In a world of chocolate-lined check-out counters and bearded, micro-batch producers sprouting-up in Brooklyn every day, many people take good chocolate for granted. The subject of chocolate making is as complex as wine and the flavors are equally diverse.
By Marissa Sertich
Imagine you favorite chocolate bar. Is it bitter? Milky? Fruity? Or maybe you’ve never delved into it before? When it comes to chocolate, the flavor possibilities are almost endless. Thousands of variables exist within every chocolate bar from the selection of the cocoa beans to processing. Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, North Carolina, like any great chocolate maker, pay meticulous attention to these details to produce their own unique flavor profile. Every brand of chocolate tastes different and by walking through the craft of bean-to-bar, you will develop your palate, better understand your preferences and gain a deeper appreciation for very involved process.
Begin at the beginning, as they say, and with chocolate making, that means the bean. Just like a Pinot Noir grape from California tastes different than one from France, the same goes for chocolate. South American beans are known for fruity and floral characteristics, African beans have a deep, more earthy, straightforward chocolatiness, and Madagascar beans are very acidic and incredibly fruity.
At Videri, owner and chocolate-maker, Sam Ratto, uses a blend of beans from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. “When I was getting samples of different varieties, the blends that I put together from these countries seemed like a great foundation,” says Ratto. And they are. The fruitiness of the South American beans comes through beautifully. It is mild and mellow, but complex. To be less vague, think fresh earth, orange blossoms and mild coffee.
The next step (and possibly most important step) is the sorting and cleaning of the beans to weed out impurities (no one wants a grenade pin in their chocolate bar). “When I sit in front of a pile of beans, my brain lights on fire,” says Ratto, who finds the process inspiring, despite the tedious nature of the step. Not all chocolate makers hand-sort the beans, but Ratto is serious about being involved in the total process of bean to bar. “I feel the main step that makes our chocolate different is the hand-sorting and the roasting. In my opinion, this is the art of chocolate making.” The purity and quality of the beans, plus the roasting, are truly the foundation and soul of chocolate.
After the roasting, cocoa nibs are ground down into a liquid and sugar and cocoa butter are added. Typically, finished chocolate contains about 35-40% cocoa butter, which balances the natural bitterness. Videri takes an optional and magical step, which is aging. The chocolate is aged anywhere from two weeks to two months. “We like the aging process because it helps round out our chocolate and makes the flavors feel more connected,” explains Ratto.
Tempering and molding of the chocolate defines the texture and appearance. It is a highly controlled process that involves stirring and gently warming the chocolate to the appropriate temperature. This somewhat mystifying process balances the chocolate’s fat crystals so they are stable. What does that mean? Well, it means that the chocolate is beautifully shiny, and when you take a bite, there is the appropriate, “snap.”
Chocolate making is a labor of love and is very much like a fine wine. Every step from selecting the bean to aging, changes alters and transforms a simple bean into a passionate craft. When you make chocolate or purchase chocolate from a small, bean-to-bar manufacturer, like Videri, you discover a chocolate and flavor that is truly remarkable and unique. The friendly folks at the Videri Chocolate Factory offer tours so you can see the magic of chocolate-making firsthand. “We are hoping to change the face of fine-hand-crafted, artisan chocolate by being a welcoming chocolate factory,” they say. At the end of the day, chocolate and the beautiful process behind it should be admired and enjoyed from “bean to bar to bliss.”
Videri Chocolate Factory
327 W.Davie Street
Marissa Sertich Velie is a New York based pastry chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. She passionately documents her adventures of baking and eating her way through the fascinating (and sometimes nutty) underbelly of the American pie. Velie has a Master's degree in Food Studies from NYU.