WE ASKED CHOCOLATE MAKER Nathaniel Izard to spill the beans on how his chocolates go from cacao to confection. (Spoiler alert: It ain’t easy …)
Nathaniel sources “high-quality, fine-flavor” cacao beans (as opposed to the “commodity” beans used by bulk manufacturers) through an importing company based in California. (To date, he’s used beans sourced from eight locales, ranging from Tanzania to the Dominican Republic.) The beans, which have been fermented and dried, arrive at the shop in 150-pound sacks.
Depending on their origins, some sacks of beans are cleaner than others. Others need to be sorted, meaning that Nathaniel and a couple of helpers sift through the contents of the sacks to remove errant twigs and pebbles. “We sometimes find things like green coffee beans,” he says, “and we’re like, How’d that get in there?” The sorting process can take up to three hours per sack.
“This is a really important part of the flavor development,” Nathaniel says. “During fermentation, the chemical makeup of the bean changes. When roasted, those chemicals turn into what we consider ‘chocolate’ flavors. I prefer a medium or medium-light roast on the beans so that fruity or nutty notes emerge—it’s just what my palate likes.” Roasting is done in 100-pound batches, with each batch taking about 2 1/2 hours.
Cacao shells are bitter, so they need to be separated from the bean after roasting. Nathaniel built a machine—called a winnower—that breaks up the beans and sucks up the shells, leaving the denser cocoa nibs behind.
“It’s a slow process,” Nathaniel says of the way his stone grinding mill crushes the cacao nibs, “but it’s how it’s been done for several hundred years.” There’s fat inside the nibs that, when crushed, melts into a liquid called cacao liquor. On the second day of grinding, sugar is added to the liquor. Over the course of three days, the liquor heats up to 150 degrees during the grinding process, boiling off volatile flavors. The result? A more mellow, less acidic chocolate.
At the end of the grinding process, the chocolate is poured into 20-pound blocks and left to age for up to three months. “Chocolate that’s just been ground is strong and lively,” Nathaniel says. “Leaving it to age and meld together and mellow out takes away that punch-you-in-the-face flavor.”
7. Tempering & Molding
Nathaniel’s tempering machine heats the chocolate up and cools it down three times in a process that creates a specific crystal structure within the fat. This enables the chocolate to melt at a higher temperature, creates a “snappy” texture and gives the chocolate a sheen. When the chocolate cools to 86 degrees, it’s poured by weight into molds and put on a cooling rack. Fifteen minutes later, the chocolate reaches its solid state.
8. Foiling & Wrapping
Nathaniel uses a wax-paper-lined foil to wrap each individual bar. “I like the traditional look of the foil,” he says, “but the wax paper keeps that metallic flavor from encroaching on the chocolate.” He then wraps the bars in decorative paper and labels them with the batch number and expiration date. Bars are good for 12 to 18 months after tempering.
Last step? Sending his creation out into the wide world. Currently, his chocolates are carried in 40 stores in the state, and—surprisingly—12 in Canada.