Despite the advances in technology since the days of the Aztecs, many aspects of chocolate production remain the same. The beans are still fermented in the traditional way, and carefully selected for the best flavor and aroma, the same way that farmers have for centuries, before they go off to the factory to be made into chocolate.
1. You mention at one point that there are different variations in the
fermentation process; do cacao beans really acquire a different flavor if
fermented differently? How?
It is the sugar content of the pulpy flesh that ignites fermentation. The pulp turns into acetic acid which ferments the cocoa (formerly cacao) beans before it evaporates. The seed's embryo is destroyed, preventing germination, but in the process it generates the chemical precursors to the bean's chocolaty aroma. In general, quality beans undergo more rapid fermentation. Criollos need some two days; forasteros and trinitarios take a week or more. But the timing is crucial; the beans must not be allowed to ferment too long, or to be pulled from the pulp too quickly, or the maximum flavor from a cocoa bean will not be evoked.
The seeds, which were bitter, are now sweet, and they have changed color; criollos turn yellow-brown, forasteros are darker, almost violet.
2. It sounds like being a Chocolatier would be a dream come true. How would
one actually get into a job like that?
A Chocolatier is also a person who works for a large chocolate company, whose primary job is to evaluate beans and supervise the blending and roasting of the beans. In large companies, the Chocolatiers -- as few as one, as many as twenty -- will evaluate the imported beans. Having evaluated the beans, the Chocolatiers will create various blends. Chocolatiers will generally adjust blends and roasting times and other factors to create a final product that is consistent with the product before, and the product made two years ago. A dream job? Maybe...
In either case, the best way to get started is to take classes in chocolate and candy-making, and perhaps in food science. Work hard, develop your palate, and decide which way you want to go: corporate or craftsman.
3. What sorts of characteristics should you look for when inspecting cacao
4. I've heard the term "conching" used in reference to chocolate
production; what does that involve?
Conching develops flavor, eliminating any remaining bitterness by aerating the chocolate and expelling volatile acids; it gives the chocolate a smooth texture by encouraging cocoa butter to coat sugar and cocoa particles, which reduces grittiness. The paddling is continuous for a period of time. Swiss and Belgian chocolates, known for their smoothness, are conched as much as 96 hours. Some chocolates are not conched at all, or for only 4 to 12 hours. There *is* an upper limit to conching; because contemporary technology allows the chocolate particles to be ground extremely fine, conching times can be reduced.
5. Would you recommend buying beans directly from the plantation, or is it
generally better to go through a dealer?
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