Chocolate Lounge – 10 S. Pack Square, Asheville, NC, 28801
Chocolate Boutique – located just down the block from the entrance to the chocolate lounge
Chocolate Factory – 21 Buxton Ave, Downtown Asheville, NC 28801
Not all of us get invited to see Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. But when you do get an opportunity to see a chocolate factory (even though it is not nearly as fascinating as Willy Wonka’s), would you refuse?
Last weekend, which incidentally was my first anniversary weekend, my husband and I took a little trip to Asheville, NC. We did some research and found a chocolate factory that was offering guided tours: French Broad Chocolates.
A little backstory about the owners:
(I am falling in love with chalkboard write-ups!)
It’s quite interesting. They bought a Cacao farm for the love of chocolate! You can read all about it here on their website: Dan and Jael: Our Story
So they have a 90-minute guided tour every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. The guided tour costs $10 per person. And if you can’t make it, you can take a self-guided tour from 2-5:50 any day, free of charge of course.
We couldn’t make it to the guided tour, but we took the self-guided tour in the afternoon.
As you walk into their factory door, the smell of chocolate slams into you like a living entity. We first stopped at a work table of sorts, displaying a dried cacao fruit, with a bowl of cacao beans right next to it.
I’m holding cacao beans!! Yaay!
And look at all these awesome pictures explaining how a cacao bean is harvested:
And from here on, we move from the pictures to reality. We get to ‘watch’ chocolate being made from cacao beans, from scratch, True, we stand behind a red line for safety and hygiene, but it’s still pretty awesome.
The transformation of cacao to chocolate takes the following steps:
1. Sorting the beans to remove debris, broken or clustered beans. Only the best get sent through.
2. The beans are then roasted at a low temperature helps the flavours and aroma to develop. This also helps the husk separate from the nib. Compare it with roasting a peanut to de-skin it. Or like roasting a coffee bean to mature the flavours and aroma.
3. Next step is Winnowing, to completely remove the husk from the nib. This is done by breaking the roasted bean into small pieces, and using a vibrating base to separate the nib from the husk.
4. The broken down nibs are then ‘refined’ into evenly sized particles, and then ground into a paste using granite grinders (not unlike the grinders we have at home for idli/dosa grinding). This produces a smooth paste called the ‘Chocolate Liqueur’. At this stage, sugar and flavouring may be added.
And we also saw this very familiar looking machine over there by the grinders? Any guesses?!?!
5. Conching agitates the chocolate liqueur with blasted heat transforming the texture and enhancing the flavours to its maximum potential.
6. At this point, the chocolate is ready to be eaten, and the confectioners use this draft form of chocolate to make ganache, caramels, and other candy.
7. But to take it further, the chocolate it tempered to achieve that glossy creamy texture, in a temperature controlled environment.
The tempered chocolate is then poured into moulds to create bars, or truffles. And a confectioner hand-decorates each truffle into a decadent, delicate, beautiful thing.
And my oh my oh my…. just how many flavours they had!
I, of course, had to bring back some home. So I did.
I also stopped by their chocolate boutique and picked up a few bars of chocolate. In this boutique, in addition to ice-cream and hot chocolate, you will also find chocolate bars made in farms around the world, each chocolate as unique in flavour as the country it comes from.
We also had a chance to talk to the store assistant, whose knowledge of chocolate was fascinating! She explained how chocolate, like perfume or wine, has ‘flavour notes’ that can be used to distinctly identify which part of the world it comes from. We also read through the labels and found that chocolate from Costa Rica has notes of cherry in it, while chocolate from Equador, is supposed to have a little bit of tobacco flavour to it. How interesting is that???
And the boutique itself, felt like a bookstore. Look at these display cases. Reminds you of a bookshelf, doesn’t it?
Yumm…. anyway, I was only able to get a few of them.
The Chocolate Mexicano in particular was a curious one. It is a hand-ground chocolate with a grainy texture. Only good to be eaten, not very good for cooking, and the first time I saw chocolate as a disc. I will eat and report back on the taste soon.
I was also curious about how goat’s milk will affect the flavour of chocolate. This one is from Venezuela. Out of respect to where I was, I also got chocolates made at the factory I got to visit. I plan on making a gorgeous hot chocolate with that.
The lovely store assistant also gave me these cacao nibs (broken pieces of the roasted cacao bean) to sample. The taste was absolutely mind-blowing! It tasted and felt like a nut, you can almost taste the cocoa butter traces in each bite, but when bitten into, the intense bitter chocolate taste was unmistakable. Even though I always knew chocolate comes from the cacao bean, and it is basically a nut, I’ve never treated it as a nut. But taking that bite, it all came rushing back to me. It is unmistakably, irrevocably a nut. And I marveled at the genius of the first person who discovered this nut in the jungle, and decided to add sugar to it. If you come across a cacao nib in your journeys, you must take a bite to know how I felt in that boutique that day.
And after all that, we just had to walk into the Chocolate Lounge right next door for a nice, steaming cuppa hot chocolate. The perfect ending to a perfect day!
Was it as colorful and magical as Willy Wonka’s? No. Not nearly. But was it still pretty awesome to see how the food of the Gods is being made, right from the bean to a bar? Yes, it was frickin’ awesome!
The next time you are in Asheville, do not miss the French Broad Chocolates. It is an experience not to be missed.
And look out for the hot chocolate post coming up soon. All these chocolates at home, I’m going to get a little ‘naughty! 😉