Monday, December 22, 2014

Chocolate Made in Texas

Most of my family and friends love chocolate. Suzanne adores it! A couple of our favorite stories are about chocolatiers. So when Suzanne and I found out that a local Texas business in our area made craft chocolate from cocoa beans, we had to check them out. Setting up a visit at the Tejas Chocolate Craftory was quite the treat!

On the morning of our visit, we were as giddy as children waiting to open gifts on Christmas morning. By the afternoon, we were standing out in front of the Tejas Chocolate Craftory just outside of Tomball. As we entered, we were welcomed with a big smile and pleasantries from co-owner Michelle. Soon the other co-owner, Scott came out of the back and welcomed us, too!

We had many questions to ask. Having done some internet research on how chocolate is made from cocoa beans, I was curious to discover why these Texans would take on the challenge of such a complicated and delicate process. With Michelle busy working on orders, Scott took over the reins and answered our questions. His answer as to why he and Michelle decided to enter the chocolate business was simple. No one in Texas was making chocolate from beans and he wanted to be the first commercial business to do so! When asked about how chocolate is made, he said it would be easier to show us the process. So, on to our tour we went.

First, Scott scours the world for the best cacao beans he can purchase. These raw beans are sorted by hand to eliminate any damaged or poor looking beans. Once sorted, they are fire roasted in Scott’s custom-made roasting grill. When the beans reach their perfection of roasting, Scott says you can smell the aroma of chocolate brownies. That means it’s time to pull them out of the grill.  Scott uses his expertise to determine the perfect roasting time for each batch of cacao beans he roasts.

The next step is separating the shells from the fruit or nibs, as they are called.  Scott built his own system for the winnowing process. The beans are run through a grinder, which cracks the outer shells, and then the nibs are separated from the shells by using a stream of air blowing across the nibs and shells. The lighter shell pieces are sucked away by a vacuum stream of air, while the heavier nibs fall down into a container.

Now the roasted nibs are ready to be finely ground, refined and conched into a liquid chocolate. This process takes up to 60 hours, depending on the origin of the cocoa beans. The chocolate is then cooled and made into large cake pan sized pieces. This raw chocolate is then left to age for weeks to allow flavors to develop. Scott told us that chocolate taste better the more it is allowed to age. Try telling Suzanne to not eat the chocolate for six more weeks!

After aging, the chocolate is melted, tempered and molded. Scott’s brother, Greg, worked the tempering machine and showed us the process of making the final product. I think he has the best job of the bunch. The chocolate smelled wonderful! After cooling, the chocolate is removed from the molds and packaged.

My chocolate expert, Suzanne, has eaten chocolate from the best of Belgium, France and Switzerland. She ranks our new-found Texas chocolate right up there with the best. We are excited to have another new industry in Texas.  As we have found with Texas wineries, olive ranches and distilleries, Texans may not be the first to make something, but before long we become one of the best! So if you like great chocolate, look up our new friend, Tejas Chocolate. You can find them online, at the Tomball Farmers Market, or soon you will be able to visit their new restaurant and chocolate shop in Tomball.

With visions of chocolate swirling in our heads and Christmas around the corner, Suzanne and I wish all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year as we head into 2015 and see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Join in our fight against breast cancer.  Visit Suzanne's new blog "My Equations for Life" as she reflects on life B.C. (before cancer) and A.D. (after diagnosis) and help support new early cancer detection research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center with our Go Fund Me project below.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Haak Vineyard & Winery

Some people go to France or Italy to see grapes sparkling in the warm morning dew, waiting for the sun to kiss them with sweetness and goodness. Some folks travel to the valleys of California to mingle with the people who grow the nectar of the gods. Some people make the trek to the Texas Hill Country to view the beauty of grapes on rolling hills nurtured by sparkling spring fed waters and sip the sweet juice of Texas heaven. But you can find all that goodness and sweet nectar of home grown grapes right in our backyard in the small town of Santa Fe, Texas just south of Houston.

Here, Raymond Haak, a former chemical engineer, has been crafting great wines at his Italian inspired winery for the past 14 years. Check out the hospitality room and store. Suzanne and I really enjoy browsing the store area and exploring all they have to offer. Taste the many and varied wines they produce to find your favorite. You can also find lots of wine accessories and wines you can purchase for Christmas or holiday gifts. If nothing else, give a gift to yourself to celebrate the holidays!

The star of the Haak vineyard are the delightfully delicious Blanc du Bois grapes. One can see the grapes growing during the late spring to early summer months. If you are interested in getting cuttings to grow your own grapes, they usually have a “trimming day” in late January or early February where you can learn about taking care of grapes and help trim the vines. They will explain how to take the cuttings and plant in your backyard to start your own mini-vineyard!

After a laborious wine tasting, Suzanne and I finally agreed on which wine we wanted to purchase. With our Christmas gifts in hand, we thanked them for an informative and delightful experience and headed out to see more of Texas Thru My Back Door!

Join in our fight against breast cancer.  Visit Suzanne's new blog "My Equations for Life" as she reflects on life B.C. (before cancer) and A.D. (after diagnosis) and help support new early cancer detection research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center with our Go Fund Me project below.