From farm to fork. Plow to pint. Dirt to shirt. Alliterations abound and rhymes sound for products produced with a totally local supply chain. Now Jael and Daniel Rattigan of French Broad Chocolates have introduced a new slogan to our lingo: from bean to bar.
Technically their process is not 100% local, since the cacao beans for their chocolates are still grown in South America. But importing the beans directly from farmers is about as close to totally local chocolate as we can get here in America. And it’s not easy. The most efficient way to import raw materials is by filling the container, but in the case of raw, organic, fair trade cacao beans from Peru, the container is a 20-foot box with a capacity of 13 metric tons.
The Rattigans could not afford to purchase 13 tons of cacao themselves, but the enterprise offered them the opportunity to build relationships with other local chocolatiers. They found two colleagues willing to invest in the shipment: Paul Mosca of Elemental Chocolate in Raleigh, and Kristen Hard of Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company. French Broad’s share of the shipment was 2 metric tons of Tumbes cacao, 2 metric tons of Chulucanas cacao, and 1.5 metric tons of Morropon cacao. They filled the last bit of space in the box with organic panela, a whole, unrefined brown sugar collected and processed by Cepicafe, the same organization that is selling the cacao. Cepicafe is a cooperative that pools the resources of smaller farmer co-ops.
The Rattigans chocolate-making adventures began back in 2004, when they bought an abandoned cacao farm in Costa Rica and opened Bread and Chocolate, a café and dessert shop in Puerto Viejo de Limon. After learning more about chocolate, they returned to the states in 2006 and settled in Asheville, where they established French Broad Chocolates in 2007, selling truffles at tailgate markets and online. In 2008 they opened the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which immediately became a hotspot in downtown Asheville, expanding to three floors (and still there’s often a line out the door). The lounge offers not only truffles and bars but also sipping chocolate and chocolate desserts.
With the intention of making chocolate “from bean to bar,” the Rattigans went to Peru in 2011 on their first cacao sourcing mission. This resulted in the afore-mentioned purchase of a container of cacao beans. They also began construction of a Chocolate Factory for their handmade, small-batch chocolates in downtown Asheville, after leasing a 4000 square foot warehouse and securing a small business loan. As if that weren’t enough, the factory has a”rooftop solar production deck.” Daniel built the first-ever solar cocoa bean roaster, with mirrors and parabolic curves that focus the sun’s energy onto the roasting drum, and a solar-charged battery that rotates it. He’s currently at work on a roaster tough enough to handle full-time production.
At the Chocolate Factory, everything is done by hand. Cacao beans fresh out of the sack from South America are sorted for quality, then spread on trays and roasted. Roasting is one of the chocolatier’s main chances to affect the resulting flavor, and the roasting process is a secret. Roasted beans are sent through a homemade cracking mill and vibrator that separates pieces by size. (Dan built the machine rather than spend the thousands of dollars on a manufatured one.) Once the pieces are small enough, they are poured into another homemade device, a winnower that pumps away lightweight husk material. The resulting nibs are put into a kettle and set to rotating under heavy wheels, which heat and crush them.... Two days later, the cacao resembles chocolate.
The molten chocolate is put into a tempering machine, one of the few store-bought devices in the factory. Tempering chocolate involves a controlled crystallization that creates a good, solid structure. If the chocolate cooled on its own, it would be crumbly and melt too easily. The machine regulates the chocolate’s temperature and keeps it constantly flowing. When the chocolatier is ready to make a bar, he shuts off the flow, inserts a mold, and dispenses a measured amount to fill it. He then places the mold on a vibrating surface to spread out the chocolate, and puts it into a cooler. Another benefit of a good crystal structure is that the resulting bar pulls away from the mold, enabling the chocolatier to knock it out. Bars are inspected, wrapped in foil, and decorated with a ribbon and label, all by hand.
French Broad Chocolates is looking to increase the chocolate they import until all their products (truffles and drinks sold at their lounge, as well as bars) are “bean to bar” or even “farm to bar”: they have a friend in Costa Rica who opened a cacao fermentary and is purchasing cacao from farmers, and they’ve planted cacao on their own land in Costa Rica. In addition to using panela sugar from Cepicafe, their bars contain salt and tea from local distributors, and malt from Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House.
The Rattigans state objectives of “creating a beautiful space and a beautiful menu” and “honing our place in the community and lightening our environmental impact,” among others. They select ingredients “for their integrity.” The criteria that inform their ingredient choices and business practices include small (small business, small batches, and the small luxury of a decadent dessert instead of a gargantuan one); local (local business community, local food movement, local ingredients, and a local mentality applied to cacao farmers across the world); fair (fair value paid to farmers via direct contact, conscientious middlemen, association with like-minded chocolatiers, and fair trade certification); organic (French Broad dropped their organic certification so that they could use products like local honey, as opposed to certified organic honey from Brazil; but they buy foods produced in an organic method); and superb (they err on the side of excellent taste).
French Broad Chocolates's exceptional bars are available in all our stores. Read tasting notes on the different bars, or listen to a video as they are described by the factory’s Chocolatier, Crawford Rizor. Watch a Youtube video of our visit to the factory. Visit the company online at frenchbroadchocolates.com , and the next time you’re in Asheville, remember to visit the Chocolate Lounge and take a Factory Tour .