Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Let's Not Forget: Chocolatiers are artisans too!

With all of the controversy about Mast Brothers Chocolate this week, and whether or not they make the chocolate from scratch (i.e. from bean to bar), has got me thinking.  Although this publicity for craft chocolate is succeeding in educating people about bean-to-bar chocolate (a cause which I have been passionately writing about and promoting online for years), it seems that we are losing sight of the immense skill-set of a chocolatier.

In recent years, a distinct and more accurate definition of chocolate maker has taken hold.  At one time, a chocolatier who created beautiful truffles, ganaches, artistic chocolate show pieces, and chocolate-dipped anythings, could describe themselves as a chocolate maker and no one would argue. It seemed natural, since they make chocolate confections out of - well - chocolate. And most often the chocolate they used was high quality and made by large manufacturers.

But since 2005 and 2006, a group of craft chocolate makers began the tough and lengthy task of making chocolate from bean-to-bar in small workshops across North America. They roast cocoa beans (what you often hear called 'cacao' [pronounced ka-kow]), and then tackle the difficult job of removing the shells, grinding them down with specialty refiners, and then melting, tempering, and molding the chocolate into bars. So now, there is a clear division between chocolate maker and chocolatier

Both jobs are important. And both jobs require artisanal skills that can take years to master.

But unfortunately many of the articles and comments that have been published online since Megan Giller's December 18th article on Slate.com have been negative towards businesses that 'simply melt down other company's chocolate'. And I am concerned that there will be backlash on traditional chocolatiers from these statements.

A chocolatier's job is not an easy one.  There is no simplicity in melting down and molding chocolate. To create a simple bar of chocolate, from couverture chocolate provided by a manufacturer (the manufacturers do not provide chocolate in bars that can just be re-packaged - they come in small chips or drops, or sometimes slabs that have to be cut with the force of an ax) requires science and skill.  Once melted, chocolate must be tempered - brought up to a specific temperature such as 120º F for dark chocolate, then dropped to 82º F, and finally brought up to working temperature again.  This cooling and heating process needs to be practised and mastered. 

And as a chocolatier becomes better at tempering, they also need to gain knowledge about humidity in the air and in cooling units, mold temperatures, room temperature, water exposure, and so on. One little miscalculation, and the final chocolate product can turn white with bloom because the cocoa butter has not crystalized properly. This is science.

Once the tempering has been mastered, then the chef and artisan skills come into play. Flavor combinations are tested, and need to be modern or traditional, depending on the chocolatiers' philosophy. Textures need to be mastered for ganaches and truffles - again learning to temper ganache in order to have smooth results.

And don't even let me get into chocolate artistry, where a Master Chocolatier creates showpieces for events and weddings! You can watch the entire Netflix documentary on that.

So does a Master Chocolatier really have time to roast cocoa beans, shell them, and grind the chocolate into something smooth that he or she can work with? NO! They must use other chocolate maker's chocolate.

And nor does the chocolate maker have time to learn all the skills required to become a Master Chocolatier.  Often, when a small chocolate maker grows and expands their product line, they hire chocolatiers to create wonderful confections out of their bean-to-bar chocolate.  Soma Chocolatemaker in Toronto is one such example (I, myself have nearly applied to a chocolatier job at Soma!). 

Sure, a chocolate maker can become skilled at chocolate confections.  And a chocolatier can become skilled at chocolate making (ahem, I am one of those people trying to learn the bean-to-bar craft in my spare time).  But mastering both is a tough task, and takes years to accomplish.

So I just want us all to remember: the next time we visit a chocolatier's shop and taste a wonderful, beautiful, hand-painted, perfectly textured chocolate truffle, we should not become incensed when we find out that they use Valrhona, Cacao Barry or Michel Cluizel chocolate to make that confection. Beyond the job of melting Valrhona's chocolate, hours of work has gone into that confection.

And on the flip side, we cannot become annoyed if a craft chocolate maker only offers three types of chocolate bars.  The work that has gone into sourcing the beans for those three bars is hard enough, let alone crafting and packaging them.

And if a chocolate maker also wants to offer some chocolate products created from 'other company's chocolate', THAT IS OKAY TOO.  Just so long as they are upfront about it.

Happy Holidays to both Chocolatiers and Chocolate Makers! I greatly appreciate your individual artistry and craft, and all that you do for my taste buds!

And Happy Holidays to all of you chocolate lovers! Without you, we chocolatiers (and occasional chocolate makers like myself) would have nobody to create for, but ourselves. 

I hope you enjoy some good chocolate this holiday season!

This is one of my creations - a peanut butter truffle inside of a hand-wrapped dark chocolate toffee.
It's called The Chocolate TOFFLE, and it's delicious!!!


  1. thanks for your support Lisabeth, Geert Vercruysse Belgium, sweet chocolate Holidays

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