Jump to content


participating member
  • Posts

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Everything posted by chocophile

  1. As a customer and consumer, one of the things I respond to is having to order dessert as a part of ordering dinner because the desserts take a while to prepare (true or no). Here's a nice story about a dinner/dessert I had at Verbena in NYC between Christmas and New Year's with my wife. We went in and the dessert menu had several options that needed to be ordered in advance. I couldn't decide, and asked our server to have the pastry chef send out whatever was her favorite - as long as it had chocolate in it. Well, out came a fabulous dessert and about five minutes later out came the pastry chef with what was actually her favorite but wasn't on the menu that night. We had a great talk about chocolate (she uses El Rey), pastry and other items. I've recounted this story many times, so the act of generosity I am sure has been well rewarded by my good will and promotion. Another fun experience I had was at a restaurant called Supper last year. The dessert menu included a hazelnut panna cotta, and the server carried a pot of warm chocolate sauce when she served it, saying simply, "Say When" and started free pouring the sauce. The panna cotta was great, the sauce only so-so -- but the idea was way cool and could be used to great advantage on a dessert menu. Finally I wonder if you need to do more with the descriptions to make the desserts sound interesting as has been suggested elsewhere in the post. The naked whipped cream is definitely a step in the right direction. If you're using any seasonal and/or varietal ingredients I would definitely highlight them. What merlot? What kind of cherries? A molten chocolate cake made with a single-origin Venezuelan chocolate topped with a Napa Valley merlot and organic Washington State morello cherry sauce takes a tried and true item and makes it sound much more exotic and interesting. FWIW, Clay
  2. Steve: Lots of very interesting questions. The differences between what I wrote on chocophile.com and what I wrote in my recent post have to do with a change in attitude over time and I haven't (and probably won't) go back and edit the old writing. For me, artisanal is really an attitude about what is being made that goes beyond simple small-batch production, or labels such as organic or fair trade. Domori is a good example: small batch production to be sure, not adding additional cocoa butter during conching, trying hard to source beans to make true varietals -- all in an attempt to try to recapture the taste of chocolate (insofar as possible) that might have existed a century or more ago before the homogenization (pun intended) of commercial chocolate. In the end, it's the manufacturer's prerogative to call themselves whatever they want. For most, I would venture to guess, artisanal is more a matter of scale than anything else. I would go a little further and say that artisanal is a people-scale issue rather than a tonnage issue, and involves a high percentage of human labor. The factory operation at Scharffen Berger is artisanal in scope and intent, but as I say, it represents only a small part of their total production. Of course, in the end, in a blind tasting, artisanal is a label with somewhat dubious value for, as you point out, it's the taste and how it performs that are at issue. Making good chocolate consistently is all about process control, which, ironically in the case of chocolate. is easier to achieve using modern computer-controlled machinery -- blowing the artisanal scale argument out of the water. However, I do think there is a market for small batch (~100lb) custom production of eating chocolate in the $75-$100/lb range. I also think that if someone is smart they'll create the equivalent of barrel futures for chocolate to hedge bets against the high price of such an endeavor. But those really are other issues (and anyone interested in working on them/funding them is free to contact me). Cluizel is an interesting company. True, their truffle line might be a bit sweet for many tastes, but at the price point it represents one of the consistently good values in terms of taste and quality - especially when compared to most of the gourmet Belgian and Swiss brands that are its direct competitors. What is available at retail may confuse some pastry chefs into not using the couverture, but, quite frankly, I think it's more inertia and laziness on two fronts: One is that if you've developed a recipe using a 60% Valrhona, you need to change it to use a Cluizel couverture which is not ean exact match. Plus, because Cluizel couvertures do not have lecithin, they tend to be more difficult to work with than others. The argument for eliminating lecithin is to ensure that the chocolate is GMO-free. For the chef, is that argument worth the effort to change (will the customer care or know the difference?) and - unless the change is from Valrhona - is it worth the extra cost? As near as I know there are no plans afoot at Cluizel to make a "high-end" truffle line using their single-estate couvertures. But, you may be surprised to know that they do create some classic and palet-style truffles using their 72% and 85% couvertures. For example, their Cyrano and Palet Amer a la Feuille d'Or are two that are imported into the US (there are more that are made, but not imported) that are not at all sweet. Plus there are palet-style truffles using the Hacienda Concepcion and Ilha Toma couvertures, and their Palets aux Cacaos des Pures Origines that use their 72% terroir couvertures. However, these are not necessarily the most popular items in the importer's catalog. There will be Cluizel people in Las Vegas during the Great American Dessert Expo and The World Pastry Forum in July, so I will ask. I am careful about my phrasing because in some cases I do not have personal knowledge of a fact. Also, I have learned that the there are a lot of personalities in the world of high-end chocolate and pastry and that there are powerful factions that appear to detest each other. As an independent "expert" in the subject (i.e., someone who is not in the employ of a chocolate maker or confectioner) I want to avoid getting caught up in others' battles, perhaps diminishing my access and effectiveness. Why don't chefs want to let others know what they're actually using? Ego. In the case of Jacques Torres, if it is true that he uses Belcolade, it goes a long way to explaining why I think his chocolates don't taste better than they do at the prices he is charging. Others may see their "custom blend" as their trade secret and don't want to give anything away. I started pureorigin almost five years ago to pursue what I see as a void in the chocolate industry: an independent voice that combines the educational efforts of Kevin Zraly with the ratings efforts of Robert Parker. I was introduced to the concept of "terroir" in chocolate back in 1994 in Cannes where I "discovered" Bonnat and have been working towards this ever since. chocophile.com is the on-line publishing venue for my work. I do sell chocolate at thechocolateco-op.com in order to help my learning about what works and what doesn't in various aspects of my business. One thing I have learned is that my visitors and customers rely on my impressions of a chocolate to help them with their buying decisions. I've also learned that samplers (collections of bars and brands) sell best, and that milk chocolate and couverture do not sell nearly as well as high octane eating chocolate. Finally, I don't sell anything that I wouldn't rate as "very good" or better on my seven-point rating scale. The way it usually works is that I taste something I really like that also happens to be hard to get and I make a deal with the importer or distributor so that I can sell it at a good price. As a small business, my overhead is low and by operating in a cooperative fashion (I usually don't buy a chocolate until I have orders for it) I further reduce my risk, inventory, and carrying costs. Ultimately, my goal is to get out of the business of selling chocolate and concentrate on the education and ratings as selling chocolate can create the impression of a conflict of interest. For now, I need the income. I am looking forward to being a valued contributor to the forum, Clay
  3. This is a very interesting thread and one that is near and dear to my heart. There are lots of different questions, and I'll try to respond to many of them. vengroff, the ball mill you mention that you read about on my site was actually designed by Terry Richardson of Richardson Research (www.richres.com). I corresponded with him and he says that he'll reveal more about the details of construction to people who take his classes. Using the techniques described, grinding roasted and winnowed cocoa beans to a paste in a Robot Coupe and then simultaneously refining/conching in the ball mill will give better results than a metate but not nearly as good results as larger scale equipment in part because of the challenge associated with grinding the sugar (which is much harder than the cocoa bean). Uniformly small particle sizes are difficult to achieve. Plus, if you've read Steven Beckett's "The Science of Chocolate" you know that it's imperative to have a means of removing metal particles from the chocolate. From what I last heard, Jacques Torres is using a Belcolade couverture for his own work. Rumors are that he plans to start manufacturing a line of chocolate near his current workshop in Brooklyn. These days it is very difficult to get any one of the Barry-Callebaut companies to pay attention to you and make a custom formulation. What they will tell you to do (I am told) is to mix and match from existing formulas, which is what several chocolatiers I know of do. Castelanne in Nantes (who makes some astounding pieces) mixes and matches Valrhona, Cluizel, and other couvertures to achieve particular tastes. This has got to make tempering more difficult than it already is, but the results are wonderful. Until recently they were imported by the same folks who imported Cluizel, but there is no importer at the moment. I took the Scharffen Berger factory tour in January, and it looks like they are making no more than about 500kg of chocolate per day in their Berkeley factory based on the size of their melangeur (about 150kg capacity) and their own description of how long the process takes and the length of their workday. Until recently, they had only one conche, which further limited production. According to my sources, a significant percentage of their production is contracted out, and this would make sense given the size of the operation I saw. (Scharffen Berger is small scale but by no means artisanal. Domori is artisanal.) As chefette pointed out there are a lot of pieces of equipment needed for commercial production: cleaner, roaster, winnower, melangeur, refiner, conche, temperer, molding line, cooling line, wrapping line. If you think of it in these terms, then production has to be quite substantial -- tonnes per day. Was that $6/lb price point wholesale or retail? Was that 10% profit gross or net? If you want to be in the truly artisanal class, like Domori or Amedei, you have to charge what they do. This reduces the size of the market significantly, as there is still a strong commodity pricing mentality with chocolate. You ready to pay $15/lb wholesale for couverture? $75/lb for 100% porcelana eating chocolate? As anyone who's read Beckett's book can attest, making chocolate is all about process control, and is at least as much science as art. And from the above, you can see that it is expensive and not all that lucrative in small quantities. This is why there are no US chocolatiers that I know of who are currently making their own chocolate. While it might be interesting, it's not central to what they want to do, and as pointed out elsewhere in this thread, there are already hundreds of couvertures to choose from. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate is a must-have book. Michel Cluizel is currently making the most interesting couverture anywhere (IMO) with their single-estate 67% Hacienda Los Ancones. Very powerful for a 67% with a great deal of complexity and interesting tasting notes including green olive. They are one of the only companies in the world that is both chocolate maker and chocolatier, and have been able to successfully combine large-scale manufacturing techniques with hand-finished attention to detail. The real interesting question (IMO) is, if I can pay $2000 liter for 75-yr old balsamic why can't I charge $100/lb for truly great (solid eating) chocolate? When we can answer that, a lot of other things will fall into place. Whew! Clay
  4. I have not tasted this particular chocolate but in general the Spanish (particularly the Catalonians) are among the most adventurous when it comes to presentation and new flavors - think Enric Rovira, Blanxart. I had some pretty amazing cava vinegar ganache truffles from Blanxart in January at the Fancy Food Show. The importer is in Seattle, Powers Seles Imports. I will see them in June in NYC. Clay
  • Create New...