This is part 3 of 5 of an interview with Art Pollard of Amano Chocolate. Be sure to start reading with Part 1. Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments. Art will be available to comment on anything you have to say
Art will give away one of each of his bars to five random commenters - one winner per post. All winners will be drawn on Saturday morning, July 12. All comments are eligible up until the time the winners are posted. While you may leave multiple comments on a post, only one comment per person per post is eligible to win.
Photo by J. Pollack Photography
Well the Cuyagua valley and the Ocumare valley were both areas that I’ve been interested in for quite some time and the same goes for the Madagascar. I happen to have come across one particular farm in Madagascar that produced beans that I thought were very special. I grabbed what I could of that. It was something similar with the Ocumare and Cuyagua.
Ocumare is a valley right on the coast of Venezuela. They have moderately limited production capabilities as far as cocoa and Cuyagua is not too far from there and they produce significantly less than Ocumare and so the amount of cocoa available from these areas is pretty small.
In the end, they have the flavor profiles that I like. That’s how I make chocolate. I have to like it. I found a review from one person comparing our chocolates to somebody else in the industry and they thought that I’d received my inspiration from somebody else. I got a good chuckle about it because I don’t eat that particular chocolate. Nothing against the chocolate maker, it’s just when I’m looking for chocolate, that’s not what I readily reach for. Though it’s a perfectly fine chocolate.
What it reminded me so much of was literature classes in school. People say, “Oh the author received inspiration from this source or that source,” when in reality, the author was doing whatever they felt like. When I make chocolate, I make it to how I like and I don’t base it on anybody else out there. I just do it to my particular taste and I truly hope that other people enjoy eating the same sorts of things that I do.
Do the different batches taste different?
Every year the crop is different and that could be either good or bad depending on the weather and other circumstances of the plantation. A lot of your commercial chocolates made by the large chocolate companies try to make things in such a way that you end up with consistency from year to year and batch to batch. For me, I call that the Peter Principle of chocolate. If you’ve ever seen the book on the Peter Principle, it talks about people rising to the highest level of mediocrity and I think it that tends to be what happens. You end up with the situation where when something comes along that is truly great and special, it has to be treated in a way that lowers its quality rather than lets it shine.
What we try to do is to let every batch speak for itself and just try to really let it shine to the best of its ability. Because of that, there are going to be variations from year to year and even batch to batch. For that matter, in our beans that we get from Madagascar, we see a sizable variation from bag to bag. We see that from beans we get from other locations as well. When we are making each batch of chocolate, we need to be really cognizant of the flavor difference and where we want to take it.
Is lack of consistency a problem when trying to sell a consumer good?
The flavor won’t be totally different. It will be fairly similar, but there will be flavor differences in lots. Rather than trying to bring a lot down to meet a specific specification, what we try to do is let each lot be the very best it can. It can be very complicated at times because you have to be really cognizant as to the flavor differences from bag to bag and how that will affect the batch as a whole. You also have to be cognizant of the fact that a lot of the flavor changes that you see are not going to necessarily really show up until three or four steps down in the process. During manufacturing, you have to modify the practices and every time you do so, you have to have a vision of where you are going five steps down the road because how you treat something at one point may not affect the flavor immediately but it will affect the flavor at the end point. It gets to be rather complicated.
Sometimes you just have to sit in a quiet room for a while and ruminate on it until you see the path you want to take.
Have you thought about producing flavored chocolate?
We are all about chocolate. There may be flavored chocolate that we may do in the future. I don’t see that happening for a number of years, mainly because we try to select the world’s greatest cocoa beans and let them really speak for themselves. As much as we respect those that want to flavor their chocolate, that’s not for us at any point in the near future. I’m never going to say we are never going to do it, you never know.
I think a lot of the flavored chocolates that you see are created because of the fact that most chocolate companies in the world buy their chocolate from another manufacturer. If everyone is buying their chocolate from three or four or five major companies and another handful of smaller companies, the way they have to differentiate themselves it is to do things like flavoring their chocolate.
At the same time, there is a great historical tradition of flavoring chocolate going all the way back to Montezuma, if not earlier. If somebody wants to flavor their chocolate, from my perspective, that’s fine, but I hope that our chocolate is good enough that no one is tempted to do that or to feel that it is needed.
What’s your favorite bar?
I do not have a favorite. Isn’t that terrible? It’s like when you have kids and you end up not having a favorite kid. You might be tempted to, but you just don’t and it’s not a matter of being politically correct (don’t know if that’s quite the right word), but just not wanting to select one. It’s just a matter of the fact that you see the beauty and the talent and the positive attributes of each of your children and it holds the same for your chocolate. Each one of our bars that we’ve released so far stands up very well on its own and has its own unique characteristics. As to which one I’ll reach for at any given time, it is entirely dependent on my mood.