Is Aging Chocolate Essential or Simply Unnecessary?
Craft chocolate making is a fascinating fusion of meticulous science and imaginative artistry. Like in every other creative field, chocolate production requires a harmonious blend of precise scientific principles and original, inventive vision. It's the intricacy of this process that makes certain stages seem more like enigmatic secrets passed down amongst professionals than established science.
Aging chocolate is one such perplexing phase. This simply involves patiently waiting for some sort of transformation to occur in the chocolate. Some chocolate makers like to add an extra layer of complexity to their chocolate by aging it with other ingredients, such as soaking the cacao nibs in specialty teas or storing the finished chocolate in spirit barrels. However, our focus here is not on these flavored aging methods, but rather on the belief that the chocolate's aromatic profile enhances over time when aged on its own.
The subject of aging chocolate spurs a polarizing debate amongst craft chocolate makers. There are those who staunchly believe that time bestows upon chocolate its most well-rounded, stable, and intricate tasting profile. In contrast, skeptics argue that aging chocolate is nothing more than an inefficient use of time. The divide runs even deeper, with some professionals insisting that the freshest chocolate offers the most authentic flavors, while others maintain that aging is crucial to achieving its finest aromatic profile.
Aging in the process of chocolate making can occur at various stages. Let's explore each of these in more detail.
Aging Cacao Beans: An Uncommon Practice Amongst Craft Chocolate Makers
The practice of aging cacao beans is generally not popular amongst craft chocolate makers. The only conceivable reason to age fresh cacao beans is to eliminate or at least minimize undesirable flavors from a poor-quality batch, especially if the beans are underfermented.
Craft chocolate makers typically work with high-quality suppliers, so receiving a subpar batch of cacao beans is a rare occurrence. Therefore, the need to age cacao beans, a technique often employed by larger manufacturers who buy lower quality beans, is infrequent. It's also worth noting that the longer cacao beans are left unprocessed, the higher the risk of contamination and loss of distinct aromatic compounds. As such, if the beans are in good condition, there is usually no need to age them.
Aging Untempered Chocolate: A Popular Approach Among Chocolate Makers
If a decision is made to age chocolate, it's often done at the untempered stage. Fresh chocolate from the melangeur or the conching machine is formed into large blocks, securely wrapped in plastic, and stored in a cool, dry place before proceeding with the next steps. These blocks may rest for anywhere from a few weeks to even up to six months before they are ready to be tempered and formed into bars.
Aging untempered chocolate is believed to rectify flaws and fine-tune the flavor profile. If a chocolate maker lacks the means to effectively eliminate undesired volatiles and off-flavors, aging the chocolate might be a viable solution to mitigate these. Over time, the natural cacao aromas continue to evolve, mingle, and stabilize, resulting in a fuller flavor profile.
Aging Tempered Chocolate: A Step Embraced by Some Craft Makers
Another school of thought encourages the aging of tempered chocolate. The proponents of this method temper the chocolate, mold it into large blocks, store it, and only use it when they're ready to make bars. This step isn't about eliminating bad flavors, but rather to lock in the best ones.
Aging Chocolate Bars: Like Maturing Fine Wine
Just as fine wine can transform over time, so too can the flavor profile of chocolate bars—if stored properly, that is. There are a few potential outcomes: the chocolate might develop a fuller, richer flavor profile, or it could lose some of its delicate nuances. It's a gamble.
Craft chocolate makers have additional reasons to age their finished bars. These include understanding what consumers will experience, checking the impact of packaging on flavor, and potentially improving a mediocre batch.
Is aging chocolate beneficial? It can certainly help when there are aspects of the chocolate that need refinement or softening. Chocolate made from flawless cacao beans using advanced machines and with the knowledge of a decade's worth of bean-to-bar experience might not require aging. However, rather than being an essential step or a waste of time, aging chocolate can be seen as an artistic choice that the chocolate maker adds to their process.
Whether aged or fresh, the primary goal remains to create a refined, complex, and memorable sensory experience for all to enjoy. If a little extra time can enhance the taste of chocolate, wouldn't you be willing to wait?