On my day off this week, I decided to head out to Burlington, VT. It’s Vermont’s largest city, and a pretty cool place.
It happens to be the place where Lake Champlain Chocolates are made. I went to the factory to get a tour.
Surprisingly small, simple sign outside the factory.
Inside the factory and factory store, there are of course chocolates for sale. Here is a wall full of chocolates that couldn’t be sold for cosmetic reasons.
Shelves full of rejected chocolate!
And of course, lots of chocolates for sale!
Truffles upon truffles!
The factory store is basically one large room attached to the actual factory. There is a small cafe in the back, and a large window that gives a look into the factory itself.
Along the wall of the store, and in the “tour” area, there are a set of tablets that depict how the cocoa bean grows, is harvested and processed, and becomes chocolate. Basically, there are three tiers in the chocolate industry: the first tier are the growers, the second tier the processors, and the third tier are the chocolatiers.
In the first tier, the cocoa beans are grown. Cocoa trees grow in tropical climates, i.e. NOT Europe or North America!!! 😦
Pods on a cocoa tree can vary in color.
Here is a photo of a cocoa tree. The pods contain the cocoa beans. Apparently, the color of the pods does not determine ripeness; rather, ripeness is determined by touch and smell. The pods are about as big as a football.
Cocoa beans from inside the pod.
When opened, the pod reveals the cocoa beans, which are covered in pulp. The fresh cocoa beans are more fruity than chocolately. Once harvested, the beans are fermented for about two weeks underneath banana tree leaves, and dried. Then, they are ready to go to market.
In the second tier, a processor buys sacks of cocoa beans on the international market. The chocolate from Lake Champlain Chocolates comes from Barre-Callebaut, a Belgian company. They crush the beans to get the nibs inside, and then roast these to get the cocoa flavor. The nibs are then ground into a cocoa liquor (which has nothing to do with alcohol). The liquor is then further processed into cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
The different kinds of chocolate explained.
From left to right: dark, milk, and white chocolate.
The cocoa butter and cocoa powder are the two main components of chocolate. To get dark chocolate, you mix powder, butter, and sugar together. To get milk chocolate, you mix butter, powder, sugar, and milk. And to get white chocolate, you mix just the cocoa butter with milk and sugar. Because white chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa powder in it, some people do not consider it true chocolate.
Tempering chocolate means to heat the chocolate (either solid or liquid) to a certain temperature, and then to let it cool again. The tempering of chocolate allows the sugar crystals to realign in a certain way to make the chocolate glossy and firm.
Lake Champlain Chocolates (third tier) gets the chocolate from Barre-Callebaut in 50 lb boxes. The boxes contain chocolate pistoles, which are sort of like chocolate chips.
Box of pistoles.
This is what the box might look like, except larger.
The pistoles come in white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate, all with varying degrees of cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
The chocolatier takes the pistoles and melts them down, holds the molten chocolate at a certain temperature, and then forms it into truffles, chocolate bars, or whatever! More info also in this article: How Chocolate Works.
That day at the factory, they were making solid dark chocolate bunnies (for Easter) and “Kiss Me” frogs for Valentine’s Day (with all three types of chocolate).
"Kiss me" frogs for Valentine's Day. Hand-painted.
Sorry the image is blurry, but I did have to shot through the factory window. The body of the frog is made separately from the feet (it is later “glued” on with chocolate). First, the dark chocolate face and arms are painted into the forms, then milk chocolate is filled in. Then, the form is swirled around to coat the entirety of it (the frog is hollow). Then, the body is glued onto the feet (which are painted onto white chocolate) with more chocolate!
People making chocolate bunnies.
Solid chocolate bunnies for Easter.
And that concludes the tour of the factory. (By the way, my explanation of how cocoa is grown and how chocolate is made is VERY general. We all know there is a lot more to it, including the politics of it!)
After my visit at Lake Champlain Chocolates, I decided to stay in Burlington for lunch. First, I stopped by a bagel store called Myer’s Bagel Bakery, which makes bagels in the Montreal style (versus NY style). They are slightly sweet because they’re boiled in honey water. At first I thought I wouldn’t like them, but it turns out I do. They’re chewy, which I like. Plus, I eat them with a lot of cream cheese.
I continued on to Leunig’s Bistro, which is on the famous pedestrian area on Church Street. It’s a cute small place, and serves French-style bistro food. I had putine, which is a Canadian dish consisting of French fries, gravy, and cheese. It was sooo good. I could only eat half of it.
Putine at Leunig's.
Overall, a pretty good day off.
The ride home: a view of the mountains from the highway.