Who: Greg D'Alesandre of Dandelion Chocolate
What: Bean-to-bar chocolate bars and pastries
Where: Mission District, San Francisco, California
What happens when a few friends, former engineers and tech industry pros come together over their love of chocolate? They create Dandelion Chocolate Company, a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in San Francisco. Headed up by Cameron Ring, Todd Masonis and Greg D'Alesandre, this totally transparent chocolate workshop was born a little over a year ago in the heart of The Mission, San Fran's hippest hood. It now has a cult following, and for good reason. Here's how those delicious bars get made:
How Dandelion Chocolate Is Made and Sourced
Dandelion Chocolate sources beans from several parts of the world, including Belize, Madagascar and Venezuela. The company's mission is to work directly with farmers to grow more heritage variety cacao trees and to help create a sustainable economy within these communities. By keeping the relationship with the growers tight, Greg (the lead sourcer) communicates about fermentation and drying to get the best possible beans.
Once the beans arrive in San Francisco, they are processed in the factory in their factory/cafe/workshop, where passersby and customers can observe every step of the process. First, the beans are sorted for debris and off flavors, then roasted in an old school coffee roaster. Next they're winnowed to separate the cacao nib from the husk. After this the nibs are ground and mixed with cane sugar, and finally, the chocolate is tempered and aged and poured into chocolate bar molds. The process is meticulous and the team tastes at every juncture. (How do I get this job?!)
Another distinct thing about Dandelion is their emphasis on educating their customers. Greg hosts a variety of chocolate classes for anyone interested in learning more about chocolate, including the entry level Chocolate 101, the more sophisticated 201 and, for the hard-core enthusiasts, a weeklong intensive 301 trip to a cacao farm in Belize wherein guests meet farmers, connect with the landscape, and fully immerse themselves in chocolate. By informing eaters about how, what and why to support handmade chocolates, Dandelion closes the gap on the disconnect between a luxury product, its cost and its worth. So much goes into these high quality chocolate bars!
4 Quick Questions for Greg D'Alesandre on Chocolate
1. How did you first fall in love with chocolate?
I can't remember when I didn't love chocolate. The first time I started making chocolate was in college when I found a book on making truffles on the $1 discount rack. Since then I've made chocolate for special occasions (weddings, Thanksgiving, etc) and eventually started making chocolate in my kitchen.
2. Any tips for someone trying to temper chocolate at home (to make their own chocolate bon bons or other edible endeavor)?
If you are going to temper often I recommend picking up a bowl tempering machine. It will make your life easier. I'm honestly not an expert on tempering (chocolatiers are much better at this as they work with a variety of chocolates and so get used to adjusting their technique), but I can say an IR thermometer is a reasonable investment.
3. What's your favorite accompaniment to chocolate? A glass of water? Black coffee? Tea?
I typically have my chocolate with more chocolate! But if I have to bring something else into the mix I enjoy a nice glass of dessert wine.
4. How much chocolate do you get to eat on a typical day?
Hmm, on average 1 bar per day but that is spread across chocolate chips in cookies, squares of chocolate tasted to ensure a good temper, and chocolate taken out of a melanger for quality control. Oh, and once I get home, a little more chocolate to round out the day!
(Image credits: Leela Cyd)