Hello and good day!
Yesterday I wrote about the fact that cacao is covered in a sugary white mucilage
when it is inside its pod, growing on a cacao tree. Cacao doesn't taste at all like chocolate unless you ferment it.
It is the sugary white gel that allows the fermentation to take place. We carry out fermentation by putting freshly harvested cacao in a wooden box and covering it up so that the yeast isn't exposed to oxygen. The cacao stays in the box for 5 - 7 days depending on several conditions that we monitor closely.
When it comes out, it looks like the cacao in the picture above. It morphs from white to brown and now it smells and tastes like chocolate.
The byproduct of doing fermentation, which is necessary in order for chocolate to taste like chocolate, is vinegar. And when you pull cacao out of a fermentation box, it is drenched in vinegar.
The next step in cacao post-harvest processing is to take the cacao and lay it out on dryer beds underneath the sun to dry. Here is what that looks like.
This process causes the now brown mucilage to harden into a shell. As I mentioned yesterday, if you go straight from the fermenter box to the dryer bed, vinegar will be trapped in the shell causing a vinegary chocolate down the line.
The technique we use for managing this issue is in the very first picture above. We call that step the pre-dry.
Before putting cacao out on the dryer beds, we leave the cacao in mounds for a day or two and let them gas out.
The way we do this is unique to our operation, and for a long time we never ever told anybody what we were doing.
In fact, when we had visitors come out to campo, we used to board up this room during their visit so that they couldn't get a peek at what we were doing in there.
We considered it our secret weapon and we kept the secret with extreme prejudice.
Nowadays, we've made a strategic decision to be much more transparent about everything we do so that our wonderful customers can have a behind the scenes look at how chocolate is made.
Anyhow, these mounds are in a hot room, but not exposed to the sun. The heat causes evaporation, and this allows a lot of the vinegar to dissipate off. We put the cacao in mounds to keep it moist. That is the whole point after all.
The skins need to be porous so that the vinegar can evaporate out. Beyond piling the cacao, we move it every hour on the hour. We use a stopwatch, and this goes on all day every day while the sun is out.
Moving the cacao entails flattening out the pile, mixing, and then rebuilding the mounds.
We do that because the cacao on top of the pile dries out and we don't want any cacao forming a hard shell before the vinegar is fully evaporated.
Through many experiments, we've found that 1-2 days in the pre-dry room is optimal. The cacao can continue to ferment piled up like that, so we don't want to leave it in that formation indefinitely.
After the pre-dry, the cacao goes out onto the dryer beds for 5 - 7 days until the cacao gets below a certain moisture content. This is what we do in post-harvest processing to eliminate the influence of acidity in our chocolate, and we do it with every single cacao bean that we buy and process.
We've been doing it that way for going on 14 years, and we'll keep doing it that way as long as people continue to enjoy our chocolate. There is one other step in the chocolate making process itself to help eliminate any remnants of acidity and that is conching.
Once cacao is dried and exported to a chocolate maker, it goes through the chocolate making process.
First the cacao is roasted with its shell still on. Then it is winnowed, which means broken up into little pieces and having the shells removed.
What is left after winnowing are cacao nibs. The nibs are grinded and when cacao is grinded, it liquifies because it is high in vegetable fat and fat liquifies when heated.
Once grinded, you can add sugar or milk or vanilla or whatever other ingredients you want in your chocolate.
And then you conche.
This means sloshing your liquid chocolate over heat for an extended period of time to evaporate out impurities. Modern machines do this in 6-10 hours.
The old-fashioned 1879 machine that our chocolate is made on conches over low heat, and it takes 60 long hours. A photo of the conche is below.
So, there you have it.
This is what must be done to produce a good, chocolatey chocolate, that doesn't taste vinegary and acidic, while still maintaining all of the wonderful notes inherent in the cacao bean.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!