to any chocolate lover. According to Gordon, store dark chocolate at room temperature and dairy chocolate below 68 degrees Farenheit. Avoid changes in temperature, for example going from very warm to cold or any condition that could cause condensation to form on the chocolate. Wrap chocolate in a paper towel in serving size pieces in ziplock bags to freeze. If chocolate has become sandy or gritty this is an indication that the chocolate has gone bad! I never knew there was so much to chocolate; for as long winded as this blog is I still didn't cover it all!

Thank you for joining me on my chocolate adventure, and I encourage everyone to try something new! Who knows--curry flavored chocolate might be your new favorite!


  1. Great post!I ate all my chocolate as soon as you left my place and I'm craving that Chipotle Chocolate ice cream from Paciugo. My mouth says, "Yes,please!" but my thighs are telling me, "NO!!!" LOL. Thanks again for the invite!

  2. Stephanie, you really took great notes or have a stellar memory - this post is a fabulous recap of our events last weekend! The story of chocolate isn't well known -- keep spreading it, and tasting all the "good" chocolate you can!

  3. Thank you both for the comments! I am late seeing these because I haven't gone through my posts and checked! Madame Cocoa, I am thrilled and honored that you enjoyed my recap of the Chocolate Conference, and believe me...I will continue to eat chocolate with gusto!