This is the hub of chocolate production - their wonderful and amazing workshop.
Went for the first of the Bean to Bar days on the 9th October, 2010, and was the only food blogger in the room (besides 2 journalists). It was great being met by Anne (one of the co-owners) and talked through the process by Gerrard Coleman, the other co-owner (a pastry chef by training and of Dublin origin), as well as about the sources of the cocoa beans (particularly from Brazil). Met the production manager/ specialist Zoe who has worked for the company and provided a good insight into the life of the company.
Ok now a quick and very brief background to L'Artisan and chocolate production.
L'Artisan du Chocolat were set up 12 years ago with their first sales location in Borough market. 1 - 1.5 tonnes of cocoa beans per episode are used to convert to chocolate. 300 kg of chocolate are use per day to produce bars for sale. They sell 30% of their stock to specialist retailer like Fortum and Mason who request special creation for times like Christmas. The beans are handled and treated very carefully to minimised the risk of contamination such as Salmonella, etc.
Brazil is one of the main producers of cocoa, and are the main suppliers to L'Artisan du Chocolat; with plantations in the middle of the Rio Duce river on an island, especially the Linhares Plantation. L'Artisan du Chocolat also supports the Rio Duce Forest Project, Grimado region. There are national cocoa distributors in the Rio Grande du Sul and Sao Paulo districts.
Cocoa trees are small and fragile, and are sheltered by banana and coconut trees. The soil effects the taste of the base cocoa. For example, Java has volcanic soil (air and caramel flavours) or Madagascar has boggy soil.
Cocoa beans are harvested twice a year. It takes 7 years for a cocoa plant to grow to a tree. Each cocoa pod yields about 30-40 beans. The white fleshy cocoa pulp is pasturised and frozen for transportation. It has the texture of banana and lychee, and a lychee / passionfruit flavour. Particularly in Brazil, the cocoa pulp is converted into a nutritional /non-alcholic/ alcohol (if fermented) drink with herbs and spices.
Cadbury's started the sale of chocolate as we know it with higher levels of sugar and vegetable fat.
Conching aerated the cocoa mass, increases the volume, and helps the cocoa particles retain their original flavours influenced by the soil that the plants grew in.
Flavours can then be added before the cocoa butter and sugar is finally added. On the day we made a bar out of Jamaican beans (a 75kg bag of beans); which is now in the stores for a limited time only (and with our first names also on the packaging around the thumb print).
During the Bean to Bar day, the L'AdC team were very hospitable and provide a great lunch which was rounded off with 7 excellent boxes of assorted varieties of chocolates. I was in heaven. Also, this time gave me an opportunity to socialise with other chocoholics, food journalists and L'AdC chocolate producers / staff.
Also, I must add that L'Artisan du Chocolat are our favorite artisan chocolate producers with a wonderful range of complex levels of flavours. They use 71% cocoa as standard for their bars which makes all the difference.
The Long Barrow, Orbital Park, Ashford, Kent Tn24 0GP
020 7824 8365
http://www.artisanduchocolat.com/ArtisanduChocolatSite/pages/home/default.aspReview linked on Qype: http://www.qype.co.uk/people/jasonpinto