The Vat of Chocolate

Ahh, fond memories of that Smothers Brothers skit from the sixties, but don’t bother hunting it down on YouTube, as it has not worn well and was much funnier back then.  To cut to the chase, yes, there was a vat of chocolate, but i neither fell into it nor yelled, “Fire!” like Tommy did since he knew nobody would come to his aid if he yelled, “Chocolate!”

See, i went to Dandelion Chocolate’s Chocolate 101 event last night, and it was everything i’d imagined and more.   A couple of the principals conducted the show, Alice and Cam, both lean as ferrets in spite of all that chocolate but, unlike ferrets, delightfully nice.

They started us out with an hour-long overview of ingredients and a tasting of types of chocolate:  dark chocolate – a bittersweet bar from Patric, milk chocolate – Scharffen Berger, 100% – from Pralus, white – the Askinoise, and finally a confection made of cocoa powder, hydrogenated palm oil, sugar, lecithin, and probably some artificial flavors that was designed to taste like chocolate but could not be called “chocolate” since it had no cocoa butter.  After the others, it was dreadful and had such a weird taste that i disposed of it discreetly.  And no, i did not know what it was when i put it in my mouth since i was trying to make this a fair tasting.

After we’d tasted all the chocolate types, they gave us samples of a puree of chocolate fruit.  No no, not the beans, but the fruit that dries up before the seed pod is harvested.  Hell, i didn’t know the fruit was even edible, but it’s delicious, perhaps more so because i can’t imagine being able to buy it in this country.  And no, it doesn’t taste like chocolate.

The second hour was the best part.  They led us over to the beginning of the production line, where there were stacks of 50 kilo bags of fermented and dried cocoa beans.  We got to crack open the beans and taste them as Alice and Cam demonstrated how to determine the quality of the beans using a magra, a sort of bean guillotine that lets you chop fifty beans precisely in half with one push and then holds them perfectly displayed for your examination.

Next, the roasters.  Here, the point was driven home that Dandelion is still a very small operation.  The roasters are a couple of home-microwave-size ovens with wire mesh cylinders in which the beans are tumbled as they roast.  Looked to me like they were designed for home roasting of coffee beans, and as with coffee, what a difference the roasting makes! The raw beans didn’t really taste much like chocolate, but roasting them made a dramatic difference.

From the roaster, the beans go into a cracker that whacks them just hard enough to shatter them into chunks.  And then they go into a homemade riddle that separates out the larger chunks on two levels for another pass through the cracker. The finely cracked beans are put through a Rube Goldbergian homemade winnower that blow/sucks the chaff away to get the beans ready for the pre-grinder, which is store bought since they discovered that the standard heavy duty peanut butter grinder works great.  What comes out looks like a darker colored, chunky peanut butter but with very small chunks.

The pre-grinder supplies four melangers, which grind the pre-ground beans and sugar with stone wheels in a process that takes a couple of days or so.  Here’s the largest, which is about 18-20 inches across.  What Dandelion uses as melangers are sold as Indian spice grinders.



After the melanger comes the temperer.  And this is the only machine they use that was actually manufactured for processing chocolate. And at that point the chocolate is ready to be poured into molds, and the tour is over.  If they do Chocolate 101 again, i recommend it as it’s both fun and informative.  And while i’m recommending, their home page is really a communal blog, and i found it highly entertaining reading.

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