- Written by Clay Gordon
For chocolatiers, the chocolates they choose to use are both the “paint” and the “canvas” they work with and on to produce their confections. Sometimes the chocolate takes center stage and sometimes the chocolate forms a backdrop on top of which they work their magic with flavors. No matter what chocolates they use, five factors make up the decision to a particular chocolate or chocolates:
In a perfect world, chocolatiers would be able to work with whatever chocolate is the best medium with which to express a particular flavor idea — irrespective of price. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world, so it is important that the chocolatier choose a chocolate that allows him to sell his/her chocolates at a price the market is willing to pay.
It is not always possible for chocolate manufacturers to guarantee that their chocolates will be available when a chocolatier needs them. There may be problems with shipping or customs, or it may just be that the supply of quality beans could not meet the demand for finished chocolate. No chocolatier wants to find themselves in the position of not having enough of a chocolate to fill orders.
Many chocolatiers choose to use a particular chocolate because it is what they used when they were learning — whether in culinary school or on the job. Recipes are often created for specific chocolates, and to change the chocolate means that it is necessary to change the recipe. There is tendency to work with what is known and familiar, changing only when circumstances force the change.
Workability — especially the characteristic of consistency — is a key to success for a chocolatier. One of the things that separates a great chocolatier from a “merely” very good one are the abilities to not only to create recipes and execute those recipes with great skill, but also the ability to produce exactly the same high level of results hour after day after week after month after year. That’s impossible to do if the chocolate is always changing.
Finally there is flavor. Many chocolatiers look to use chocolates that have a distinctive flavor, while others look to chocolates with relatively neutral flavors that make it easier to express the non-chocolate flavors they are using. A chocolate with a strong, distinctive taste, such as a high acidity chocolate with strong red fruit notes lends itself to working well with some flavors and not others.
These five parameters set the framework for talking about this issue’s Chocolate in Focus: Valrhona’s Tainori.
Made from beans sourced in the Dominican Republic, Tainori is a part of Valrhona’s origin line. Most familiar to chocolatiers are Araguani (Venezuela) and Manjari (Madagascar); Tainori is joined by Nyangbo (Ghana), and Alpacao (Ecuador). At 64%, Tainori delicately straddles the line between semi-sweet and bittersweet offering bright aromas with very light acidity, no astringency, and mild, almost nutty chocolate taste. As with all Valrhona chocolates, Tainori is technically excellent with a firm bite and velvety texture that melts into a mild finish that is very clean. Tainori is priced in the expensive* range which means that it finds it way into products with higher retail price points.Tainori does not have an assertive presence on its own, making it a good choice to deliver a wide range of flavors from traditional caramels to more exotic tropical fruits expressed either as ganaches or in pates de fruits.
Total cocoa content: 64% minimum
Total cocoa butter content: 39%
Total sugar content: 35%
Jason Andelman, founder of Artisan Confections in Arlington, VA, did not set out to become a chocolatier. He studied Art History at the College of William and Mary. Graduating without any clear idea with what to do with the degree (he knew he did not want to be an art historian), Jason packed his bags and moved west to Colorado where he supported a self-confessed ski bum lifestyle by cooking in a restaurant. It was not haute cuisine — basic bar food, he says — but Jason enjoyed working in the kitchen and when he began working in the ski business continued to cook as a hobby, still unsure of his career path. Motivated in part by working in a restaurant that made their own bagels, Jason applied and was accepted into the Pastry and Baking program at the CIA in Hyde Park, NY. Under the tutelage of Chef Peter Greweling, Jason was attracted by the precision and rhythm of making bonbons, a tug that was not felt by his classmates. (When asked, Jason could not remember any specific brand of chocolate he used while at CIA.)
After moving back home to the Washington, D.C. metro area, he worked as a pastry chef in a hotel in Arlington, VA for a year and then in D.C. for five years working his way up the ranks. Not giving up on chocolate, continued to produce bonbons in his spare time, running a cottage industry out of the basement where he lived.
From the beginning, Jason remembers using Valrhona chocolates almost exclusively. In large measure this is due to the influence of Jim Graham of Chocolates Francais. Looking to get more experience making chocolates, Jason contacted Graham and spent time working with him in his workshop in Chicago.
At the time, Graham was using only Valrhona chocolates, enrobing everything in Caraque. Jason picked up the habit and to this day still enrobes most everything in Caraque. But selecting Valrhona was also a practical matter in the late 1990s, as Jason says it was the best chocolate he could easily get in the quantities he needed. Jason also relies on the Valrhona name to sell his work to his customers as Valrhona is one of the best-known high-end chocolate brands. He also relies on their consistent workability and fl avors knowing that the Manjari he buys this year will taste and work the same as the Manjari he used three years ago.
Although Jason is aware of Valrhona’s new custom couverture program (in short, Valrhona will make custom chocolates with minimum commitment of ten tonnes per year), the comparatively small minimum commitment is still too large for the volume of work he produces. As an alternative he points out that Valrhona has recently introduced unsweetened versions of many of its origin chocolates. In this way he can take (for example) the base 64% Tainori and “goose it” with some unsweetened Tainori to increase the cocoa percentage to (say) 72% without changing the fl avor profi le. He fi nds that this enables him to create custom blends that set his chocolates apart from others that use Valrhona chocolates.
Artisan Confections specializes in two different styles of chocolates — shell molds and enrobed pieces. Only one mold design is used (a dome), but each fl avor is decorated distinctively. Jason’s real love is in the enrobed pieces because his earliest strong memories of great chocolates are all of enrobed pieces. Jason likes very thin coatings and thinks that it’s hard to get very thin shells using a mold. Early on, Jason started working with local artists to create custom designs for transfers for all his enrobed pieces. These days he limits those custom designs to three pieces he rotates as part of his seasonal collections — he wants people to eat them, not to be transfixed by them as works of art.
When he looks at his chocolate bill at the end of the year, Jason says that it sometimes frightens him; just how much he is spending on chocolate. However, when he breaks it down it comes to pennies per piece and he feels that it’s worth that small extra cost. He must be doing something right as he claims Artisan Confections has been profitable since the day it opened its doors.
4815-B Lee Highway
Arlington, VA 22207
Price Points (estimated wholesale pricing):
Low (less than $4/lb); Moderate ($4-7/lb); expensive (greater than $7/lb).