Plantation   The cocoa tree is very “hard to please”; optimally thriving under an ambient temperature of at least 25°C, in a moist atmosphere containing over 80% humidity, offering significant annual rainfall, ideally around 1800mm, and never-ending shade.
Valrhona gives great importance to its long-lasting relationships with its partner-planters, especially in Venezuela where it owns a plantation and where it can perfect the fine art of cocoa culture. Here, Valrhona has unwrapped a treasured project to save threatened cocoa varieties, particularly Porcelana, a variety of Criollo.
Harvesting   Cocoa pods are only harvested when ripe; a technique which preserves the tree and ensures blossoming over and over again. Various tools, such as the machete, the pike pole or shears are used for harvesting.
Depodding   Firstly, bunches of beans, covered in a white pulp called mucilage, are extracted from the pod. Then the pods are sorted and only the healthiest are kept. Sorting requires the pods to be cut open with a machete, or clubbed, to let the beans fall to be separated from the “rachis”. 20 to 40 beans are extracted per pod.
Fermentation   Beans are fermented naturally, either on the ground itself or in crates, depending on the country.
Fermentation stimulates the chocolate flavour precursors through its two-stage process:
- The beans are covered with banana leaves: resulting in ethanol fermentation, a process without oxygen;
- Then the beans are stirred resulting in acetic fermentation, a process using oxygen.
    DRYING   5
Fermentation   Beans are dried to reduce their intrinsic moisture level to below 7%, thus halting the fermentation process definitively, and permitting shipment and storage which is free from re-fermentation risk. Valrhona privileges drying in the sun, in fresh air, on wooden decks. Roofs slide over the decks to protect the beans from bad weather.
Grading Baggin Shipping   Impurities, foreign bodies and waste are carefully eliminated from the beans before bagging them. The beans are then shipped to the port of Le Havre, and then transported by truck to the chocolate factory at Tain l’Hermitage. The beans shipped from Venezuela take 28 days to reach their destination; those shipped from Papua New Guinea take 90 days...
Cleaning and Destoning   The beans are cleaned and destoned to remove any foreign body present: pod fragments, stones, etc. The clean beans are then conditioned in Big Bags, each bag holds 1 ton of beans.
Quality Control   This step is essential in ensuring bean compliance before beginning the chocolate manufacturing cycle. Valrhona uses various criteria to analyse the beans, including a panel of experts who test the organoleptic quality.
    ROASTING   9
Roasting   Roasting is a key step essential for developing the Taste of chocolate. The beans are roasted in a “globe” with gas-heated air to develop the flavour precursors, to dry the beans and to detach the shell from the bean in order to make further separation easier.
    CRUSHING   10
Crushing   Crushing is used for bursting open the cocoa beans and separating the shells and the nibs (“grué” – tiny cocoa fragments) as much as possible. Valrhona does not mix bean origins; all these steps are carried out for each individual origin.
Assembling   During this step, Valrhona will mix together beans from similar origins to create exquisitely unique cocoa flavours: this is known as a pure origin, or will blend mixing together different origins. For this blending technique, nibs from various origins are mixed in the supply hopper of the cocoa grinder.
Grouping and refining   Beans are ground to “liberate” the cocoa butter, which, once melted gives the paste its liquid texture. The various ingredients necessary for making chocolate are now added to obtain a homogenous paste. The paste is then kneaded and ground to make very small chocolate flakes.
    CONCHING   13
Conching is the ultimate step in liquid chocolate manufacturing. It is a two-stage process:
- first, dry conching where the product is friction-heated to favour liquefaction,
- then, liquid conching which favours total homogenization. Conching is used to finalize flavour development, to reduce volatile acidity and to lower the moisture content to less than 1%.
    TEMPERING   14
Tempering   The liquid chocolate is tempered, i.e. it is subjected to a temperature cycle which crystallizes the butter and gives it a stable form.
    MOULDING   15
Moulding   The chocolate is measured into moulds, then cooled down to harden. Valrhona makes solid moulds (all-chocolate) and filled moulds (Easter eggs).
Making Pralinés   Various pralinés are used as fillings for chocolate bonbons. Mixing water and sugar, then heating and reducing the mixture, will create caramel, which is then mixed with almonds and/or hazelnuts (which may be roasted). Once cooled on a marble table, the mixture is ground and refined.
Confectioning Fillings   Chocolate fillings can be pralinés, ganaches, giandujas, etc. Ganache filling is made by creating an emulsion, a type of mixture between the chocolate coating and a diary product or a fruit jelly.
Coating and Decorating   To make chocolate bonbons as attractive as possible, the chocolate is coated and decorated. This is a three-step process:
1-undercoating: the filling is rolled over a bed of chocolate, which, when cooled, creates the bonbon “undercoat”
2-coating: the undercoated filling is rolled through a curtain of chocolate which totally covers it
3-decorating: once coated, the bonbons can be decorated with fork utensils, with various ingredients, etc.

Learn more about our Bean to Bar creations with our Grand Crus and Single Estates Chocolates.