A balanced diet is chocolate in both hands.”
“If there’s no chocolate, I’m not going to heaven.”
“Friendship is sharing the last piece of chocolate.”
These are chocolate-related quotes that can be found online in many different places, but did you know that Beaver County is now home to one of the most unique chocolate operations in the region?
Dulcinea Craft Chocolate, located in the county seat of Beaver, has taken chocolate to another level of quality and craftsmanship. Owner and chocolate maker Laurie Rice operates under the principle of a “labor of love,” as in her love and passion for making a chocolate that is of the utmost quality. We will examine the process of making craft chocolate, as well as why Rice decided to make this her vocation.
Cacao beans arrive in burlap sacks directly from the source – the Tropics and Latin America. Farmers in located in Belize, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic ship their beans directly to Dulcinea’s headquarters in Beaver where the process begins.
This form of “direct trade” allows relationships to grow between farmer and chocolate maker resulting in higher prices for the farmer, and higher quality cacao for the chocolate maker. Dulcinea partners with a larger craft chocolate maker who personally visits the farms, assures quality control, and coordinates the exporting of the beans. Rice plans on making her visit to Belize in 2015 to meet the farmers who grow the beans.
Before the beans become chocolate, they must be cleaned, sorted and roasted. Roasting develops the inherent flavors while evaporating away any remaining moisture. Cacao has an outer shell that must be removed. The release of moisture also helps to separate the outer shell from the bean.
After the beans have been roasted and cooled, the outer shell is removed. This step is known as cracking and winnowing. Once a bean is cracked, it is referred to as a nib. The nibs are run through a winnowing machine, which draws away the lighter shell and leaves the heavier nibs behind. This is an extremely tedious process and takes a lot of time and effort.
The nibs then go into a stone grinder, to which sugar is later added. The chocolate is then “conched” until optimum flavor is achieved. Next, the chocolate is poured into pans and left to rest for four weeks. This allows the chocolate time to mature and mellow.
When the aging process is complete, the chocolate is tempered, molded into bars, and hand wrapped. It takes a little over one month from a cacao bean to turn into a bar of chocolate. This aging process, all done by hand, is what separates Dulcinea from your conventional chocolatiers.
The name Dulcinea comes from a character in the novel, Don Quixote. Dulcinea is Don Quixote’s love, his sweet perfection.
Rice shares the same sentiments about the chocolate she makes. She cited her inspiration for starting a craft chocolate business: “About twelve years ago, we stumbled upon a documentary film about cacao farmers and were startled by how little we knew about the chocolate we loved so well.
We didn’t realize it then, but that was the beginning of our journey into chocolate making. The documentary sparked a desire to learn more about cacao, the farmers, and the industry as a whole. Each new bit of information gave rise to a desire to make our own chocolate – a healthier indulgence that would be both delicious and socially responsible.”
Dulcinea has a variety of different products, including but not limited to:
- salted caramel espresso truffles using grass fed cream and butter and non-GMO rice syrup
- coconut truffles that are dairy-free
- raspberry truffles when organic raspberries are available
- 70% Belize with Sea Salt
- 68% Belize with Cinnamon
- 70% Dominican Republic with cacao nibs
- 70% Bolivia
The chocolate that Dulcinea produces is loaded with antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavanols, more so than even known superfruits such as blueberries, pomegranates, and Acai berries.Each bar weighs 2.8 ounces. Each piece of chocolate is hand wrapped in the form of an apron.
Rice said, “The act of tying on an apron is symbolic. It means something wonderful is about to happen in the kitchen, something made by hand with love.”
Where to Buy
Currently, Dulcinea can be found at Sapling and Sons along Third Street in Beaver. Rice is in the process of seeking other partners, and vice a versa. She hopes to be in five different locations in Beaver and Allegheny counties by the end of this year, while continuing to grow and expand in 2015.
However, Rice is taking wholesale and holiday orders through her website, where you can buy dark chocolate in bulk.
Photo Credit for this AWESOME photography: Alyssa Florentine