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Tales of the Kitchen

Chef K. Marie Paulk

I was having a difficult time trying to decide on the subject of this month’s story.  I was standing in line to pay for my purchase at Whole Foods when I was approached by one of their vendors who was sampling a new product.  It just happened to be one of my greatest weaknesses – an organic peanut butter cup.  It really didn’t need to be organic, anything with peanut butter and chocolate and I am sold.  That is when the light went on and I knew my subject should be chocolate.  We can thank the Aztecs and Mayans for the discovery of the cocoa bean. They were the first who used it as a drink by splitting the bean open and mixing it with water.  They called it Xocolat, translation “bitter water”.  The tree was known as Theobroma Cacao, translation “food of the gods”. The cocoa tree grows in humid, tropical places likes Madagascar, East and West Indies, Africa, South Pacific Islands, the Caribbean and Hawaii.  It is an evergreen tree that blooms all year round. The tiny flowers can be white, pink, yellow, red or even two toned.  The pods grow directly on the trunk of the tree.  The pod can be smooth or deeply ridged. The pods are broken open and contain 20 to 50 cocoa beans each.  The beans are dried and fermented to begin the transformation into a long list of products: chocolate bars, ice cream, baking chocolate and hot chocolate.  Like grapes and coffee beans, the cocoa bean develops different characteristics depending on the region in which they are grown, known as the terroir.  There are three main types of cocoa beans:

1. Forastero, which is the workhorse of the cocoa beans.  Some of the trees are cultivated for 50 years. There is little flavor and aroma, but it is the heartiest of all beans. It is grown mainly in Africa and Brazil.

2. Criollo is the rarest of all beans. It has the best flavor and aroma and the trees are extremely fragile.  A chocolate manufacturer in Venezuela, El Ray, produces an excellent chocolate using only criollo beans. The tree is grown mainly in Venezuela and South Africa.

3.  Trinitario is a cross between the Forastero and Criollo bean. The flavor and aroma is average.  These trees are gown mainly in Trinidad and Ecuador.

When researching for this article I remembered that, like bread making, there are 12 steps in the manufacturing of chocolate.

1. Harvesting: Beans are handpicked, which explains why cocoa is so expensive. Harvesting is done twice a year.

2. Fermentation:  Pods are split open and the pulp, which holds the beans, is scooped out and placed on wooden crates or banana leaves to dry. This takes about three to seven days. The pulp, which is sugar, ignites the fermentation.

3. Drying: The beans are sun dried.

4. Cleaning: Beans are cleaned by air.

5. Bagging and Selling: Beans are inspected and given a grade. There are 3 classes: fine, second and third, which is determined by the color of the bean. The beans are sold to a manufacturer, which takes over the process.

6. Roasted: This is done to enhance the flavor. The time and roasting process is determined by the manufacturer.

7. Hulling:  The beans are mechanically cleaned by cracking them open and removing the meat of the bean.  This is called the “nib”, which is 55% cocoa butter.

8. Liquor Mill:  The nibs are processed under metal rollers and heat to produce the chocolate liquor. From the chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and pressed cakes are produced.  Cocoa butter is sold for beauty products and medicine.  The pressed cakes are pulverized and sifted to produce the cocoa powder. Alkali is added to the cocoa powder, which neutralizes the acidity in cocoa powder, producing Dutch cocoa which is used for baking.

9. Blending:  From cocoa powder there are recipes followed by each manufacturer, which will develop the following:          a. unsweetened/baking chocolate;              b. semi-sweet chocolate;      c. milk chocolate; and/or    d. couverture chocolate (this is coating chocolate).

10.  Conching: The chocolate is refined through constant moving with shell like rollers, from which the method is derived.  It is then massaged and kneaded, making a smoother end product.

11. Tempering: The chocolate is heated to realign the cocoa butter crystals. When the crystals cool, they form the structure of properly tempered chocolate. Tempered chocolate sets quickly, it sets without streaks, is shiny and hard. It is starting to resemble the good stuff.  Dark chocolate is set at 90° F and milk at 89° F.  White chocolate, which is not considered a true chocolate since in contains no cocoa, is tempered to 88°.  Each manufacturer most likely has their own tempering temperature depending on where the beans were grown, but this number has to be precise.  This procedure has four different methods: seeding, tabling, direct and block. Basically all the methods require the chocolate to be reheated to 115° and then rapidly cooled to the temper temperature.

12. Molding and packaging:  It is now ready for delivery to be enjoyed by all. This really is a very short summation of true chocolate manufacturing. So the next time you are enjoying a chocolate sundae or piece of candy you truly appreciate the labor, time and love that went into producing the sweet confection!