The Art of making great chocolate
Aspen — It’s been a week or so since the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and I’m just about recovered. But there are several stories still to tell, and one of those is about chocolatier Art Pollard.
Art and business partner Clark Goble own Amano Chocolate, based in Orem, Utah, just outside of Salt Lake City. I ran into Art during one of the Grand Tastings, him standing behind his table, tie askew and this mile-wide grin splitting his face, barely containing the enthusiasm he feels for great, small-batch artisan chocolate.
A simple question from me turned into a fascinating 15-minute introduction into chocolate making and how Pollard, while the rest of his business-school classmates at Brigham Young University were studying such heavy topics as the international space shuttle and particle accelerators, was trying to figure out to make good chocolate.
Chocolate took a bit of a back role for a few years as Art built his software business but soon he was writing software in one room while cooking chocolate in a backroom using a machine he made himself. It must have been the best-smelling software company ever.
All the while, he was traveling the world, learning from the Old Masters in Europe and Mexico and seeking out sources of hard-to-find cacao beans.
He soon discovered that the old machines - some of his are more than 100 years old -, are still the best for chocolate making. “I get way better flavors that way,” he said. “It’s not that hard to make bad chocolate but it’s really hard to make good chocolate.”
The photo shows Art next to his 70-year old chocolate melangeur, a vintage chocolate grinding machine. The two giant revolving granite rollers on top of a revolving granite slab grind the roasted cocoa to a thick oily paste and finally a thick liquid.
This liquid is called cocoa "liquor" and is over 50 percent fat. It is either used at this stage for cocoa butter pressing or is mixed and re-ground with sugar in the Melangeur to make chocolate.
You can see more of his prized machinery on his Web site.
His timing (2006) in introducing his chocolate to the world wasn’t the best, he admits.
“I got started just as everything was collapsing,” he said, and now can laugh at his timing. “I lost a lot of sleep.”
Today, Amano (Pollard says it means both “by hand” and “with love” in Italian, reflection of his commitment to artisan chocolate) makes a chocolate rivaling the best I’ve had from Europe and elsewhere. One style, the Dos Rios, smells and tastes of blood orange, bergamot and rose petals.
“Those flavors come the bean, isn’t that wild?” Art asked, his grin even bigger. He said cocao beans can have fruity flavors or vegetal or the deepest chocolate, all depending on where they come from. It's their terroir, in wine speak.
What's interesting, too, is in many of the isolated places he finds great coca, the locals use the beans for cooking, not making chocolate.During a recent trip to Venezuela, he took a farmer some chocolate made from his own beans.
“You have to understand these farmers are totally isolated, and they’ve never seen finished chocolate made from their beans,” Art said. “I gave him a taste of the chocolate and he just looked at me, amazed.”
“He said, ‘The tastes in this are like a river, they take you on a long journey.’
“That really touched my soul.”