Valentine's most delicious

Karl Wells
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Couple makes chocolate dream come true

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and among the jewelry, perfume, roses and other gifts given will be plenty of chocolate. One Valentine's couple with a reason to enjoy chocolate gifting a little more than most is Brent Smith, founder of the Newfoundland Chocolate Company and his life partner, Christina Dove.

Is there any other food on earth that makes people feel as good as chocolate? Probably not. According to Christina Dove, "studies have shown that the 'feel good' effect of chocolate has something to do with the wonderful, luxurious mouth feel of chocolate." Makes sense to me but there's also the beautiful deep flavour of a high-quality, rich dark chocolate.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and among the jewelry, perfume, roses and other gifts given will be plenty of chocolate. One Valentine's couple with a reason to enjoy chocolate gifting a little more than most is Brent Smith, founder of the Newfoundland Chocolate Company and his life partner, Christina Dove.

Is there any other food on earth that makes people feel as good as chocolate? Probably not. According to Christina Dove, "studies have shown that the 'feel good' effect of chocolate has something to do with the wonderful, luxurious mouth feel of chocolate." Makes sense to me but there's also the beautiful deep flavour of a high-quality, rich dark chocolate.

Smith and Dove were young people pursuing separate careers in professional fundraising and science. After tasting the best chocolate Belgium had to offer while on holiday in Europe, Smith became an aficionado of gourmet chocolate. In fact, Smith and Dove's interest became so strong they started making their own chocolates at home as a hobby. That's what I call being hooked on chocolate.

Chocolate career

There came a point where, as Smith explained, the idea of making a career out of chocolate became a serious option for the chocolate loving couple.

"I've been making chocolate for seven years as a hobby, but the business is only a year-and-a-half old and it's already gone well beyond where I thought it would. I remember chatting with Christina when I was still working a nine-to-five job and looking at making a move of some kind and wondering if, even though I wanted to do this work, if I could employ myself, if I could make a living from this and I wasn't thinking about hiring anyone. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to be a chocolatier and make enough money to scratch out a living?' So we've gone well beyond that stage with full-time chocolatiers hired and others. So we're quite amazed at where things have gone and we're grateful for the support. I'm really pleased that the Newfoundland public has embraced the product so well, and I think it's a sign of where our province is and has come from. I'm not sure we could have made a go of this 20 years ago."

The making

Making chocolates is a fairly labour-intensive activity that requires some skill.

It begins with the cocoa beans, of which there are four main types: forestero (85 percent of the world's cocoa beans are forestero,) and the three higher-quality "flavour" beans called creolo, trinitario and nationale.

Once the beans are harvested they are placed between banana leaves and allowed to ferment. Then they are either sun or oven dried. Sun drying is better and most higher-quality beans are sun dried. The critical blending stage involves blending cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and soy emulsifier to create what's called couverture chocolate.

Tempering

Couverture is a raw chocolate block, and it is at this stage chocolatiers such as Brent Smith and the Newfoundland Chocolate Company come in. It is an unstable form of chocolate that must be melted and stabilized through a process called tempering. (There's a long scientific explanation as to what happens during tempering that has to do with formation of chocolate crystals, destruction of crystals, re-introduction of crystals and so forth, but, frankly, it's boring as hell so I'll move on.)

Once the chocolate is tempered it's poured into moulds and a filling is added. Brent Smith favours Newfoundland ingredients.

"We prefer to use a chocolate-based fill as opposed to the North American-style sweet and syrupy fill (your Pot of Gold standard where the centre often overpowers the chocolate). The Belgian and the French chocolate-making techniques look for more complimentary flavours that won't overpower the chocolate but celebrate it. So our choice of centre is really geared towards those nice pairings with the chocolate and Newfoundland berries are our most popular type of chocolate. Our Terra Nova series, which is our berry series, is our top seller, and I think for good reason because our Newfoundland berries are a treasure. They're natural, they're organic and they go beautifully with fine chocolate."

After filling, the chocolates are closed with a layer of tempered chocolate and then left to properly set. During setting the chocolates contract and pull away from the mould, allowing them to be easily tipped out. They are then decorated, boxed and sent to market.

Progress

Brent Smith is pleased with where his young company is to date and looks forward to the future.

"Our biggest hurdle has been production capacity. It's been a wonderful problem to have. The demand has been really good. We've maxed ourselves out at our current location and in the coming months we'll be moving into another building and having a small retail shop on site, and we're quite excited about that next step. That'll really give us the opportunity to increase our production capacity. We've been selling our chocolates primarily in Newfoundland at this point in time but we'd like to make the Newfoundland Chocolate Company a well-known brand nationally and internationally. And we think we have a product that can stand up to the best."

Judging from the reception the chocolates have received so far, I'd say Newfoundland Chocolate Company chocolates have already stood up to the best, and in the minds of many, even beaten them on occasion.

Organizations: Newfoundland Chocolate Company, North American

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Belgium, Europe Terra Nova

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