Note: This interview was first published in my original Blogspot site on 2-3-17.
I’m very please to bring you this interview with Josef Zotter of Zotter Chocolate.
A special thank you to Barbara Dolleschal of Zotter Chocolates US LLC for facilitating this interview, providing some of the information for the interview, and for the translation work!
Zotter Chocolates is a bean to bar, organic, fair trade chocolate manufacture located in Austria. I purchased Zotter Chocolate for the very first time at The Chocolate Project in Victoria, B.C. in September of 2016, and then I re-stocked my supply at the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA last November 2016 where I was also lucky enough to meet Barbara Dolleschal of Zotter Chocolates US LLC, and thus the idea for an interview was born!
Josef Zotter, Zotter Chocolate Photo Credit: (c) Zotter Chocolate
Victoria Cooksey: How did you first become interested in bean to bar chocolate making?
Josef Zotter: Well… it was following a goal very consequent. To be able to create and influence the whole process. Through that we have many possibilities to purchase cocoa in the best cocoa gardens in this world, of course everything in organic and Fair-Trade quality.
I can interfere and change small things in the process every day. When it is good, everything stays the same, if not… then I make something different. Through that the chocolate gets its complete personal note.
V.C.: There are so many interesting chocolate combinations/flavors of Zotter bars. Where do the inspirations for these flavors come from?
Josef Zotter: Someone who is working with chocolate knows… that cocoa contains the biggest aroma conglomerate of all fats containing seeds…can imagine how many aroma components can be combined with cocoa… I don’t do anything different but to strengthen the flavors in the cocoa. Look, cocoa has many nut aromas, or citrus aromas or spicy aromas … because of that chocolate works also with Chili and so on.
V.C.: What does “hand-scooped” mean?
Info. provided by Barbara Dolleschal: When Josef Zotter started to create chocolate, he looked for a word to describe his vision of chocolate production: It was a mixture of inventive flair and manual labor covered by layers and chocolate coatings. Zotter was the first chocolatier to introduce the term “hand-scooped” in order to make a distinction between his and conventionally poured chocolates. Scooping is also an appropriate term for his production of unique items and the creative combination of ingredients to produce new varieties over and over again.
V.C.: Part of the fun of shopping for Zotter bars comes from looking at all the artwork on each wrapper. How did Zotter end up collaborating with Andreas H. Gratze to create wrapper designs for the chocolate bars?
Zotter Chocolate Bars at the NW Chocolate Festival, Seattle, WA 2016
Info. provided by Barbara Dolleschal: It began with “Krampus“ and “St. Nicholas“ Chocolates in an early stage. (Krampus and St. Nicholas is a traditional holiday in Austria December 5th and 6th- more information about the background can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus) Gratze was shocked when he saw the unadventurous package designs from the hired agency. So he presented a spontaneous draft. “For Rascals” and “For Good Ones” were made by simplicity and humor. With this packaging the breakthrough succeeded, the chocolates were sold out in no time.
Josef Zotter: We met when we both were in the Army. Andy is 4.92 and I am 6.23 tall – also very contrarily… he always talks about art, and I always talk about chocolate. He says the picture on the packaging is important, I say the content is crucial. Probably we are both right 50%.
Zotter Chocolate at the NW Chocolate Festival
V.C.: Many of your bars list exact conching times. Besides rounding out flavors, and toning down acidity, and astringency, how else does conching improve chocolate? What flavor differences have you noticed between short to long conching times. Is it possible to over conch?
Josef Zotter: Yes, surely conching is one of the most crucial processes in the production chain. It is not decisive how long we conch, but also how intensive. We prefer short conching times because I want to have the chocolate still to be a little bit earthy and racy, also with character. Most of the industrial made chocolate is been conched too long. Mostly because of the reason that everyone likes it a little bit.
What I have to say is – the better the quality of the cocoa beans, the shorter conching times are needed. If the cocoa beans are faulty, you need to use a longer conching process to get rid of the false flavors.
Also important during the conching is the emulsifying process, where it is important to have the correct temperature control, so that the chocolate as a tender melt on the palate… I think we get that right pretty well.
Zotter Chocolate Tasting Samples at NW Chocolate Festival
V.C. What does Zotter look for when sourcing cacao beans to use?
Josef Zotter: At the very first at the people we are working with. If the chemistry is right, we can accomplish a lot together with the farmers. There are a lot of requirements to make good cocoa, starting with the right harvesting, then the pots have to be opened quick otherwise it comes to faulty fermentation. Then they have to measure the level of sugar and depending on that they will specify the fermentation time.
Also very important is to let the fermented beans dry very slowly in the sun and not fast in drying plant. Correct storing is also important and especially in the tropical regions where the cocoa grows, this can be very challenging.
So, a very important part of quality chocolate happens at the farmer in his cocoa garden. Cocoa production has many similarities with wine production.
V.C. How has chocolate making, and sourcing of beans, changed since starting Zotter Chocolate?
Josef Zotter: Well, hand-scooped chocolate was not there before I invented it. We are doing this since more than 20 Years now and have collected a lot of knowledge in the meantime. Of course, during the Years we changed things in the production itself, like changing the roasting process. At the moment we are working on a specific Craft Act Line which should going to be more puristic. For that we are currently investing in new machines, also machines which are made for us especially to make us able to accomplish what we want to do. For example for roasting the nibs: we will be able to get better to the point because of a more consistent size.
Also the fact, that you see that there is chocolate on the market with insects, worms, fish, bacon or blood … I think this happened because of us. Those extravagant varieties are something we started to do at a very early stage of being in business. Hemp for example.
V.C.: Any suggestions for what consumers should look for on chocolate bar packaging/labels when purchasing quality chocolate bars?
Josef Zotter: Look at their Website, if they work bean to bar exclusively and not just a little bit. If all ingredients are traded fair and in the end good chocolate has to be made entirely organic… because acting with the magic ingredients of the food industry is easy and cheap. Yes, and also to look at the people which stands behind a brand to show the character and authenticity.
V.C.: Should chocoholics take a different approach when tasting a flavored, filled bar versus a solid chocolate bar?
Josef Zotter: No usually not. Always of equal importance – let chocolate melt on the tongue… only then you can taste the aromas… if you chew … then only at the very beginning for a very short time… but it is important to keep a piece on your tongue, close your eyes and take time… then you will realize how intense good chocolate can be and how less you can or must eat of it.
Please drink only water, no wine, port or liquor to be able to taste everything right. Wine and everything else after a chocolate tasting.
Josef Zotter, Zotter Chocolate Photo Credit: (c) Zotter Chocolate
V.C.: Where does Zotter see the future of bean to bar chocolate making heading over the next 5 to 10 years?
Josef Zotter: I have accomplished so much already and I do not dare to ask wishes when it comes to chocolate. I live my life again each and every day and I am very grateful for that what already have happened… what comes is good, what comes not.. is also good. We have to stop wanting to grow constantly.
Well, when we are in Years at the same spot as we are today, it is perfect… though we won’t stay where we are… just imagine 1000 Years from now. That’s way more important to me, that more people care about environmental questions… or how we can accomplish to live on a planet without wars…?
V.C.: What are your top three favorite Zotter chocolate pairings with cheese, beer, wine, or other items?
Josef Zotter: Only drink water if you do a chocolate tasting.
When it comes to combinations of chocolate with different other flavors, there are no boundaries for me. However it shall make sense. Chocolate with garlic for example or Sea Salt on it is something I never will make. By the way, a pinch of Salt is in all of our chocolates.
Thank you so much Josef Zotter, and Barbara Dolleschal for making this interview happen!
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