(My sincerest apologies to the Chocolate 201 folks who are waiting for Claudio Corallo tasting notes. Consider this a meandering introduction to man and his chocolate. The Claudio Corallo tasting notes are in the next post.)
I confess that Claudio Corallo Chocolate was one of my primary reasons for doing Chocolate 201. Period. I think it’s one of the best—if not the best—expressions of what artisan bean-to-bar chocolate is and should be. Don’t get me wrong: the others that I highlighted in the series are immensely talented chocolatemakers who do a wonderful job. But from a philosophical standpoint, it’s hard to beat Claudio Corallo.
I’ve mentioned before the numerous steps that go into the transformation from cacao bean to chocolate bar. For most, this process includes harvesting, fermentation, drying, roasting, winnowing, grinding, conching and tempering. Not only is that a lot of steps to get right, but with each step you get further away from the original product. And, as happens with mass-market chocolate, the number of steps means that you can end up with something totally divorced from the starting product.
There are a number of reasons why Claudio Corallo is different from all other chocolatemakers, but I think there’s one important distinction: He grows the cacao himself, on the tiny islands of Sao Tome and Principe where he lives. Other chocolate makers work directly with farmers or buy plantations, but Claudio actually grows cacao. He takes immense pride in this.
When I had the out-of-this-world experience of meeting him earlier this year, he made a point of saying that he isn’t a chocolatemaker; he’s an agriculturalist. His mission is to grow the best beans that he possibly can, and then to do as little to them as he delicately transforms them into chocolate. He’s a soft-spoken, reserved man. As he doesn’t speak English, we communicated in French. (Very. Slow. French.) He speaks with such passion about what he does, and though he’s reserved, he got quite excited about certain topics, nearly buzzing in his chair. He is adamant about expressing the true chocolate, and paying attention to the little details.
Little details like picking out the germ from each cacao bean. Each cacao bean starts from a germ, which is a fibrous woody thing about 1 centimetre long. It doesn’t taste very good, and it doesn’t have a very nice texture. Most chocolatemakers leave the germ in because it’s so arduous to remove it. Claudio insists that the germ is removed, and his staff go through each bean and remove the germ by hand before it is ground.
From there, most chocolate is conched, but not Claudio’s. His chocolate goes straight to the tempering table where it is spread into thin slabs, then hand-cut and packed into spacey-looking silver packets. Chocolate is typically conched to decrease the particle size, drive off undesirable flavours (acetic acid—vinegar—being one of them) and enhance desirable flavours. Claudio doesn’t conch his chocolate because he wants it to be an expression of the bean, not some polished-up version of it. It speaks to the pride that he takes in the starting material; it’s so good, why mess with it?
The end effect is a chocolate that tastes like cacao beans: specifically, Claudio’s cacao beans. He makes a 100% bar, and it isn’t the least bit bitter. It’s aromatic, nutty, earthy and full of all kinds of flavours that I’ve never tasted in chocolate before. It tastes wild, like a wet forest floor. And I mean that in the most wonderful way. Despite no added sugar, the chocolate doesn’t taste bitter.
With such fanatical control over each step of the process, you’d think that there would only be pure chocolate bars. Well, you’d be wrong. There are inclusions—that is, stuff in the chocolate—like sandy sugar, candied ginger, candied orange and cocoa nibs. And each one is done in a very particular, analytical way.
I’m not the only one who’s completely enamoured with Claudio Corallo’s chocolate. The BBC did a short film about Claudio Corallo, and he was mentioned in an excellent article about chocolate and terroir in Gastronomica’s Winter 2010 issue.
There are also pictures and information about Claudio’s operations on his website. See how chocolate gets transformed from bean to bar.
Claudio Corallo’s flagship store is located in Seattle, WA. The next time you’re in town, stop by for a visit.
Claudio Corallo Chocolate
2122 Westlake Avenue
Seattle WA 98121