“This is our first importation of cacao from Peru,” says co-owner Jael Rattigan, gesturing toward burlap bags that look like something Pier One Imports might stock as exotic decorative pieces. The French Broad Chocolate Factory and Tasting Room erupts with applause.
Jael and husband Dan Rattigan, also co-owner, offered a sneak peek of their new bean-to-bar production facility yesterday, located at 21 Buxton Ave. The room was filled with friends, family and fans (and tons of delicious chocolate). The new factory is as charming as factories go, painted in the French Broad Chocolate Lounge’s now-iconic baby-blue and brown colors. Sadly, not an Oompa Loompa, nor a river of chocolate, was spotted.
There were major points of interest however — especially for those of us who dork out over such things. For example, consider the fact that the sacks of unrefined brown sugar piled near the cacao beans were also shipped from Peru. So what, you ask? “We’re going to be making some chocolate bars that are going to be single-origin — even down to the sugar,” Jael explains.
She then went on to explain the process of craft chocolate-making that the Rattigans and their employees follow, from sorting the beans for any strange Peruvian farm debris (rocks or sticks, for example). After sorting, the beans are either roasted in ovens or on the roof of the factory in a solar roaster that Dan, truly a mad scientist of chocolate, built in his basement at home. The roasted beans are then winnowed to separate the shells from the nib. The nibs are then ground, then further refined until it’s time to add ingredients like the Peruvian sugar or the locally made malt from Riverbend Malt House for the new malted chocolate product the Rattigans make. The chocolate then goes into a tempering machine, outfitted with a foot-operated pump that can squeeze the still-liquid chocolates into molds.
Most of the molds stamp the chocolate with the French Broad Chocolates logo, although one mold was created especially for the Asheville Savings Bank, which offers locally made FBC confections to valued clients (see photo below).
Today (Friday, June 29) marks the official opening of the factory. The Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting has already happened, unfortunately. The event ends at 7 p.m., however, so there’s still plenty of time to enjoy bites from Roots and Annie’s Bakery, and a special chocolate milk stout brewed especially for the occasion by Green Man Brewing, using French Broad Chocolates’ cocoa nibs.
The French Broad Chocolate factory is located at 21 Buxton Ave.
Can’t make it? Here are some photos from Thursday’s pre-opening to tide you over.