The cocoa tree is very hard to please, optimally thriving in a environment with a temperature of at least 25ºC, a moist atmosphere with over 80% humidity, significant annual rainfall, and plenty of shade.
The trees require care and attention, which is just one of the reasons why our cocoa farmers, and the relationships we have wit them, are so important.
We always try to build strong relationships with all the producers we work with. This means we collaborate on growing, harvesting and processing the beans, contribute to local communities and commit to long term contracts with our planters.
The farmers only harvest cocoa pods when they are ripe; a technique which preserves the tree and ensures blossoming over and over again. Various tools, such as the machete, the pike pole or shears are used for harvesting.
The cocoa beans grow inside pods, with each bean covered in a white pulp called mucilage. To extract the beans, our farmers either open the pods with a machete, or by hitting them with a club.
This allows the beans to fall out or to be separated from the fibers that they are attached to inside the pod. Between 20 to 40 beans will be extracted per pod. The beans from each pod are sorted, and only the healthiest kept.
Beans are fermented naturally, either in piles on the ground or in crates, depending on the country. Fermentation brings out the initial aromas of the cocoa through a two-stage process:
The beans are covered with banana leaves. This results in anaerobic fermentation.
The beans are then stirred, introducing oxygen to the beans and resulting in acetic fermentation
Beans are dried to reduce their moisture level to below 7%. This permanently halts the fermentation process, meaning that the beans can be shipped and stored free from risk of re-fermentation. We prefer to dry the beans on wooden decks, in the sun and fresh air. We use sliding rooves over the decks to protect the beans from bad weather.
6. Grading, Bagging and Shipping
Impurities, foreign bodies and waste are carefully eliminated from the beans before they are bagged. The beans are then shipped to the port of Le Havre in France and then transported by truck to our chocolate factory in Tain l’Hermitage. Shipping can take a long time. The beans shipped from Venezuela, for example, take 28 days to reach the chocolate factory, while those shipped from Papua New Guinea take up to 90 days.
7. Quality Control
This step is essential in ensuring that the beans meet our quality standards before we begin the chocolate making process.
We use various criteria to analyze the beans, including taste tests by a panel of experts who test the beans’organoleptic qualities (taste, sight, smell, touch, dryness, moisture, and freshness).
The beans are cleaned to remove any foreign bodies, such as pod fragments and stones. The cleaned beans are then conditioned in Big Bags, each of which holds a ton of beans.
Crushing cracks open the cocoa beans, separating the shells from the nibs (cocoa bean fragments). We do not mix bean origins during this process, preferring to process each origin individually.
Roasting is a key step in developing the chocolate’s final taste, as it brings out the different flavors in the beans. It also the added effect of drying the beans, and of further detaching the husks from the cocoa nibs.
During this step, we mix together the beans to create exquisite cocoa flavors for our single origin chocolates or our blends. Single origin chocolates are created by mixing together beans from the same origin in the supply hopper of the cocoa grinder, while we mix together beans from different origins to create our blends.
12. Grinding, Blending and Refining
We grind the cocoa beans to release the cocoa butter, which, once melted gives the cocoa paste a liquid texture. It is at this point that we add in the other ingredients necessary for making chocolate, so that we obtain a homogeneous paste. The paste is then kneaded and ground to make very small chocolate flakes.
Conching is the final step in liquid chocolate manufacturing. It is a two-stage process:
First, the product is dry conched. This means that it is friction-heated, aiding liquefaction.
Then, the product undergoes liquid conching, which ensures it is totally homogenized. Conching is used to finalize flavor development, reduce volatile acidity and lower the moisture content to less than 1%.
We temper the liquid chocolate to ensure that the final product has the right shine, snap and melt.
Tempering is a process by which the chocolate is heated, cooled and reheated, causing the cocoa butter to crystalize.
This gives the chocolate a stable form, preventing discoloration and chocolate bloom.
The chocolate is measured into molds, then cooled down to harden. Valrhona makes solid molds (all-chocolate) and filled molds (Easter eggs).
16. Creating Fillings
Chocolate fillings include pralinés, ganaches and giandujas, among others. Ganache filling is made by creating an emulsion of chocolate and either a dairy product or a fruit purée.
17. Making Pralinés
We use two different methods to make our pralinés. The first involves heating water and sugar together to create a caramel, before then adding the nuts. This results in pralinés with stronger caramel notes.
The second method involves mixing the nuts, water and sugar together and then heating the mixture to caramelize the sugar. This creates pralinés with fresher, nuttier notes.
The resulting nut mixture is then poured onto a marble surface to cool, before it is ground and refined.
18. Coating and Decorating
We coat and decorate our chocolate to make the most attractive chocolates possible. This is a three-step process:
1-Undercoating: the filling is rolled over a bed of chocolate, which, when cooled, creates the bonbon “undercoat”.
2-Coating: the undercoated filling is rolled through a curtain of liquid chocolate which coats it completely.
3-Decorating: once coated, the bonbons can be decorated using forks, various ingredients or patterned transfers.