Chocolate Artisan Profile: The Ex-Hobbyist

Steve DeVries' company tagline reads: One hundred years behind the times, and that is where he firmly believes chocolate-making should be. DeVries is a former glassblower who found his way into chocolate by way of a hobby - a hobby that somehow ended up with the purchase of a chocolate factory. The more we read about chocolate, the more we see stories like this: once the chocolate bug bites it brings out the obsessive perfectionist in a certain kind of person. DeVries is one of these people.

Steve DeVries was a hobbyist, working with chocolate and studying it while running his glass company. Then he sold the company and went into chocolate fulltime. He works directly with growers (that's a photo of him above, helping rake out cacao bean for sun-drying) and uses only antique equipment. He says that there's a parallel between the hand-crafted art of glassblowing and making fine, slow-crafted chocolate.

He got hooked when he brought home several pounds of cacao beans, roasted them in his oven, and ground them. Even though the final product was rough, he said he could taste all sorts of flavors that weren't in commercial chocolate. Why, he wondered? (Read an interview with DeVries with more on how he got his start.)

You can see photos of his antique equipment on his website and buy his chocolate directly from the factory: DeVries Chocolate.

Read a description of one of his chocolate bars: Like all DeVries Chocolate, this bar is made from only cocoa beans and sugar. No cocoa butter or vanilla is added. The beans are then gently oven roasted, ground and milled. Finally, they are conched for more than three days. Solidified into eight-pound blocks, the chocolate is then aged for several months. Bars are made only when necessary to maintain stock.

This practice provides customers with a "fresh form" (new, softer cocoa butter crystals). Fresh form chocolate possesses superior melting qualities, and complex flavors that have had time to develop and mellow.

Freshness is another theme that we have seen over and over again when reading about chocolate. Artisan chocolate makers are agonized by the chocolates that sit in stores for months or years, with a sell-by date long after it has been made. Artisan chocolate makers like DeVries insist adamantly that chocolate is first and foremost a fresh product that is being adulterated by preservatives. You want to really try chocolate? Try one of DeVries' chocolate immediately after its aging, just a few months after it was still a bean, drying in the sun. It's a whole new world of chocolate - one that might just turn you into an obsessive like DeVries.

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