Concord culinary students learn about ethical chocolate-making 

  • (From left) Concord Regional Technical Center culinary students senior Hannah Fischer of Penacook, senior Desiree Trovato of Epsom, teacher Bob McIntosh and junior Dakota Benoit, of Boscawen dehusk cacao beans at Loon Chocolate in Derry on Wednesday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • (From left) Concord Regional Technical Center culinary students  Desiree Trovato of Epsom and Dakota Benoit of Boscawen reach for chocolate samples from chocolate-maker Amanda Potash at Loon Chocolate in Derry on Wednesday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • FROM LEFT: Concord Regional Technical Center culinary students senior Hannah Fischer of Penacook, senior Desiree Trovato of Epsom and junior Dakota Benoit of Boscawen dehusk cacao beans at Loon Chocolate in Derry on Wednesday. LEAH WILLINGHAM photos / Monitor staff

  • (From left) Concord Regional Technical Center culinary students senior Hannah Fischer of Penacook, senior Desiree Trovato of Epsom and junior Dakota Benoit of Boscawen dehusk cacao beans at Loon Chocolate in Derry on Wednesday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord Regional Technical Center culinary institute junior Dakota Benoit of Boscawen and Loon Chocolate maker Amanda Potash dehusk cacao beans at Loon Chocolate in Derry on Wednesday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord Regional Technical Center culinary institute junior Dakota Benoit of Boscawen and Loon Chocolate maker Amanda Potash dehusk cacao beans at Loon Chocolate in Derry on Wednesday.   LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord Regional Technical Institute culinary students dehusk cacao beans at Loon Chocolate in Derry on Wednesday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Loon Chocolate owner Scott Watson talks about his process for making chocolate at his store in Derry on Wednesday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord Regional Technical Center culinary institute senior Desiree Trovato smells cacao beans as they are passed around to her classmates on Wednesday at Loon Chocolate in Derry.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Loon Chocolate bars are displayed in a carton of cacao beans at the company’s headquarters in Derry on Wednesday. 

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/11/2019 6:32:30 PM

The two chocolate samples looked almost identical.

They were small, dark squares presented in white plastic cups to Concord culinary students.

But as the young cooks and bakers prepared to try their first bite, Loon Chocolate Owner Scott Watson pointed out an important distinction.

“You’ll notice it might have a little sweetness to it. You’ll pick up the creaminess,” he said of the first sample. “There’s 12 to 15 percent cocoa products in this chocolate. It’s a real small amount.”

Watson said the sample was a brand-name milk chocolate like Nestle or Hershey’s, available in grocery stores across America. Most brand-name chocolates use more soy and vanilla than they do cacao, or raw cocoa bean. 

At Loon Chocolate in Derry, each chocolate bar can range from 50 to 89 percent organic cacao bean. 

“It has a firmer taste to it, a crunch,” he said. “There’s a snap to it.”

It’s also ethically sourced, unlike many brand-name chocolates. Although two-thirds of cacao in the entire world comes from Western Africa, most farmers are not fairly compensated for their work, Watson said.

“Some of the labor practices that are happening in West Africa are just downright horrible,” he said. “They’re underpaid, there’s labor trafficking. We only use products that we know farmers were more than compensated for.”

Watson was giving a presentation to Concord Regional Technical Center culinary institute students at the Loon Chocolate headquarters in Derry last week on his chocolate-making process. 

Watson, who opened Loon Chocolate in May 2018, said everything he makes at Loon is ethically sourced.

Loon Chocolate orders 100-pound bags of beans from five different countries in Africa and South America. They are shipped to New Hampshire from Uncommon Cacoa, a company in Seattle.

Watson and his team sort through all of the beans by hand and pick out defective ones. Next, they roast, shell, and stone-grind the beans for more than 72 hours. Finally, they blend them with organic cane sugar and organic cocoa butter.

The process of making Loon Chocolate can be a lot more expensive and time-consuming than making a commercial chocolate bar, Watson said.

Today’s mass-marketed product needs only a 15 percent mix of beans and cocoa butter to be considered chocolate by the FDA, Watson said.

Mass marketed or commercial chocolate uses cheaper ingredients and additives like soy to help with the shine of the chocolate, as well as water and vanilla.

That’s why Watson charges more for his products: His chocolate sells online and in the Manchester Craft Market in the Mall of New Hampshire for around $9 a bar.

“When I’m sitting next to a display and someone says, ‘Why is your chocolate so expensive? I can buy this for 75 cents.’ It starts back at the farmer growing some ethically raised chocolate and then shipping it up here in organic form,” he said. “It’s us spending about one hour per pound just processing that chocolate and letting it run for three days straight at the minimum.”

“There’s a lot of craft in what we’re doing here,” he added. “We hope people taste the difference.”

To give students an idea of how the chocolate-making process works, Watson set them up at one of the company’s stainless steel tables and gave them a pile of raw cacao beans to dehusk.

Watson said they use the inside of the bean, or the nib, to make chocolate. He recycles the shells to make compost, he said.

“I was so surprised at how much of a process it is. They have to do all of this to get that? Really?” said 11th-grader Dakota Benoit from Boscawen, pointing from the beans to a finished chocolate bar. “You don’t realize how much work goes into it.”

“I probably wouldn’t want to do it for more than a couple of hours, but it’s actually really fun,” she added, smiling and placing a few dehusked beans in a red bucket in front of her.

Epsom senior Desiree Trovato, who plans to attend the Culinary Institute of America next year, said her time at Loon changed the way she thinks about baking.

“In baking, we use chocolate all of the time. Just seeing how it goes from this little bean to a chocolate bar that we melt down – that’s so cool,” she said.

Trovato also said she wasn’t aware there were even chocolate makers in New Hampshire.

“You think of chocolate production, you don’t think of New Hampshire,” she said.

Watson said it’s a small but growing field. There are around 200 similar manufacturers to Loon in the country, Watson said.

New Hampshire is home to several boutique chocolate makers, like Enna Chocolate in Epping and Ava Marie Chocolates in Peterborough. 

Watson said the field of chocolate reminds him of 1995, when he started brewing craft beer. He stopped brewing in 2002, and since then the number of craft breweries has skyrocketed.

“It was still very new and people were really looking for good, quality product,” he said.

Watson said he plans to grind the nibs for the students to make a 5-pound block of chocolate they can use in their class. He also gave them their own small grinder.

He said he hopes it makes the students think more about where the ingredients they use when baking and cooking come from – and motivates them to make good, ethical choices about those ingredients when they can.

“It’s an opportunity to give our spin and version that might be a little different from industrial chocolate,” he said. “It gives us a creative chance to show people ‘This is what we think is good.’ There’s been a lot of people who have enjoyed it.”




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy