Rochester chocolatiers bring microbatch chocolate to Western New York
Dale Montondo, courtesy of Tōcōti Chocolate
A Rochester couple has taken up the challenge of making chocolate from scratch––bean to bar. Dale Montondo and his wife Ellen fell in love with European artisan chocolates when Ellen began bringing them home from business trips abroad; when she switched jobs, their source for the delicacy was cut off, and Dale Montondo decided to learn to make their favorite chocolates on his own. He and Ellen now have a micro-batch chocolate business from their Walworth residence, where they make a product called Tōcōti Chocolate.
Dale Montondo, who previously worked in maintenance and R&D in the semiconductor industry, took to the science of chocolate-making; he roasts and grinds the beans himself in 40-pound batches for at least 32 hours, and has learned to tailor his roasting technique to individual bean varieties. The Montondos sell single-origin styles including Bolivian, Venezuelan, and Dominican; traditional milk, dark, and white chocolate; and flavored “inclusions,” one of which uses coffee beans from local roaster Joe Bean.
I spoke to co-founder Ellen Montondo about this couple’s quest to bring artisanal chocolate to Western New York.
Tell me about the learning curve for handmade chocolate. What equipment and techniques are involved?
Dale took it upon himself to do research and get some books, and he found a place to buy a bag of beans, which he roasted in our oven. He got his hands on a small wet grinder so he could roast the beans. He just played around with it for a year or so, taught himself how to get the right proportions of cocoa butter to sugar. For example, if you have a bean with high fat content you can make chocolate without adding cocoa butter, but if you want that smooth mouthfeel you have to add extra cocoa butter. It took him about a year to get the process down. He taught himself how to temper chocolate, which is a little tricky if you try to do it without a machine––it’s essentially a crystallization process and you want to make sure you have all the same types of crystals so they line up really nicely, like stacking chairs. That gives you the shininess and the good snap to the chocolate. If the chocolate is not in temper it’s going to be crumbly. So there’s a lot of chemistry involved, and that’s what intrigued him.
He’s built some of his own equipment, too. One of the things he designed was a winnower: you need to separate the shell from the bean so you get the beans and roast them and they have a very thin shell that you need to crack that to separate the cocoa part. So he built a little contraption that allows him to blow off the shell from the bean.
It seems you’ve had an enthusiastic reception. Do you see microbatch chocolate really taking off?
Microbatch chocolate is something very new; we started playing around in 2009 and we ended up starting our business at the end of 2010, purposefully keeping it very small making sure that we had a repeatable process down. When we started there were fewer than twenty microbatch chocolate makers in the US. In the past couple of years it’s really started to pick up. Now there are at least three in New York State, but the others are down around NYC. It’s like the beginning of the microbrewery industry but obviously a very niche market.
Do you have a best-selling product? And what’s your favorite?
It’s cool to watch people’s faces when they try the different single origins and taste the difference between them. That’s the fun part for us. We always bring our samples to events. Cinnamon chili is really popular, as is the espresso––we grind chocolate beans right into the chocolate, while most places use an infusion. What we’re going for is very distinct flavors, not so sweet but more intense. My personal favorite is Dominican Republic single-origin chocolate. It has a fruity tang on the finish that I really like.
What are your plans for 2013?
We are looking to get our products into Buffalo and Syracuse next. We introduced the bars and they’ve been a huge hit; we’re very proud of our packaging, too. We’ll be experimenting with new beans Peruvian beans, doing R&D to find the best roast, etc., and more inclusions. Dale wants to do a green tea bar, and I want white pistachio with pink salt!