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/|
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|
|Some of the chocolates on display for Dude, Sweet Chocolate|
|My box of chocolates!|
|Arturo Romanillos from Le Cordon Bleu|
|Wiseman House Fine Handmade Chocolates|
|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!