Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fresco Chocolate Part 2: Length of Conche

Let's talk length of conche:  Huh, wha...? Yup, I said conche. This is a machine that essentially 'kneads' the chocolate and moves it over several hours, and up to three days, while aerating the chocolate and maintaining it at a warm temperature. Conching is additional processing time after the cocoa beans are ground into liquid chocolate.

The duration of the conche affects both texture and flavour, and allows acidity within the chocolate to evaporate. Fresco is the only chocolate maker that I know of that allows its customers to taste chocolate made with varying conche times.

Fresco produces several chocolate bars that are made with the same origin of cocoa beans, the same roast, the same ingredients, and the same measurement of ingredients, but simply changes one variable, the length of conching, to produce different tasting chocolates.

So what's the big deal, you might ask? The length of the conche not only affects the texture of the chocolate (no or very short conche = rough, long conche = smooth), but it also affects the resulting flavour.  The difference can be subtle, but it will certainly affect your overall experience with the chocolate.

Let's look at examples from two of Fresco's single origin chocolates: Peru (pure Nacional bean type) and Papua New Guinea.

Fresco Papua New Guinea 69% Dark Chocolate, Recipe 219 (medium conche) vs 222 (unconched)

Fresco's Papua New Guinea tasting flight certainly offers some opportunity to learn about the affect of the conching step on chocolate flavour.

The Papua New Guinea Recipe 229 (light roast, medium conche) is a wonderfully flavourful chocolate with bright, citrus and tropical fruit flavours, with notes of plum, and just the slightest hint of smoke or tobacco. It is a smooth chocolate and overall quite unique and delicious. It is clear why this one has won a Gold Award at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in 2012, with its robust flavour but slightly subdued acidity making it more palatable to a wider range of chocolate lovers.

To compare, the unconched version of this chocolate is Papua New Guinea Recipe 222 (light roast, unconched).  Here we have a chocolate that is nearly smooth, with only a slight grainy texture with powerful tropical fruit and citrus flavours, and a slight hint of smoke in the aroma.  What's interesting, is that the notes of plum that are in the conched chocolate are not detected, because I suspect the conching process blends the flavours to a point of merging them, creating a unique flavour on its own, in this case plum. And although the flavour and acidity is almost too powerful in the unconched chocolate, I could still enjoy this chocolate every day.

Fresco Peru Nacional 70% Dark Chocolate, Recipe 229 (long conche) vs 222 (subtle conche)

The conching time differences can also be tasted in Fresco's Peru chocolate made from Pure Nacional beans. Again we have two dark chocolate bars with the same cocoa solids (70%), but made only slightly different.  Recipe 228 has a medium roast but subtle conche. Recipe 229 also has a medium roast, but a long conche.

The chocolate with the long conche is silkier on the tongue. The flavour, although bright and complex, blend together to produce an overall wonderfully fresh fruit flavour, light sweetness and roast all combined into one unique flavour. Whereas, the Peru Nacional with the subtle conche seems to separate the flavours into distinct groups: with an upfront floral flavour, then citrus fruit taste, with only mild sweetness and roast detected.  It is smooth, but not perfectly and as a result seems to have a less cocoa buttery mouthfeel.  

So what did I learn about conching?

Even if I carried the knowledge before, this tasting physically taught me the importance of conching in chocolate: it subdues the powerful acidic flavours of the bean, reduces bitterness that can be unpalatable at times, and makes the chocolate more enjoyable to the masses. I suppose that is why Lindt chocolate is so popular - didn't Rudolphe Lindt invent the conche afterall?

Read more in this Fresco Series:

Introduction to Fresco Chocolate - how chocolate-maker Rob Anderson is helping his customers learn about chocolate making through taste.

Part 1: Can you handle 100% Dark Chocolate? Fresco's two chocolate bars.