Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate. This time we find out Shawn’s thoughts on how chocolate flavors change over time, Chocolate University, what chocolate means to him and more!
Need to catch up? Read Part 1 here:
And now for Part 2!
Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate
Victoria Cooksey: How does pressing your own cocoa butter from the same beans used to make your chocolate affect the flavor versus buying/using other cocoa butter?
Shawn Askinosie: The way this works in FDA packaging land, labeling land, is that, let’s say we have a 70% chocolate. Well, it’s 70% cocoa mass, and in our case it’s 30% sugar. The FDA doesn’t require the separation of the numbers between cocoa butter, or they don’t require a statement of the percent of cocoa butter as it relates to cocoa mass, they just say if there’s cocoa butter, then to list that in the ingredients; and so we often don’t know how much cocoa butter is in addition. Now let’s say we have, not just my chocolate bar, but anybody’s; and if there is cocoa butter added then it will absolutely impact the flavor if you’ve got cocoa beans and sugar which is added to enhance the mouth-feel of the chocolate and give it a smoother profile. Well it would be like saying the salad dressing that I’m putting on my wonderful salad of fresh produce that I bought at the farmer’s market down the street wouldn’t impact the flavor of the salad; well of course it would. It’s an ingredient in the salad. I mean, think about it. If we’re taking liquor from those same beans we just roasted that we are going to make that same chocolate with, now we’re making cocoa butter with that liquor; it’s going to have flavor components of that crop of beans, so it can’t not impact the flavor, so it’s important to us. We’ve always done it.
V.C.: After chocolate has gone through all the various processes from growing, to being turned into chocolate, tempered and then made into bar form, do you find that the flavors continue to change in the actual finished bar over the course of the next few months? Say 3 months, 6 months, and so on.
S.A.: Heck yes, absolutely. You bet. I’ve tasted our chocolate that’s five years, six years out, it’s still good if it’s been cared for and not put in a window; somewhere where there’s a lot of heat. There’s like a continuum of time as time relates to the stability of the cocoa butter crystals in the chocolate bar. What happens is, there’s a time, lets say, there would be the greatest stabilization of those crystals where it’s at the ninety-day mark. A bar at twenty or thirty days, maybe the cocoa butter crystals are not completely stable at that point; it’s not a defect, it’s not bad, I’m just saying the mouth-feel is going to change of course. Now at one hundred and eighty days out the bar is going to be more stable than it was a ten days out in terms of the movement of the cocoa butter crystals, the molecules; so at let’s say a year out, or even two years out, then the chocolate bar (not just ours but others that are similarly made in terms of their ingredients), it may be a little bit brittle, potentially, at first at two or three years out but will still have a great flavor. The flavor won’t change as much, let’s say over the first year, as the texture or mouth-feel might change depending again on how it’s been treated or stored, I should say. So I think there’s a greater likelihood of mouth feel or texture movement. Again, if it’s stored properly there will be some flavor, I call it rounding, so maybe some notes in the flavor profile you noticed, let’s say thirty days out, might not be as pronounced at nine months out or a year out. They’re still there and they’re noticeable but they might be smoothed over, maybe sort of rounded and not as pronounced. That’s what I think.
V.C.: Do you think chocolate will go the way of wine, where wine is sometimes aged for years, or do you think the chocolate texture change is too much, or that it would have to be stored so incredibly well to even get to that point?
S.A.: I think there are ways aged chocolate could certainly produce some interesting flavor notes. It’s not something we’re currently experimenting with directly in that way we are doing some things, but not quite like you described aged chocolate. I think it’s possible although I don’t think that we’ll see that, and again, I may not be the most expert person to ask this, but I don’t really see flavor complexity developing over a long period of time. If we just put the chocolate bar in a cool, dark environment and just let is sit there I don’t really see flavor complexity developing without other kinds of intervention, whatever that may be.
V.C.: How has craft chocolate changed over the past 10 years? Where do you see it going, or where do you think it needs to go?
S.A.: I’m not exactly sure. A part of this has to do with my focus on us and what we’re doing and what we’re making, where we are going and who we’re buying from. So I’m not sure that I’m the best person to pontificate about the movement, but I don’t see it slowing down. I don’t see that at all. I hope that people will be mindful of their ingredients and mindful of the farmers who are responsible for growing these crops and that they’ll be careful about their relationships with them. I hope for transparency and I do believe our industry is certainly part of that overall movement of transparency and appreciation for the growers, and people who make these raw ingredients for us to use in our products. I think all food is moving that direction, and I don’t see chocolate somehow separating from that. I think we will just continue to see a lot of growth in this area, and a lot of interest. I believe the US craft chocolate movement is dominate in the world. When I started, it was completely dominated by the Europeans. Totally. That’s not happening now at all, so the brands I used to see from Italy and France that were sort of my hero brands are definitely ceding shelf space to American craft chocolate makers. I think that’s cool. I’m proud of America for that.
V.C.: Can you tell me a little bit about the purpose of Chocolate University?
S.A.: Chocolate University is something that started when we started the company over ten years ago. Our factory is located in part of our community in the midst of some poverty. The kind of genesis of Chocolate University was to engage the kids in our neighborhood elementary school in what we do. Many of those kids were homeless when we started, living in a nearby shelter. That was the idea; let’s engage the kids in the fourth and fifth grades throughout the entire school year, back and forth; them coming to the factory, us going to their school. Teaching them that small business can be a solution and that there’s a world beyond Springfield, Missouri. We’ve been doing that for ten years at that school, and at the nearby middle school and the high school program, and as of two years ago we started summer school.
We only have sixteen people in the whole company, including me, that are full time, so we are a small company, but we want people to have an opportunity to have an impact if they want. The high school program is a very unique program. It’s very competitive to get in it. There’s only thirteen or fourteen spots; for last year there was eighty applicants. Over half of them are full scholarships. Eight of the fourteen last time, we raised the money for, we paid for. It’s $4,000 a kid. They spend a week on a nearby university campus in the dorms learning about how to make chocolate, how to grade cocoa beans; they learn about our business model, they study our financials, they learn a little about Tanzanian language, culture, history; they go home and pack for a day, and meet me at the airport for Tanzania. That’s why it cost $4,000 a kid. It’s a transformative experience for them. They really have a very unique opportunity to experience this in a way that no one else would ever have because I’ve been working with these farmers for so long that when I bring students they are immediately accepted as part of the family, if you will. It’s just a unique experience for the students to get to really see, and listen, and interact with all of the things I mentioned to you before, about what’s so great; this village mentality, this village life (See Part 1). That’s what Chocolate University is for.
And then we have a school lunch program where now we’re funding school lunch in the Philippines for almost 1,000 kids a day. Last year it was 2,000 kids a day, and these programs are now sustainable and on their own. Just now we are passing a million meal mark where we’ve funded school lunches in these three schools up to a million meals. All without any donations, all self sustainable, by selling these products that the PTA of that school makes and then send cash back. Of course we monitor weight, height, school attendance, test scores, stuff like that. So that’s a big program for us too.
V.C.: At the end of the day what does chocolate mean to you?
S.A.: It means to me the opportunity and chance for me, and hopefully others that I work with, this chance to have life-fulfilling moments in our day that are inseparable from the chocolate that we make and eat. That’s what it means to me.
Thank you so much Shawn Askinosie for this interview! A special thank you to Lawren Askinosie for setting up this interview. Thank you to everyone that takes the time to read my interviews and craft chocolate reviews!!!
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