This article appeared in the Guardian recently. Does anyone know any more about this guy?
Making the best chocolate means being in control of every step in the process. Tim Dowling talks to the first Englishman since the Cadburys to attempt it
Saturday April 7, 2007
While most of the world is content to gorge on ordinary, mass-produced chocolate, a few producers are going to extraordinary lengths to create something special. Because there are only so many variables in the production of cacao, maintaining control over every step is the secret to success at the high end of the market.
Here in the UK, that high end is wide open. Virtually all British chocolatiers are actually using chocolate from one of the big European producers. “There’s no one in England,” says entrepreneur William “Wille” Harcourt-Cooze, who is in the early stages of producing his own specialist chocolate in the UK. “You’ve got Cadbury’s, and you will have Willie.”
When producing chocolate for the connoisseur market, the bean itself is most important. Unfortunately the industry is dominated by the hardy but inferior forastero variety. The more sought-after criollo currently represents just 4% of world production, so it is almost impossible to make chocolate without resorting to blending.
Recently, however, single bean chocolate has begun to gain favour, particularly with small, boutique producers. Amedei of Tuscany sells a limited-edition chocolate made solely from the porcelana bean, and other producers make bars featuring the caronero. Heritage and “recovered” cacao sub-varieties, such as Domori’s puertomar, are also beginning to appear.
Beyond that is single-sourcing then single-estate, and then a combination of the two. Harcourt-Cooze aims to be the UK’s first real grower-producer. Eleven years ago he bought an old cacao plantation in Venzuela and planted 10,000 criollo trees. Now he is poised to receive his first container-load of criollo beans from his own harvest. In as little as six weeks he plans to start making chocolate at his refurbished factory space in Devon. His approach to chocolate-making is not so much single-estate as single-minded. “I’m not only growing it, I’m not only selecting beans from neighbouring farms, but I’m controlling the finished product,” he says.
Cacao beans, once dried, are then roasted, crushed, winnowed to separate nib from shell, ground, refined and finally “conched” – in which heated chocolate is agitated in tanks to exorcise some of the bitterness, sometimes for days. Big manufacturers have various ways of speeding the process up.
There is some contention as to how refined superior chocolate needs to be – Amedei chocolate, for instance, is subjected to a five-roller granite refiner, leaving crystals of no bigger than 15 microns across – your mouth can only detect grains larger than 18 microns – while the industry standard is about 30. Harcourt-Cooze cannot afford the sort of equipment used to produce the finest Italian chocolate, but he isn’t for the moment, he says, trying to compete on that level: “My chocolate will be the most unprocessed chocolate in England.”
The finished product is usually a blend of cocoa solids with sugar added, vanilla, most likely a bit of extra cocoa butter and soya lecithin as a stabiliser. The better the bean and more exacting the processing, the less sugar required. Typically fine chocolate will have 70% solids and upwards, and many of the upstart fine chocolate makers, such as Domori, have a policy of not adding cocoa butter.
William Harcourt-Cooze intends to go one better by producing a bar which is 100% cacao for use by high-end chefs and chocolatiers. He admits he has gone to “extreme lengths” to produce something heretofore unseen in Britain, but that, he says, is the whole point. “I’m heading straight for the most interesting chefs of England,” he says.
The four best chocolatiers in the UK
L’Artisan du chocolat
Founder Gerard Coleman is the only British producer using his own chocolate, which is manufactured at his Kent atelier. 89 Lower Sloane Street, London SW1W 8DA. http://www.artisanduchocolat.com
Paul A Young Fine Chocolates
Young is the winner of best new chocolate shop in the academy of chocolate world awards. Everything is made by hand on site. 33 Camden Passage, Islington, London N1 8EA, 020 7424 5750
The Chocolate Society
The society, a commercial organisation, is Valrhona distributor in the UK. It has two shops with cafes in London and online shopping service. Shepherd Market, London W1J 7QN, Elizabeth Street, London SW1W 9NZ. http://www.chocolate.co.uk
Curley opened his shop in 2004, and won an award for best British chocolatier two years later. 10 Paved Court, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1LZ, 020 8332 3002
The four best places to buy bars: http://www.chocolatetradingco.com, www. seventypercent.com, Waitrose, Selfridges