08 June 2013

Life's So Sweet Chocolate Place

Maybe I'm dabbled enough in Food Science, but a tour of a chocolate shop would've excited me to no end a few years ago. Now, it doesn't faze me. Perhaps I already have a working knowledge about chocolate. Anyway, as I'm now doing a Food Science summer program at Cornell University, my fellow interns and I decided to go to Trumansburg NY and take a grand ol' "tour" of the Life's So Sweet Chocolate Place.

We arrived at about 2:30, which was half an hour early, and the storekeeper told us to leave and walk around for half an hour. I guess the astounding ten of us overwhelmed the tiny storefront, whose floorspace could barely fit two Smart Cars. And so, we trudged through the only street in Trumansburg that had shops, and dilly-dallied until 2:55, when we re-entered the store.

There, we were now welcome with open arms.

We started with an introduction of the shop. This is where the original Life's So Sweet Chocolate Place stood, some (at most 85) number of years ago. Here is a painting in the shop, reminiscent of the Taughannnock Waterfall some 10 minutes away.

We were then led into the back room, where we all sat down and listened to a lecture. First, we learned that we had just passed the chocolate storage area that was "between 60 and 70 degrees, with no humidity and no funny smells. We know that the chocolate there is kept well or else you would've encountered some funny smells when you walked past". Well, cool.
The person leading the tour was very nice, but honestly didn't offer much information that I wouldn't be able to find on Wikipedia. Apparently, we were supposed to be awed by the fact that chocolate comes from a plant. How astonishing. This tour was not geared towards anyone with basic science knowledge, and much less to (food) science majors. Therefore, I was slightly disappointed. However, I did get 3 pieces of chocolate out of the $5 for the tour.

We learned very generically about how chocolate is made. According to the lecture, cacao trees are about 5 ft tall, and are planted +/- 20 degrees from the equator, which includes Hawaii, Madagascar, Ecuador and some other places. Life's So Sweet obtains its chocolate from a company that makes a "perfect blend" (quoting lecturer) of cacao from all these places. However, they also sell chocolate with cacao from only one region, and the taste of this possibly varies by season. Unpopular chocolate truffle flavours have included "double cherry" and pie.

I touched a frozen cacao pod from Cornell, and checked out a jar of unroasted cacao beans. I learned that they had two tempering machines, and tempering chocolate takes about an hour and a half (with white chocolate taking less time and dark chocolate taking more).

They use bunny shaped moulds and hedgehog shaped ones. The metal moulds are 85 years old and are used out of tradition and durability, while it is easier to observe the chocolate spreading and hardening process in the plastic ones. Apparently, in the plastic moulds, when the chocolate has hardened, it unsticks itself from the mould. One of us (incidentally a Chemical Engineer) asked why that is, and the person giving the lecture gave an explanation that kind of sounded like this:
Well, it's because of chemistry. Let me try explain it in the easiest way possible. Well, if the chocolate isn't tempered well enough, it doesn't stick to itself. When it's tempered, it sticks together and, if you look here [shows chocolate in mould], the sides have already begun to unstick from the plastic, so later, the rest of the chocolate will unstick."
So, we still don't know. However, I do know that anything that is not chocolate is not made by the store, but by some other family owned business. For example, the jelly beans come from Jelly Belly (apparently 6 generations old), while the sponge candy comes from Rochester NY. There is also sugar-free chocolate, which comes from some other supplier.

The three pieces of chocolate included:

White chocolate half-coated dried apricot
Half-baked attempt to please apricot and white chocolate lovers. Why not cover the entire apricot?Sweet. Not waxy (more creamy). Miniscule grit, which I liked.

Milk chocolate
Plain milk chocolate with a "snap" sound when bitten. Creamy and typical, but not waxy at all. Miniscule grit.

Dark chocolate "Aztec" truffle
Simple dark chocolate ganache with 3 types of cayenne pepper with spicy chocolate coating and sprinkled with red pepper flakes. Not too spicy.

I didn't fancy any of the chocolates for sale, since they all seemed kind of normal, though there was a balsamic vinegar truffle which someone said didn't particularly taste like balsamic vinegar. I think I read somewhere online that balsamic vinegar actually brings out the chocolate flavour more, though.

They also had some novel idea where you put a box of 5 chocolates where the shoe goes.

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