Learning how chocolate is made
This month a number of new faces joined the Lake Champlain Chocolates family. Being a new employee is a lot like being the new kid at school. There are the jitters and excitement of a new experience, quickly followed by the somewhat overwhelming amount of information to learn. The first step in becoming a part of the Lake Champlain Chocolates team is to learn all about chocolate. And what better way to learn than through tasting! With over 200 delectable products our taste education usually spans a couple of days. (Inevitably there are moments of chocolate overload, as each eager LCC employee insists you try THEIR favorite chocolate.) After all, to become a true member of the LCC family you must embrace the passion for truly great tasting chocolate.
The next step for new employees is to learn how chocolate is made from scratch, or as the correct terminology states – from bean to bar. This means that new employees must put on their hairnets and aprons and immerse themselves in the world of chocolate as they tour the Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker factory. Here is just a glimpse of what each new team member learns about making chocolate.
How chocolate is made from bean to bar:
1. Travel the world and source the best quality cacao beans you can find.
The process begins with cacao beans that have been fermented and dried. Cocoa grows in a region 20 degrees north and south of the border. This growing region is known as the cocoa belt. Cacao beans arrive in 150-pound burlap sacks from a variety of growing regions. Like grapes used in wine, the cacao beans have a distinctive taste depending on the region. Bean to bar chocolate makers strive to highlight the unique taste profiles of the beans from each region, by creating single-origin bars. Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker currently uses cacao beans from Fundalachua (Guatemala), the Reserva Zorzal (Dominican Republic), Kokoa Kamili (Tanzania) and Akesson’s Organic Farm (Madagascar).
2. Meticulously hand sort each bean ensure quality.
Nick, the chocolate maker, then hand sorts the cacao beans to remove any debris, such as sticks and rocks, as well as to remove any broken cacao beans. (Broken cacao beans roast unevenly and can impart undesired flavors in the final product.) This sorting ensures that only the best beans are used. Nick then performs a cut test to further check the fermentation and quality of the lot of beans.
Step 3. Bring flavors alive by roasting cacao beans to perfection!
The cacao beans are roasted in a modified coffee bean roaster. It takes a fair amount of experimenting and refining to get the roasting process perfected as each farm’s beans require a slight variation in roast time and temperature to develop the cacao’s flavor. The roasting process also puffs the cacao bean’s shell so that it is ready for the next step – winnowing.
4. Remove the shells of the beans with a little shake, rattle, and roll.
Through the use of vibration, screens and air suction, the winnower roughly breaks, sifts and separates the roasted cacao from the shells. The result is clean, roasted cocoa nib, which is the main ingredient in our chocolates. The shells or husks get composted, made into garden mulch, or have even been used to infuse Vermont-made vodka.
5. Use the ancient technique of stone grinding to crush the cocoa nibs.
Once separated from the shell, Nick loads the roasted cocoa nibs into a giant stone grinder, known as the Melangeur. The Melangeur uses two large granite stone rollers to crush the roasted cocoa nibs into a chocolate paste, known as chocolate liquor. Organic sugar is then added to lightly sweeten the chocolate. This process takes over two days of continuous milling and helps to develop the chocolate’s flavor.
6. Take the extra step to make silky smooth chocolate.
Nick then hand scoops the chocolate liquor from the Melangeur so that it can go through one last refining process. This step grinds out any remaining granular particles to produce a chocolate that is super smooth.
7. The one man and 2000 bar chocolate making show.
After the second refining, the chocolate is finally ready to be molding into chocolate bars. Nick transfers the refined chocolate, by buckets, to the molding line where it is tempered and deposited into custom-made chocolate bar molds. Through the tempering process the chocolate is cooled, heated, and re-cooled, while in constant motion. This process gives the chocolate its beautiful sheen and clean snap. With speed, finesse, and lots of experience, Nick is able to run the entire molding process by himself and can create 1500-2000 chocolate bars in a single run.
8. Wrapped and packaged to delight eagerly awaiting customers!
The final step is to hand load the chocolate bars into the wrapping machine that quickly and precisely unrolls, cuts, stacks, and folds the paper to create a custom envelope around each bar. After the bars are wrapped, they receive a special label that helps to identify the origin of the cacao used to create each craft chocolate bar. From start to finish the entire bean to bar chocolate making process takes Nick about a week!
9. Bean to bar chocolates – the result of hard-work and craftsmanship.
Focus the senses and enjoy the full experience of aromas and flavors that each bean to bar chocolate embodies!