Growing great chocolate: a trip to Callebaut HQ

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2014
Chocolate experts Callebaut recently invited journalists to their Belgium headquarters to reveal the latest results of their ‘Growing Great Chocolate Programme’. The Staff Canteen sent editor Lee to bring back chocolates and report on the results, but mostly to bring back chocolates… Isabelle, our guide, turns to us with her customary look of intense enthusiasm and says: “This production line is just for our kosher chocolate. We have a rabbi who comes in to check it at random.” She turns and hurries off to the next part of the factory and does a little skip – literally – of happiness, leaving me to assimilate this bamboozling fact as well as wondering how someone who must have given this tour hundreds of times can still be so keen. I guess that’s the effect of working in a chocolate factory. Walking around Callebaut’s chocolate headquarters in Wieze, Belgium you are assailed by these kind of facts – albeit not all so weird – as much as you are by the all-pervading pleasant scent of cocoa in its varying stages from bean to chocolate. Isabelle is full of them (facts that is, though I daresay she’s full of chocolate as well by her blissed out demeanour) – 900 tonnes of different chocolate recipes are produced in the factory every day, that’s 320,000 tonnes a year. There are 1,024 staff taking care of 25 production lines (including the rabbi-checked kosher line). The chocolate is kept at 45 degrees to prevent crystallisation, even during transit in the 13 specially heated trucks which take two and a half hours to fill with liquid chocolate and do 35 deliveries a day to various Callebaut and Barry Callebaut customers all across the continent. In the process of creation the cocoa is roasted, conched, sieved to a fineness of 20 microns (the distance between two taste buds) and even passed through underground magnets to sift out any tiny pieces of metal. By the time we are ushered to the door for the next part of our day, my head is reeling with numbers and processes and my stomach crying out for something – anything – chocolatey to end the olfactory torture. Isabelle leaves us with a slightly disappointed comment about not having the time to show us the roasting area. This woman who spends her days doing the same tour is genuinely disappointed that it can’t go on longer. She soon recovers, however, and skips off down the corridor. I gaze after her stupefied by her cheerfulness. I’ll have some of the chocolate she’s on please. Mind you Callebaut seems to have quite a lot to skip around about at the moment. Today it has released the latest news on its ‘Growing Great Chocolate’ programme, an initiative to train cocoa farmers in sustainable methods that also improve yields. The results are good with 40,000 farmers trained in 2013, an increase of 33% on the year before. The Growing Great Chocolate programme began on 1st May 2012 with the decision to switch its entire Finest Belgian Chocolate range to sustainable cocoa. The objective is to double the yield per hectare of sustainably sourced cocoa by 2018. The scheme intends to do this by training farmers with new techniques and methods but is also offering training in literacy, life skills and vocational training. In association with its Cocoa Horizons initiative, the Growing Great Chocolate programme also offers access to basic health care services and water, distributing mosquito nets, sponsoring vaccinations and funding boreholes. So far the two schemes have succeeded in setting up 575 ‘Farmer field Schools’ a national ‘Cocoa Centre of Excellence’ and five regional ‘Showcase Farms’ as well as building 24 primary school classrooms housing 1,200 students in eight schools, drilling eight boreholes and erecting four water towers. It has also launched a ‘Micro Health Insurance’ programme targeting 250,000 people. It was to hear this news that myself and a group of journalists had been invited to Callebaut’s Belgium HQ where we were also treated to the factory tour. We also got to take a look at the new Chocolate Academy which is currently under construction. After all this we were whisked off to Callebaut ambassador, Lieven Lootens’ nearby restaurant, 't Aards Paradijs where we would learn to pair chocolate varieties with fresh herbs. ‘t Aards Paradijs (despite being pronounced ‘tarts paradise’) means ‘earthly paradise’ in Dutch and it lives up to its title. Constructed almost entirely from wood and surrounded by extensive herb and vegetable gardens, it looks like something from a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm, but one with a happy ending that involved everyone sitting down to a nice eight-course tasting menu with matching wines. Lieven is well-known in Belgium for his multi-sensory approach to dining, so there was no better person to school us in the art of pairing chocolate with fresh herbs. The herbs came straight from the garden – naturally – and included basil, fennel leaves, rosemary and mint along with two kinds of Callebaut chocolate. We took a callet of the chocolate and let it dissolve on our tongues before smelling the various herbs to see which ones created interesting combinations of flavour and aroma. The first chocolate went well with the basil but was also, somewhat surprisingly, well matched to the aniseed notes of the fennel leaves. The bitter, more acidic tones of the second chocolate contrasted interestingly with the rosemary. But enough of our amateur posturings, it was time for Lieven to show us how it was really done, knocking up a dessert he’d created only the day before matching the zingy freshness of lemon verbena with a warm mousse made from Callebaut CW2NV and accompanied by fresh in-season strawberries and rhubarb. It was a wonderful mix of contrasting temperatures, textures and tastes and sang of spring almost as exuberantly as the blooming flowers in the sunshine of the herb garden outside.         After that the fairy tale was over and I was whisked off to the airport and back to cloudy England. I still had the smell of chocolate in my nostrils though and the memory of the slightly unnerving happiness of Isabelle. I never did get to find out what chocolate she was on…

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2014

Growing great chocolate: a trip to Callebaut HQ