Below are excerpts from Guittard on how they go about their chocolate making process:
Growing High Quality Cacao
High quality chocolate starts in shaded, jungle-like forests of cacao trees, so Guittard works closely with cacao growers to develop desired chocolate flavors in the beans. Growers carefully manage the health and development of the delicate trees, inspecting them regularly for any signs of diseases, such as witch’s broom, black pod rot or other known diseases.
Harvesting, Fermenting & Drying
Guittard works in close cooperation with growers to ensure the best possible post-harvest practices are used. Growers harvest the cacao pods only at peak ripeness, opening the pods to take out the beans, and then perfectly fermenting the beans, usually in wooden boxes covered with banana leaves for an average period of three-to-five days, depending on the genetics of the beans. Finally, growers spread the beans out to dry naturally in the sun, sometimes using a rake to design traditional and carefully-crafted patterns.
Cacao beans are grown and harvested year-round primarily from October through March. Although more labor intensive, frequent harvesting ensures that each cacao pod is allowed to reach optimal ripeness before being picked.
Specific fermentation methods are a major benchmark in developing preferred flavor characteristics. With respect to duration, for instance, too short a fermentation results in chocolate with bitterness, astringency or little flavor, whereas too long a fermentation causes the chocolate to take on putrid or foreign tastes.
Guittard chocolates are made almost exclusively of sun-dried beans. Sun-drying enhances natural chocolate flavor and avoids the pitfalls of other methods.
Selecting High Quality Beans
Guittard continues its close work with growers throughout the bean selection process. Small batches of dried cacao beans and finished chocolate are sent back and forth between each origin country and Guittard in Northern California throughout the harvest period (October – May primarily), so that each result can be properly assessed. (Generally batches of dried beans are sent to Guittard for tasting, but sometimes, chocolate makers travel to Latin America to taste with the growers there instead.) Once selection is complete, the chosen beans are freighted to Guittard, where they are painstakingly transformed into chocolate.
Roasting, Winnowing, Grinding, Blending & Refining
Once the selected cacao beans arrive at Guittard in California, they must first be roasted, then winnowed, and then slowly ground into finer and finer particles until they become a dark, bitter liquid (chocolate liquor, also called cocoa mass). After being finely ground, different batches of beans may be blended or not (as with single origin chocolates), and other ingredients such as sugar, added cocoa butter and milk (in the case of milk chocolate) may be added. The resulting thick chocolate is taken from the mixer and refined further to an extremely smooth consistency on traditional European equipment.
Conching, Tempering & Moulding
Conching is the crucial next step in flavor development, where nuances and complexities are created in the chocolate flavor. Guittard has over 135 years of custom chocolate making and conching experience, and some conching formulas have been handed down over four generations.
Last, the chocolate is tempered to achieve perfect consistency and moulded into delicious E. Guittard bars and wafers.