Chocolate Passion, the new guide to chocolate
by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty
editors of Chocolatier magazine.

Making Chocolate
A Wiley Online Culinary Seminar with Timothy Moriarty

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?
Plantations do vary in the way they ferment: traditionally, the cacao pods are split open with machetes, then the pulp and the beans are scooped out and placed on banana leaves on the ground, and covered with more leaves. In addition to banana leaves, beans can be placed in baskets, buried in pits, arranged on trays or in crates, but the final step of covering them with banana leaves is universal.

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 can be a person who makes chocolates by hand in small batches, either working for him- or herself for corporate or individual clients. This is rigorous work, and the rewards are in the pride of craft. Unless you can grow your company aggressively (and sacrifice quality), you will probably not get rich being a Chocolatier. A dream job? Your call.

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 beans?
When a Chocolatier inspects beans, he or she is looking for proper fermentation (color and aroma will tell). Many of the characteristics of cacao beans depend on the country of origin. Brazilian beans are said to be slightly smoky but robust, Guyaquil beans are sweet, Sumatra beans are acid, and Indian Ocean cacaos are pungent and sourish but not bitter. Madagascar are strong in flavor and aroma. Venezuelan cacaos, primarily criollos, are considered by many Chocolatiers to be the finest. But these terms used can be deceiving; since chocolates are the result of a blend of cacao beans, a slightly acrid bean, such as the variety grown in Trinidad, might be an excellent element in a certain blend.

4. I've heard the term "conching" used in reference to chocolate production; what does that involve?
Prior to conching, the beans have been roasted and pulverized, and other ingredients (sugar, lecithin, vanilla, and milk solids, if applicable) have been added. It is then refined in large rollers. Now in a pastry-liquid form, it is poured into huge vats and subjected to a rolling process called conching; the early paddles resembled conch shells, thus the name. The late stage of conching is a splendid sight, like something out of a chocolate lover's fever dream: huge paddles rolling slowly through great vats of chocolate, smooth and creamy and thick.

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?
Only professionals can actually buy beans. You have to have an exporters license (I believe) in order to bring them into this country. In general, only the "exclusive" high budget chocolate companies buy beans at the plantation. The way it works is: after the beans are fermented, dried and cleaned, they are placed in sacks (at the plantation). Government inspectors visit the plantation and take a large sample from the sacks. They split the beans lengthwise and classify them by grades -- "fine grade," "second grade," and "third grade" are determined by the color of the beans. The beans are then taken by truck to a sea port. More inspections will take place at this port of departure, and a final one just before loading. In general, cocoa beans are purchased at the country of origin by private import- export traders or international brokerages or exchanges; the beans are then sold to negotiators, who supply various chocolate manufacturers.

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Copyright: Tish Boyle, Timothy Moriarty, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved

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