There are only about 19 chocolate makers in the United States who actually start with cacao (cocoa beans) and follow the process through to finished chocolate, and only about 13 that are “bean to bar” chocolate makers.
However, there are even fewer chocolate makers who attempt to produce small batches of excellent quality chocolate based on a love for the craft and a deep philosophical conviction about how to take cacao and sugar and create a product that is the pinnacle of chocolate.
Such vision and skill is not a simple endeavor, and Patric Chocolate holds deep respect for such chocolate makers as colleagues and friends in the field. Yet, though such chocolate makers may all start with similar goals of making the best fine chocolate possible, still every serious chocolate maker creates quite different products as he/she necessarily follows his/her own unique taste regarding what flavors and textures ultimately result in the best product.
This situation leads to a wide range of high-quality, but yet quite distinctive, products from a variety of chocolate makers, and this diversity of end results is one of the beauties of a complex product such as fine dark chocolate, as it invites all of the countless chocolate connoisseurs and chocolate lovers to an exciting discovery of the multiplicity of these excellent products.
Some people may like all of these chocolates to varying degrees, but some people may have strong preferences for or against certain items. This is only natural, of course, and certainly one chocolate that may be considered the best in the world by one chocolate aficionado may be considered quite inadequate by another. This being the case, it would be a mistake to attempt to create a chocolate that everyone would like. In fact, there are companies who try to do just such a thing, creating chocolate based only on the tastes of the average consumer, and these are the mass-producers of the chocolate world. It isn’t difficult to think of one or two of these companies whose names can be seen in every grocery store or vending machine.
Companies like this create chocolate products that are analogous to the manufactured pop music of the corporate music world. Like such pop music, these chocolates are generally overly sweet, “easy,” and lacking almost any character whatsoever. Such chocolates are not interesting or worthy of more than just passing attention, and when one has finished eating one of them, it is hard to remember anything more about it than its sugar-laden nature. This type of chocolate is really the antithesis of the products created by serious chocolate makers here in the US and abroad.
Instead, serious chocolate makers look for character and beauty, and above all, an intriguing, persistent and delicious flavor that forces one to wake up and pay attention to the inspiring aromas and luscious mouthfeel. These chocolates are not soon forgotten, and creating fine dark chocolate bars such as these is the raison d’être of Patric Chocolate. However, as important as this preliminary philosophy is in the creation of fine dark chocolate, it is the process that this view spawns that holds even more importance. After all, a faulty process does not make excellent chocolate no matter how brilliant the philosophy behind it may be. So, it is of interest to Patric Chocolate to share our process of chocolate-making in an effort to better explain how our philosophy comes to assert itself regarding the fine cacao and pure cane sugar of which we make use, day in, and day out. Of course not every detail is revealed, but the broad outline of the process is all here and as a fellow chocolate lover, we think that you will find it to be of interest.
Patric Chocolate begins with different types of fine cacao from superior terroirs that have been carefully fermented and sun-dried to make the various bars of the Patric Chocolate line. In some cases, chocolate maker Alan McClure has even met with the grower(s) of the cacao itself in order to discuss the post-harvest processing of the cacao in great detail. This process of connecting with small growers and forming alliances in order to improve cacao quality is ongoing.
Once the cacao is chosen for a particular bar, it is first hand-sifted and sorted to remove:
• Dust and silt
• Bean fragments
• Beans with cracked shells
• Cut beans as a result of removal from the pod
• Double or even triple beans, which have ended up stuck together during the previous drying process, and, therefore, may have negative flavor qualities
• Germinated beans that had not started fermenting soon enough after harvest
• Flat beans
• Too-small beans
• Non-cacao items such as leaves and/or twigs
After this painstaking cleaning process, the cacao is roasted in small batches with close attention to time and temperature curves, air-flow, aroma, flavor, and even the appearance and sound of the cacao, leading to the best roast possible for a given type of cacao.
The cacao is then cracked, classified by particle size, and finally winnowed (a process using controlled airflow) to remove the outer shell or “testa” of the cacao. During this process, the vast majority of the germ, or radicle, is removed. The germ is a tough and hard needle-shaped object, which is quite bitter, and has very little of the cocoa butter which gives fine chocolate its smooth and beautifully-melting qualities.
What is left after this process is a container of pure, shell-free nibs, the “nut” of the cocoa bean. This is 100% pure unground chocolate, which is delicious by itself, but it is only with the addition of small amounts of pure cane sugar and a long and complex refining process that these nibs begin to resemble fine chocolate.
First, Alan grinds the nibs in a customized granite-based refiner in order to reduce them to a paste, and then, with the addition of heat due to friction and external factors, into a thick and flowing liquid. At this point pure cane sugar is added, and the refiner mixes and grinds the liquid further until the particles of cacao and sugar become quite small.
Next, the heating and speed setting of the machine are carefully altered to allow a slow and constant conching of the liquid chocolate that continues for between four and five days. The reason for this protracted process is two-fold: Firstly, the texture of the chocolate continues to change as particles of sugar and cacao are reduced ever-so-slightly in size. These particles also come to be coated in a velvety layer of their own cocoa butter, thereby also improving the texture and modifying the innate harshness and bitterness of the chocolate’s flavor. The flavor of the chocolate is also impacted during the conching, in part, due to a slight, but constant, evaporation of volatile flavor components such as acetic acid, resulting in a less acidic and harsh flavor. As the chocolate aroma loses this acetic acid-harshness it also begins to smell like the luscious dark chocolate that we have all come love.
Finally, the chocolate seems ready, but it is only after Alan has aged it in large blocks and the flavors have further mellowed and developed, that it is melted, tempered (a controlled crystallization of the chocolate so that it has the proper mouth-feel and glossy sheen), and molded into bars. The glossy dark bars are then hand-wrapped in thick golden-foil and carefully slid into the unique Patric Chocolate package, highlighting, in word and image, the beauty of the product contained within.
Since the bars are molded regularly, and in small numbers, they never sit on shelves long before finally being enjoyed by one of our discriminating customers, and during storage, they are kept at a constant cool temperature in order to maintain their exquisite texture and sheen.
As can be seen, this process is not simply making chocolate as any large factory would, it is making chocolate with a love and respect, a passion, for the medium, with a goal to produce only the finest dark chocolate bars in the United States and Europe, and the result of this more-than-chocolate-making process is all in the aroma, taste, and feel of Patric Chocolate. We invite you to experience it for yourself.