Everything You Wanted To Know About Chocolate But Were Afraid To Ask.
A potted history from bean to bar
Unlike money, chocolate grows on trees. Scratch that. Money did grow on trees as the Aztecs used cocoa beans as a form of currency (three cocoa beans could buy you one turkey egg. That’s one biiiig breakfast...). In fact the bean was used as money in Central American markets as late as 1858.1
All the while, the Mesoamericans were literally, “drinking the profits” in the form of a cold, spicy, bitter drink made with water. We’ve tried our own version and it is rather an acquired taste. They valued the froth on the drink as the most potent part and used to create this by pouring the liquid back and forth between two vessels. Since the 1700’s, the Mexicans use a molinillo (A bit like a honey spoon. Invented by the Spanish colonials.) and sometimes sing a song while they whisk it up2. Add some milk and sugar and as if by magic, it’s lush!
So now we get to the nitty gritty of how chocolate is made. Cocoa pods are very fussy and are found only on a narrow strip 10oN and 10oS of the equator3. Ripe pods are harvested by hand and the pulp and beans inside are removed and allowed to ferment outside for about a week. During this process, the beans turn from a pale, slimy mass to a dry, dark brown. These are winnowed where the nibs inside the seed are removed from the shell and then ground in a mélangeur. At this point the “mass” can be pressed into a cake to separate the butter from the cocoa. The presscake is pulverised to produce cocoa powder and the butter used for other purposes or, the cocoa butter and cake can be recombined in different proportions depending on the desired outcome. The next bit is where the texture is developed.
Invented by Rudolphe Lindt, the conch is a shell shaped structure which manipulates the “mass” and flavourings are added such as sugar, vanilla, milk etc. During this process, the cocoa particles are smoothed and rounded, the mass is intricately mixed with the other ingredients and although the fermenting and roasting is where much of the chocolate flavour is developed, conching is also a contributing factor as volatile flavour compounds are released. Over conch however and you could lose the finer flavours and aromas.
Tempering is the final stage and this is what creates the shine and snap of chocolate. There are several types of fat crystals in chocolate and only one is stable at room temperature. To ensure there are enough of the right type of crystal in the final product, the chocolate needs to be melted, lowered in temperature then raised again to the “working temperature” all the while being agitated. If this is done successfully, the liquid chocolate can be poured into moulds and left to crystallise. The final product should be smooth, shiny, resistant to bloom and irresistibly snappable.
Unfortunately there is the darker side of chocolate. The unconscionable practice of child labour most prevalent in the Ivory Coast. None of the chocolate we use is produced using child labour and our supplier’s website explains this in detail: www.valrhona-chocolate.com/General-Information_ep_60-1.html