Just the word chocolate is enough to make people crave a truffle. And if you’ve ever wondered where this delicious food comes from, and how it’s made, now you can learn for yourself.
Chocolate lovers (and those who simply enjoy making things) are flocking to Chocolate Tales, where local chocolatier David Levy offers a complete hands-on experience: a Bean2Bar workshop.
People have been asking to make chocolate from scratch since David began his business eight years ago, and now he’s created a class that’s unique to Hamilton — and possibly across Canada. It’s part of a growing trend to learn what goes into our food and a curiosity about specialty products in particular.
The Aztec and Mayan cultures began the ancient art of chocolate-making and even today, creating what they regarded as the food of the gods, is a complex process that involves thousands of decisions that start with the farmer.
While there’s different varieties, all cacao trees are very particular. They’ll only grow in the hot and humid tropical climates around the Equator. And just like wine or coffee, the terroir, or soil conditions – together with when the cocoa pods are harvested – are crucial to the flavour of the final fruit. How the beans are fermented to remove the outer pulp and seed coat is key, and although the almond-shaped beans look tough, if the subsequent drying process is incomplete, the crop can be ruined.
Raw criollo beans, considered a delicacy and used to make high-end chocolate, are hard to come by, especially as David wanted to source them from a farm that both treated its workers well and was also environmentally responsible.
It took a lot of research for him to finally track down a Venezuelan plantation that shared his values, and the company in Calgary that imported their beans.
Back at Chocolate Tales, the Bean2Bar participants are taken through a series of steps, beginning with delicately roasting the beans for just the right amount of time. Once cooled, the shells are winnowed, or picked away by hand to expose the nibs inside.
These are ground into a paste and processed through the heavy granite rollers of a machine called a conche. The heat and friction created allows a chemical change that aerates the chocolate and makes it velvety smooth by evenly spreading a thin film of the cocoa butter it contains over each tiny particle.
As with everything home-crafted, patience is required. The process takes 12 hours, so participants work with pre-prepared chocolate to save time (but if they want to get the full experience, they can buy a kitchen conche from David and try it out for themselves).
The conched paste is now ready to be tempered to give it the snap and shine of professional chocolate. It’s heated to a certain temperature and then blended by hand on granite slabs.
Once it’s ready, the mixture is poured into a mould, decorated, and the labour of love is cooled in a fridge.
The final reward is breaking a piece and letting it melt in your mouth.
Even if the handmade bar doesn’t make it out the door, no-one leaves empty-handed. The class goes home with ingredients and instructions to make more tempting delicacies.
Learn more and get special discounts on tickets at chocolatetales.ca
Photos courtesy of Chocolate Tales