< The Chocolate Factory >
Once the beans have been harvested, fermented and dried, they are packed into hessian sacks and transported directly by sea to our chocolate factory in Uffculme, Devon, in South West England.
The moment they arrive they are checked and stored in a climate-controlled room at between 14 and 16 degrees.
Every step of the way from bean to bar I wanted to concentrate on flavour and that does not change in the factory. The old original machines that I’ve sourced, mainly in Europe, may be smaller and slower than today’s modern machines – which are made for speed and commercial profitability – but they capture the subtle notes and unique flavours of our cacao in a way modern machines are unable to. I restored a traditional 1920s batch roaster and antique conching tanks from Spain that growl and groan and thud as they process the beans. It all takes time but great things are worth waiting for and I won’t compromise on the flavour of Willie’s Cacao.
Roasting enhances the rich flavor of the beans. After fermentation and drying, this is the next most important stage in developing their unique flavor and aroma. High quality beans don’t need heavy roasting, so I lightly roast ours in 60 kilo batches for 20-30 minutes. Our ball roasting machine is almost a hundred years old and was produced by Victor Gruber from Bilbao. A ball roaster is generally preferred by premium chocolate makers to a drum roaster or continuous roaster. The beans are roasted in batches circulating with the hot air inside the ball. It is thought that the ball shape gives it more even roast than other forms of roastings.
I winnow the beans – blowing the shell away - to leave the cacao nibs, the edible part of the bean. This is an important part of the manufacture of chocolate. If too much shell is left in the chocolate it will affect its flavor and fluidity.
Approximately 50% of each cacao nib is cocoa butter. This is valuable and often extracted for use in for instance, beauty products. But it is essential for fine cacao and chocolate, giving a rich, deep, smooth taste. I grind the nibs in a stone mill that crushes and aerates them to release the cocoa butter, which drops onto the rollers of our three-roller refiner. The rollers catch the smooth cacao liquid, draw it up and refine it so that it runs smoothly off into containers. The refined liquid then cools into a firm mass ready for conching.
For the Supreme 100% cacao bars I grind the nibs in a stone mill. For the Delectable Chocolate bars I grind, refine and conch following the principle of small batch making in our Lloveras conch refining machine.
Conching was one of the last major 19th century inventions in the making of modern chocolate. It is an essential process of agitating to help remove bitterness and bring out the uniquely intense flavours of the cacao.
My Supreme 100% cacao is gently conched in our 100-year-old longitudinal conching tanks. There are four conching tanks and the granite rollers in each tank weigh 150 kilos. They roll back and forth for eight to 12 hours on a granite base to further refine the cacao mass,
To make Willie’s Delectable chocolate bars, I use the same principle of small batch making in a Lloveras conch refiner. Only Cuban organic sugar and little cacao butter, to my own recipe, are added. Lastly, the bars are wrapped and packed at the factory.
I made a nod to modernity with the tempering machine which warms and cools the cacao mass so that the butter and the solids set together perfectly, before being placed into the mould. Tempering also prevents bloom, which is when the butter and solids separate and the chocolate develops an uneven colour and texture. Then it goes through a depositor, which deposits exactly the right amount of chocolate into each mould. Now it needs to be cooled quickly in a cooling tunnel, which shrinks it and allows it to come out of its mould easily. Finally, it is wrapped.
A piece of spare pipe on the Hacienda has proved my accidental hero and shaped the 100 cacao bar into a cylinder. When I couldn’t decide what to use as a mould for my earliest batches of cacao, I noticed a length of the pipe the floor of my workshop. I chopped up all I had into moulds and it worked beautifully, I kept the shape when I started making it in Devon and rolls out of the factory better. It’s great for grating and keeps better because it has a lot less surface area than a flat bar.
Each bar is removed from the mould and hand-rolled in gold foil before a wrapper is placed around it.
It takes three weeks from harvesting to wrapping, from bean to bar.