Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Concher: A Chocolate & Poetry Experience

The Concher is the name of a publication which will be put out by Two Poet Truffles in late spring. It will be a literary as well as a culinary experience, as the issue will include a box of our truffles and caramels. The collection, like our chocolates, will be hand-constructed with quality ingredients. Contributors receive a free copy of the issue including the chocolate sampler.

We are no longer reading submissions for Issue #1. Stay tuned for more information on our first issue. We will be reading for Issue #2 August 1-December 1, 2007.

The concher – which, in its original form, had paddles shaped something like its namesake, the conch – is the last major machine used in chocolate making. Chocolate nibs, sugar, cocoa butter and other flavorings are put in this machine and then, with either rollers or ball bearings, are agitated for days, sometimes as long as a week. Prior to the machine’s invention in 1880, chocolate was gritty, and the flavors were simpler and more acidic. While conching is considered the hallmark of modern, quality chocolate production, it is unclear exactly what happens during the process. Despite some recent scientific investigation, conching remains shrouded in myth and speculation.

Here are a few facts and theories: during the process, the cocoa is ground until the particles are smaller than our tongues can detect, hence the silky texture. It is also variously thought that this reduction smoothes the rough edges and creates more surface area on the particles for cocoa butter to cling to, resulting in a richer flavor. It has long been thought that the constant kneading of the chocolate, along with heat from the friction, releases volatile acids and excess humidity, which deepens the flavor of the chocolate. As food scientist Gregory Zeigler says, “Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to discover that 'great chemical reaction,’ such as acid reduction, that would help explain what actually occurs during conching.” However, most tests have proven little or no change, though it is undisputed that something subtle and significant is happening.