In the chocolate world, there are a number of key steps in the chain to making a great finished chocolate product. Without skill in each key step the finished product can be far below what you might have been expecting.
The first person in the chain is the cocoa farmer, based typically thousands of miles away from where the chocolate will end up being consumed. The farmer is responsible for planting, maintaining, harvesting and fermenting the cocoa beans. As with any crop, the variety and farming techniques, along with choosing the optimum time for harvesting will determine the quality of the finished product. What many farmers fail to understand is that the fermentation process (the drying of the beans) is actually one of the most crucial parts of making great chocolate. This process removes the tannins from the chocolate and develops all the delicious chocolate flavour.
After the cocoa beans have been grown, harvested and fermented, the beans will typically travel thousands of miles to a chocolate maker. A chocolate makers responsibility is to process the beans and turn them into chocolate. This process involves, sorting, roasting, winnowing, conching, before determining what percentage the chocolate is by adding additions, such as sugar and milk powder.
The difference between a good chocolate maker and a bad chocolate maker typically lies with three key areas; choosing the right variety of beans, how the beans have been roasted and how long the beans have been allowed to conche.
Most of the best chocolate makers such as Valrhona, Amedei and Michel Cluizel will have direct relationships with the cocoa farmers meaning they can invest time in educating farmers in how best to grow, harvest and ferment their beans. This in turn results in superior beans in which to make their chocolate from.
Once the chocolate makers have taken the beans and processed them into chocolate, the chocolate will either be used by the chocolate maker themselves or sold to chocolatiers.
A chocolatier is someone who will take a chocolate couverture and will use it as an ingredient to create new confections.
A skilled chocolatier will combine chocolate couverture with cream and button to make melt in the mouth ganache centres for truffles and bon bons, cook sugar expertly to make moreish caramels and caramelise nuts to make delicious pralines.
As a luxury UK chocolate company, we can be very much put in the 'chocolatier' category. We buy our chocolate couverture from French chocolate makers Valrhona. We view their chocolate couverture as some of the very best in the world and we feel their the way they source and process their beans results in a superior chocolate couverture for us to use.
As there is often a lot of confusion over the difference between a chocolatier and a chocolate maker, hopefully the above information can now allow you to determine the role and skill of the chocolate maker and the chocolatier in the finished chocolate products that you enjoy.