Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fermenting for flavor: Fortunato No. 4

Did you know that chocolate is a fermented food? That bar of deliciousness you're eating wouldn't taste so delicious without proper fermentation.

I recently watched a video posted by Marañon Chocolate that shows their fermentation process first hand. The video serves as a great jumping off point to explain the importance of fermentation and to tell you a bit about Marañon's very unique chocolate story.

Since fermentation happens at the point of harvest, artisan chocolate makers rely upon skilled farmers to properly ferment cacao. Under-fermented cacao may taste astringent, with notes that make your mouth pucker with bitter dryness, while over-fermented cacao may taste like mildewed gym socks. In the case of Marañon Chocolate proper fermentation was made doubly-difficult by the fact that their cacao varietal had 40% white seeds mixed with 60% purple seeds. More about that in a minute.

How does cacao ferment? When farmers harvest ripe cacao, they crack open the pods and remove the seeds. The seeds are covered in a citrusy-white pulp called mucilage. When mucilage is exposed to the elements it begins to ferment, in turn fermenting the seeds.

The video by Marañon Chocolate illustrates some of the key points of fermentation. You'll note that part way through the video Adam Pearson and his crew take the cacao out of the bins and stir it before putting it back into the bins for further fermentation. Stirring helps maintain an even ferment throughout all of the seeds. Not stirring the cacao would result in uneven fermentation, meaning that some of the seeds would be over-fermented, some under-fermented and some just right. As a chocolate maker, you don't want a selection of Golidlocks beans, you only want the ones that are just right (or as one of my chocolatiers would say, you want the "Baby Bear" beans).

So what about that mix of purple and white seeds? Purple seeds require longer fermentation, while the more delicate white seeds require less fermentation.

How do you ferment a batch of mixed purple and white seeds when you can't tell which kind they are without slicing (and ruining) the seeds? Dan Pearson, founder of Marañon, and his team spent 18 months and a lot of cacao trying to crack the fermentation puzzle. They've succeeded and hold their final solution very close to the vest. While I don't know the secret to the puzzle, I do know they make great chocolate.

Marañon Chocolate is an interesting story in the world of chocolate. In a nutshell, American Dan Pearson found cacao trees in a remote area of Peru while looking for fruits & vegetables to supply the mining operations he'd set up in the area. Dan submitted leaves from this cacao to the USDA as part of their cacao genome project to have its genetics typed. The USDA was excited to announce that Dan's varietal was a pure Nacional varietal thought to be extinct.

While Marañon farms cacao, it's not accurate to say they "make" great chocolate. They've left the chocolate making process up to an artisan in Switzerland, most likely Felchlin. This chocolate maker takes Marañon's beans and makes bulk chocolate to be sold to chocolatiers in minimums of 250lbs. Each chocolatier has an exclusive on Fortunato No. 4 in their particular geographic market. This means that you won't see a bar of Marañon Chocolate anywhere. What you will see is a bar of Fortunato No. 4 that's been melted and tempered by a chocolatier. At Chocolopolis, we offer a bar by Moonstruck that has been made with Fortunato No.4.

It makes it very difficult to tell the Maranon story with so many middlemen, but it's one worth telling because it's a great bar of chocolate. Stop by and get yourself a bar of Fortunato No. 4. You won't be disappointed.

Happy tasting,
Chief Chocophile

1 comment:

Annmarie Kostyk said...

Thanks for the article. I've been dying to try some of this. Just gone through a taste of all of the raw chocolate available out there.