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Festival takes chocoholics from cacao seed to gourmet products

Published: Sunday, March 23 2014 6:05 p.m. MDT

Corinne Garcia, licks the chocolate pieces off of Cameron Christensen's hand. Chocolate lovers swarmed to the Natural History Museum of Utah on Sunday, March 23, 2014, for the weekend Chocolate Festival.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The visitors ran the gamut from chocolate aficionados who are able to distinguish the origins of chocolate by subtle differences in their flavor to children who fancy Hershey's chocolate kisses.

On Sunday they came together for the Chocolate Festival at the Natural History Museum of Utah to learn about how chocolate is made and to sample some of the finest chocolate creations by Utah's award-winning chocolate makers, pastry chefs and restauranteurs.

"She was about to cry when she heard about it," Spencer Anderson, of Layton, said of his chocolate-loving friend Victoria Curlto.

The weekend festival, which ended Sunday, was conducted in conjunction with the museum's ongoing "Chocolate: The Exhibition." The exhibit, developed by the Field Museum of Chicago, takes chocolate fanatics and novices alike through the process of making chocolate to the history of the product. The exhibit runs through June 1.

While the exhibition was designed as a touring event, a portion of the exhibit is dedicated to Utah's own history with chocolate, which dates back to 750 A.D. Tests on ancestral Pueblo potsherds recovered from Alkali Ridge outside of Blanding have revealed chocolate residue, said Sarah George, the museum's executive director.

Utah also has an impressive modern-day history with chocolate. Some of the world's finest chocolate makers are based in the Beehive State, George said.

Art Pollard, founder of Amano Artisan Chocolate of Orem, was a featured speaker at one of the museum's Chocolate Blasts, which are presentations about various aspects of chocolate.

Pollard, a chocolate maker who travels the world to find the best cacao seeds for his artisan chocolate, said his trips are often high adventure.

On one trip to the Dominican Republican, Pollard was in an automobile accident that resulted in spending the night in a primitive medical clinic where he received 18 stitches in his arm. He has the scars to prove it.

Against medical advice, Pollard continued on his journey to a village that grows some of the world's best cacao.

Pollard said when he returns to the villages that grow the cacao that Amano uses in its chocolate, he always brings along the finished product.

"It was the first time they had ever had chocolate made from their cacao," Pollard said of one such experience. "They were so proud of what they had done. They knew the chocolate had won all these awards."

Amano has won more than 150 national and international awards for its artisan chocolate, making it one of the most decorated enterprises in the world, he said.

For Jocelyn Branca, who attended the festival and museum exhibit with her brother, Ashton, her mother, Shannon Branca, and her mother's fiancé, Mickey Mills, the exhibit boiled down to taste.

The little girl was decidedly not a fan of cacao nibs but she took a liking to a dark chocolate made from cacao from Ecuador.

"That first one was bad but that last one was good," she said, wrinkling her nose.

Mills said the exhibit was fascinating but it was particularly interesting to him that of the top 30 chocolate makers in the United States, seven are headquartered in Utah.

"It's wild Utah has the most in the whole country," he said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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