Food is a huge part of the travel experience for me. I often find myself organizing my schedule around meals. Sometimes I even add a second dinner as the trip nears to an end because I know how much I'll miss all the amazing dishes that I can't bring home. With chocolate, it's different. When I travel, I often seek out a local chocolate shop or chocolatier. I try some samples, then pick out my favorites to bring home and share with family and friends. It's a wonderful way to bring a flavor of the destination home. I recently connected with Jeff & Susan Mall of Volo Chocolate and they agreed to share an experience with chocolate they had abroad that changed their life.
For most of my life, chocolate was a ‘take it or leave it’ food. As a kid, I would much rather eat crispy-salty snacks than a candy bar. An occasional Reeses’ Peanut Butter cup was the exception. Going to the movies in the 70s & 80s I would enjoy a Hershey Bar, but only broken up and mixed with my warm salty popcorn.
All of my years spent as a chef and restaurant owner didn’t move the needle for my feelings about chocolate. A singular taste experience changed my perception, and that was my first bite of Mexican chocolate. It made me think of chocolate as a food, not a candy. The warming flavor of cinnamon and coarsely ground nuts in Mexican chocolate gives many layers of flavor.
In early 2015 my life as a chef collided with chocolate when my wife Susan and I moved to Mexico to run a restaurant at a small hotel near Todos Santos, Baja Sur. We brought our Sonoma County ‘Farm to Table’ ethos with us. We focused on growing and sourcing traditional Mexican ingredients & foods for our menus. One of those ingredients was the cocoa bean. It was first cultivated in Mexico thousands of years ago. In all my years as a chef I had never seen a cocoa bean. As a staple in traditional Mexican recipes, they were as readily available as onions, chiles, and corn. Our co-workers would use them to make a traditional warm drink called Champurrado. Like most chefs, my first inclination was to use them in a sauce or to crust a piece of pork. Then I asked Susan, “I wonder how hard it is to make chocolate?”
We started to experimented with beans from the Chiapas region in Southern Mexico along the border with Guatemala. Some of our co-workers came from other parts of Mexico where their families made chocolate. With their help, we made our first batch of chocolate by roasting the beans in a wood-fired oven and then grinding them with sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. It was decent, but we knew we could make it better. Slowly but surely, batch after batch, our chocolate got better and better. Before we knew it, we were making multiple batches every week and the hotel guests were buying it up. The chocolate that we made was unique. Mexican in style with its pinch of cinnamon, but also to our taste with a touch of sea salt.
We moved back to Sonoma County after having spent 1 1/2 years living and working in Mexico. Once home, one of the first things we did was start sourcing cocoa beans aka ‘Cacao’ so we could continue our chocolate making adventure. We soon learned that the best Mexican cacao doesn’t leave Mexico, so we looked elsewhere. We found amazing beans just across the border in Lachuá Guatemala, just 17 miles from Chiapas Mexico. With cacao in hand, we started Volo Chocolate in the Fall of 2016.
Much like coffee beans or wine grapes, many of flavors in cacao are determined by region where it is grown. One of the varieties of beans we use are from Lachuá Guatemala, always with a background flavor of cherry. Also like wine
grapes, the year, or vintage plays a role. Some years the flavor is of bright, ripe cherries. Other years you get more of a concentrated, dried cherry flavor. We also use cacao from Haiti which adds notes of coffee and roasted nuts.
At Volo we make eight different chocolate bars. Each is unique, but they all still have that pinch of cinnamon and sea salt. As a result, they are balanced without the bitterness that is found in a lot of dark chocolate. We use the beans from Guatemala for our 73% Deep Dark Chocolate and Chocolate Orange, which are both vegan.
We grow and process our own oranges for the candied orange. The cacao from Haiti goes into our 62% Dark Milk Chocolate. We caramelize the milk and add browned butter which turns it into something special. We also have a 62% Dark Milk bar with olive oil roasted almonds. We have won several awards for our chocolate, including two international awards from the Academy of Chocolate in London. You can find Volo Chocolate at stores, wineries and restaurants in Northern California and beyond. It is also available online at VoloChocolate.com.
We hope you have the opportunity to try our unique chocolate soon!
by Jeff & Susan Mall
Chef & CHOCOLATIER
While living in Mexico we fell in love with the flavors and soul of Mexican chocolate. We enjoyed many wonderful hours experimenting with the many ways we could bring out the flavors through various techniques and ingredients. It wasn’t long before we created a great “bean to bar” craft chocolate recipe.
Once we returned home to Sonoma County we decided to start our chocolate making business with all of the love and passion that fine chocolate deserves.
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