WHEN CRAFT IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCO­LATES

You never know what you’re go­ing to get: Le­muel and the bean-to-bar choco­late they make

Wine & Dine - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHAR­LENE CHOW

Round and round and round and round. It’s not a hyp­no­tist’s totem we’re star­ing into but the eye of a melanger, a stone grinder for mak­ing choco­late. “This is the long­est step in our bean-to-bar process,” says craft choco­late maker and owner of Le­muel Choco­late, Ron­ald Ng. “We add Brazil­ian or­ganic cane sugar to a pre-grinder paste of ca­cao nibs. Stone rollers grind the mix­ture for at least 48 hours un­til it be­comes a fine, smooth liq­uid choco­late. Af­ter that, we block them and put them into trays for a week or two in an age­ing process. Only then would we re-melt the choco­late, tem­per them and put them into moulds.”

Be­fore reach­ing the melanger stage, Ng would have taken his co­coa beans through a host of steps, a lot of it done by hand. There is the first ‘cut-test’ to weed out mouldy beans, hand-sort­ing to re­move im­pu­ri­ties, a roast­ing process, then crack­ing and win­now­ing to sep­a­rate the husks from the ca­cao nibs.

BOONS AND BEANS

This is all in a day’s work for Ng and his two daugh­ters Natasha and Nathalie. At their new premises at Star Vista (a move from West­way build­ing, West Coast High­way), they make choco­late from scratch in their open-con­cept pro­duc­tion kitchen. 12 and count­ing types of sin­gle ori­gin co­coa beans span­ning Africa, Latin Amer­ica and South­east Asia are their raw ma­te­ri­als. Sin­gle ori­gin im­plies that the beans come from the same coun­try, area or farm. Just as ter­roir de­ter­mines a wine’s char­ac­ter, ori­gin shapes a choco­late’s flavour.

Ng makes it a point to look out for co­coa beans with unique flavour pro­files. Two of his favourites are ones from Papua New Guinea and Peru. “The Papua New Guinea beans from Kulili es­tate have honey and fruity notes. Some have told me they taste like dried lon­gan. In con­trast, beans from the Ucay­ali re­gion, Peru, are grown near stone fruit trees on lands well-nour­ished by min­er­als in nearby rivers. The choco­late we make us­ing them tastes of wine and dry raisins.”

Be­liev­ing that “choco­late should taste like choco­late”, all the choco­late bars he makes com­prise a sim­ple two-in­gre­di­ent recipe, a sin­gle ori­gin choco­late and a Brazil­ian or­ganic cane sugar. A rare ex­cep­tion is the de­li­ciously creamy, nutty Philip­pines dark milk, which uses 60 per cent Davao choco­late and adds or­ganic black soya milk pow­der to the mix.

Apart from aroma and flavours im­parted by ge­og­ra­phy, the rest is up to skill. For Ng, the roast­ing and age­ing stages are piv­otal. Just as it does for cof­fee beans, roast­ing co­coa beans brings out their full flavour. Judge­ment and con­trol de­ter­mine how long and at what tem­per­a­ture to roast them.

“There are three main va­ri­eties of co­coa— foras­tero, criollo and trini­tario (hy­brid). Unique, fruity flavours are usu­ally present in the scarce­ly­found criollo. These flavours could be lost if you roast them at too high tem­per­a­tures. So we have to be care­ful with them and typ­i­cally roast them at a lower tem­per­a­ture com­pared to foras­tero.” As for the age­ing process post-melanger of seal­ing them and plac­ing them on trays away from the light, this is to let the choco­late so­lid­ify and sta­bilise its flavours.

Pro­duc­tion is on­go­ing but each batch of 20kg choco­late takes about a month to make. De­spite the la­bo­ri­ous­ness of his craft, Ng never tires of it. “We may dis­cover some­thing new each time. Take our Thai choco­late from Chi­ang Mai, which won an Academy of Choco­late UK bronze award. This batch may have a cer­tain flavour pro­file. When I buy in the next batch, the har­vest sea­son may be a dif­fer­ent pe­riod. It may taste dif­fer­ent. That’s the most amaz­ing part of mak­ing craft choco­late.”

A LIFE IN CHOCO­LATE

Ng’s love af­fair with choco­late is over thirty years long. Af­ter Na­tional Ser­vice, he started work­ing for var­i­ous choco­late com­pa­nies and was last gen­eral man­ager of a choco­late mar­ket­ing com­pany prior to start­ing Le­muel with busi­ness part­ner Hideki Sakan­ishi. He be­came ac­quainted with the lat­ter, a for­mer food sci­en­tist at Meiji Tokyo, through a choco­late and sugar con­fec­tionery course in Solin­gen Ger­many back in 1990. Stay­ing friends since then, the two vis­ited Dan­de­lion Choco­late fac­tory-cafe in Tokyo more than two years ago, and left fee­ing in­spired to set up a craft choco­late ven­ture them­selves. From ex­per­i­ment­ing with mak­ing choco­lates at home, Ng pro­gressed to start­ing Le­muel with Sakan­ishi about a year ago.

SPREAD­ING THE WORD

With his choco­late go­ing at $12 to $15 per bar ver­sus $2 to $3 for typ­i­cal ones, Ng says the pric­ing takes into ac­count the cost price of beans per kg, which av­er­ages US$12 to US$25 per kg in­clud­ing air­freight. “We are will­ing to pay a pre­mium for qual­ity ca­cao which helps mo­ti­vate the farm­ers to pro­duce qual­ity beans via up­graded process fa­cil­i­ties at their farms.” This res­onates with the global craft choco­late move­ment’s ethos of fair trade, uplift­ing the in­come and lives of co­coa farm­ers, and im­prov­ing their meth­ods in grow­ing, fer­ment­ing and drying ca­cao beans.

In search of the best ca­cao, Ng sources widely, but looks to neigh­bours as the Philip­pines, Thai­land and In­done­sia first, as the beans can be air-flown to Sin­ga­pore within a week or two. He has set his sights on beans from Cam­bo­dia and may be us­ing them next. He notes that of­ten, beans in our re­gion, say Bali, could be very high-qual­ity but over­looked, as the farm­ers them­selves may not be aware of the prized pro­duce they hold.

Ng hopes that his shop could in its own way con­trib­ute to greater aware­ness of high-qual­ity ca­cao in the re­gion, and else­where. Plans are in the works to hold daily tours at the shop and down the line, of­fer classes such as ba­sic tem­per­ing and mould­ing, bon­bon mak­ing, and bean-to-bar ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Thus far, his daugh­ters have been are a great help. Nathalie leads the pro­duc­tion of a sep­a­rate hand­crafted bon bons range fea­tur­ing artis­tic cre­ations such as Lady Earl Grey ($3), a dark choco­late and earl grey bon bon. Natasha, on the other hand, spear­heads their bakes range and han­dles their mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ef­forts.

Ng’s part­ing mes­sage to any­one who takes an in­ter­est in his choco­late is a sim­ple one, “Please be gen­tle with the choco­late bar. Don’t munch them like potato chips. You’d miss a lot of flavours that way. Eat choco­late as if you’re tast­ing wine. En­joy the flavours that come out of the choco­late. That’s what I call choco­late ap­pre­ci­a­tion.”

THIS BATCH MAY HAVE A CER­TAIN FLAVOUR PRO­FILE. WHEN I BUY IN THE NEXT BATCH, THE HAR­VEST SEA­SON MAY BE A DIF­FER­ENT PE­RIOD. IT MAY TASTE DIF­FER­ENT. THAT’S THE MOST AMAZ­ING PART OF MAK­ING CRAFT CHOCO­LATE.”

Op­po­site page, from left A melanger - a stone grinder for mak­ing choco­late; Le­muel choco­late bars are made with some of the best ca­cao sourced from around the re­gion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.