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Budding chocolate industry may put Utah on culinary map

Published: Thursday, Nov. 28 2013 5:50 p.m. MST

Utah already boasts the award-winning Amano chocolate, Crio Bru, popular Hatch's Family Chocolates and new rising stars Mezzo drinking chocolate and Solstice. Each store or factory is decorated with their collective obsession: real cacao beans, cacao pods or pictures reveal the rabbit hole into which each has fallen.

"It’s not a business you get dragged into. It’s one you wander into willingly," Char Coleman, business partner of Davis, said.

Italian-based Amedi took over the industry about 10 years ago and the American industry has since caught chocolate fever and continues to grow.

A taste for chocolate

In 2012, the United States imported the most chocolate in the world at $1.4 billion according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which was 18 percent of total chocolate imports worldwide.

"Generally speaking I'd say Utah is one of the top places for fine chocolate in the U.S.," Brady Brelinski, a founding member of the Manhattan Chocolate Society, said in an email.

He bases this on the fact that Utah currently has three "craft chocolate" companies -- Amano, Millcreek Cacao Roasters and Solstice. The other states with the most craft chocolate makers include California with 14, New York with 8, Hawaii with 7 and Oregon, North Carolina and Texas with four each.

He also bases this on the "very sophisticated chocolate scene" in Salt Lake, which has largely been fostered by Caputo.

"Matt has made fine chocolate readily available in SLC, provides education and tastings and fosters growth of this movement in general," he said.. "There are only a few other areas in the U.S. with this level of appreciation of fine chocolate.

Caputo's company, and sister company A Priori Distribution, are the largest chocolate distributors in the state.

“I fell down the chocolate rabbit hole about seven years ago,” Caputo said.

At that point he “couldn’t stop consuming information about chocolate,” he said. He tasted Domori chocolate, and he said it was the first time he had tasted “excellent chocolate in a focused setting.”

Eventually he came to revel in the nuances that each bar and bean flavor had to offer.

For instance, a bar could be made of the same ingredients, on the same equipment, with identical roasting profiles, but taste radically different because of their origin. Each atmosphere is different, with different microbiology and moisture levels he said, affecting the beans' flavor.

He wanted to educate others.

“It’s almost like a fine chocolate disease,” Caputo said.

When Caputos began offering free chocolate classes in 2008, it taught about 10 people every quarter. Now they charge $25 per class and teach about 75 people a month.

Types of beans

The majority of the world's produced chocolate, anywhere from 70 to 90 percent, comes from Forastero beans. These beans are inexpensive and bitter. Companies will roast the beans to the point of burning and then mask the taste with vanilla and flavoring. Caputo describes it as having a "one dimensional flavor."

Criollo, the most coveted chocolate, is less resistant to disease and increasingly rare. Although it is nearly impossible to prove that a bean comes from a pure Criollo strain, Caputo estimates that it accounts for about 2 percent of the world's chocolate.

Most beans begin fermenting while still in the cacao pod, surrounded by a white mucous-like substance. After this, many chocolate makers will then require that the beans be fermented further.

They are then shipped to the chocolate maker, where beans are sorted one by one to remove impurities or other materials that manage to make it into the sack.

Depending on the desired chocolate product, the beans may then be roasted, shelled, ground, mixed with pure vanilla, sugar and/or cocoa butter, tempered and shaped.

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