Food trends come and go - mini cupcakes, macarons, cheesecakes - without a blink. One thing that is always a winner is chocolate. It adapts with pretty much anything, from a molé sauce to cakes. Whether savory or sweet, cocoa enhances other flavors while standing out on its own. To discover how a bean can be so versatile, it is essential to know each part and their uses. The journey starts at the plantation - each area where beans are grown embeds a certain flavor profile. For example, a Hawaiian bean will have fruity notes (try Madre chocolates) whereas a Madagascar bean will have vanilla notes (try François Pralus chocolates.) After the beans have ripened they are harvested and sent to different chocolatiers. Upon arrival they are sorted and roasted. The roast must be very particular in order to ensure a robust (but not burnt) flavor. Once roasted, the beans shed their hard, outer shell and the leftover solids are collected as nibs (cocoa solids.) While these are edible, they are very dense in flavor. Oftentimes chocolatiers save some nibs to add texture to their final product. The nibs can also be sold in bulk as a topping for salads or desserts, or just to snack on (try Askinoie's nibs.) The rest of the nibs are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor - this has no alcohol, it is just very flavorful. After this has been established, the chocolate liquor has two purposes: being divided into butter and cocoa, or being used in chocolate.
Putting the liquor into a hydraulic press separates the cocoa butter from the leftover powdery substance - this is cocoa powder. The butter is then used for food or beauty products and cocoa powder is sold as is or with additional ingredients (try MarieBelle's variety of cocoa.) In order to make the actual chocolate, liquor is added to vanilla, milk, sweetener, additional cocoa butter, and different flavorings. In order to improve the texture, this mixture is put into a machine called a conch, which blends and aerates the soon-to-be chocolate for up to six days. After being "conched" the chocolate is tempered - meaning melted and reformed - several times and FINALLY you have the perfect bar! Each chocolatier has different particulars - some conch and temper more than others, some have a darker roast, some exclusively use one bean type per bar, etc. - but at Gourmet Boutique you will find the highest quality European chocolates. This means that some rare beans are used (try Neuhaus criollo chocolates) or the conch and tempering process is drawn out extra long in order to achieve an perfectly smooth texture.
Written by Amberly Moody