by Matt Lardie
French Broad Chocolates is part of the exploding craft food movement that reminds us of an overlooked aspect of US material culture – the long tradition of artisan food production. Thank you, Matt, for driving west and sharing your experience. ~ Deborah Miller, NC Food editor.
This past January I shot up to Asheville to be a guest judge for the first round of the 2013 North Carolina Competition Dining Series, and while I was there I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the new French Broad Chocolate Factory. Jael Rattigan and her husband Dan are the force behind the insanely delicious and hugely popular French Broad Chocolate Lounge in downtown Asheville, and this past summer they decided to go “bean-to-bar”, opening the French Broad Chocolate Factory where they are able to create their own chocolates from scratch. The Chocolate Lounge uses over 20,000 pounds of chocolate a year, and the hope is that by making the chocolate themselves they can over time become less dependent on purchasing chocolate from third parties. The wheel of sustainability keeps spinning!
I met up with Jael at the factory and was immediately struck by the scent. You would expect a chocolate factory to smell like chocolate, but this was a different kind of scent. It wasn’t overwhelming or cloying, but it was ever-present, intoxicating, and, well, delicious. The factory itself is open and airy so visitors can get a peek at the entire process of making chocolate; nothing is hidden here. Jael referred to their operations as “open-source”; they have no trade secrets and are willing to share their knowledge with anyone.
The Rattigans source all their cacao beans personally from handpicked farmers, allowing them to cut-out the middlemen and ensuring that farmers get a fair price for their crop. For their first shipment of cacao they partnered with a few other independent chocolate makers and imported a shipping container’s worth of cacao beans from Peru, getting three different varieties. When you enter the factory you’ll see displayed on one wall a series of photos that detail the process of growing and drying the cacao beans and showcase some of their Peruvian cacao farmers.
Once I’d learned about how they source their cacao we headed into the back to see how it went from bean to bar. The only two ingredients they use in the processing are the cacao beans and sugar; this allows for the pure essence of the cacao to come through. Later on, when they form the various bars, they will add in things like smoked sea salt or coffee depending on that bar’s particular flavor. In the beginning though, the cacao bean is all that matters.
I left with samples of their new chocolate bars – a move away from their current offering of mostly truffles that will allow them to highlight the quality of their chocolate beans. All of the bars were delicious, but the standouts for me were the Morropon Province Coffee Milk Chocolate (made with both beans and coffee from the same area of Peru) and the Tumbes Lapsang Souchong and Sea Salt, a bar that combines both my love of the smoky Lapsang Souchong tea and my addiction to salt. Their other offerings run the gamut from a 45% Malted Chocolate bar to a 70% dark chocolate bar; you can find a bar to fit every taste.
I left my afternoon at the French Broad Chocolate Factory inspired not only by their dedication to their business and the craft of chocolate-making but also to their community and to North Carolina. They want to ensure that they offer the best possible product to their customers while also supporting the community here (and abroad) that allows them to do what they love. Whether its at their downtown Chocolate Lounge or at the factory, the Rattigans and their employees take the business of chocolate seriously, and the results have been good for Asheville and great for our bellies!
French Broad Chocolate Lounge
10 S. Lexington Avenue, Downtown Asheville
French Broad Chocolate Factory
21 Buxton Avenue, Downtown Asheville
Tours offered Saturdays at 2pm
Matt Lardie says: I’m Matt. I love food. I love to grow it, cook it, eat it, learn about it, write about it, and talk about it. I believe that there are few things more important in life than what we put into our bodies. I believe food should be healthy for body, mind, and planet.
Matt, we get it! Matthew Lardie loves food! Check out his GreenEatsBlog.