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Is artisan an overused word? Can a chain as large as Starbucks lay claim to the artisan label when it comes to a Starbucks-labeled chocolate?

What does "artisan" mean to you and what characteristics does a chocolate product have to have in order to be truly artisan?

Tags: artisan, chocolate, starbucks.

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I did not see that anyone mentioned our newest group of proud artisan MAKERS, so I thought I'd give them a place here to describe themselves...it's the new Craft Chocolate Makers of America (www.craftchocolatemakers.org) crew. Check out their description. Hats off to them, I feel there is a great amount of education possible through the CCMA group and the opinions of this one in the future.
There is an article in a recent issue (Vol2#1) of Cocoaroma on this subject.

The author "Stan Cottonwood" (a nom de plume) is quoted as saying "For a true artisan, the craft, the art, is everything. It's not the end result that matters, but rather the process ... the act of creation itself."

I sent an e-mail off because I disagree with this position. I responded in part ...

"I can be a craftsman, which speaks to a level of competency with tools and medium. I can be a master craftsman, which implies a higher level of competency. (One of the dictionary definitions of artisan seems to be synonymous with this understanding.) However, a master craftsman may not have the ability to imagine and create new things. In the case of a woodworker, they might only be able to work from plans drawn by someone else. A master craftsman in chocolate may only be able to execute someone else's recipes. However, the "true" artisan is never content with what has been, and that is where the emphasis on process and the act of creation becomes important. However, the "true artisan" HAS to be wedded to the end result. The "true artisan" (in chocolate) must be a master of his or her craft and be able and committed to manifesting their vision perfectly - and repeatedly.

When is the "true" artisan chocolatier no longer an artisan? Maybe it's when they get tired and lose their inspiration and concern for the art/act of creation. But, would it be possible, if I was a master woodworker to continue to call myself a "master" if all (or significantly all) aspects of the manufacture of a piece were undertaken by computer-controlled machines? What if I created innovative new pieces using pencil sketches and hand tools and it is only after perfecting the piece [of furniture] that it gets turned over to machines? That analogy holds true with chocolate - at what point does the automation of the manufacturing process "disqualify" something as able to be called "artisan?"

Or does it? I think most people who care about this issue think that it does. So I think artisan has to imply not only the act of creation but the manifestation, through mastery of the craft, in physical things and that it is the combination of these two elements that may be separates a "mere" craftsman from the "true artisan.""


In reading this I note that there is no qualification for "quality." Does that matter? Does it have to be "good" to be artisan? Or is the commitment to the art/act of creation and the commitment to realize that vision enough?
To me, it means small quantity batches which would mean hand work, not enrobing tunnels or 500kg tempering vats, the use of fresh cream ("real" cream, like, from cows...) original ganaches, and a short shelf life (2-4 weeks).
You want a real "Artisan Chocolatier" edward?

Then call me. 1-888-899-2022

I make sooooo many things that ONLY sell in my shop that have a 1-2 week shelf life its not even funny.

Seriously, follow my links/name and I will sell you the best artisan style chocolates avaialable in america.

Guarenteed.

jeff
Ummm....
Actually I think I could direct you to my shop and website (albeit in Vancouver) where I make 20-25 varieties of chocolates. All hand work, all with fresh cream ganaches (well, except the Ital. nougat and the caramels...) and yes, all with about a 3 week shelf life.
Short shelf-life? Wow, I've got a slew of truffles with about a one day shelf-life, guess I'm a true artisan or something. ;)
I don't think so, here are my views on shorter shelf life.

The machine used is called a "Stephan" (sp?) which is very basically a robot-coupe with a vacuum machine attached. Oh, and fairly expensive, too, I might add.
Even though the Stephan produces a ganache with excellent texture and mouthfeel, and technically gives you a long shelf life, the flavour of the ganache changes dramatically after 4-5 weeks. This change was explained to me like wine: Raw wine is put into bottles where spoilage is virtually eliminated, and as the wine ages it takes on better and more _mature_ flavours. The ganache, sealed in couverture, -while not prone to spoilage, takes on "different" flavours as it ages, and they are not very agreeable flavours. As well, most ganaches produced with the Stephan use a very high ratio of cream to couveture almost 1-1. While this contributes to optimal texture and mouthfeel, the couveture shell is not aluminum or glass, moisture will escape and the ganache filling will shrink over a two month period.

Large chocolate mnfctrs cannot/will not use a cream based ganache,--no matter what technique or equipment used, as they need a minimum of 6 mnths shelf life for their products. Fondant is the name of the game here, as it can be flavoured any which way (with oils and flavouring compounds) and is very shelf stable. Sodium benzoate, sorbex, and other perseratives as well as complex sugars like trimoline also find their way into the mass produced stuff.

The only way I can get around the whole shelf life thing is to offer "shelf stable" varieties. I offer about 18 cream based ganaches, but the other ones last longer: Nut based chocolates, (hedge-hogs, nut clusters) caramels (sigh... no fire kettle, all by hand!) Italian nougat, and fruit based pectin jellies.
It has been my experience, as well as many others, that the flavour of a fresh cream ganache changes quite a bit over a 2 mth period. The texture does change, dramatically, as it 'shrinks" and "toughens up" due to moisture loss. I usually salt away a few "rejects" from a batch and examine them at 1, 2, 3, and 4 mth intervals.

It is one thing to "adjust" for a flavour that will change--assumed that the item will be consumed , i.e. a fresh cream ganache AFTER the flavour change has taken place--i.e two months later. In this case the flavour of the ganache would be "off" if it were consumed within the first month, as it was designed to be consumed at a later stage. So either you make a ganache that tastes great for the first 4 weeks, or you make a ganache that tastes, uh, not so good for the first 4 weeks, but better after two months; but you can't have the cake and eat it as well.

However, to make chocolate confections intended to be consumed two months later, smacks of mass production (well, at least to me, anyway).

Thoughts?

On a side note, is there a place on the forum to properly introduce myself? I guess I jumped in to a few threads without an intro. I am very glad I stumbled on this site, as there are very few sites devoted only to chocolate.
QUOTE: "On a side note, is there a place on the forum to properly introduce myself? I guess I jumped in to a few threads without an intro. I am very glad I stumbled on this site, as there are very few sites devoted only to chocolate."

I think that the best way to introduce yourself would be to go to your own "My Page" and add an entry under "My Blog".
Thanks, did that.
Edward:

There is an "Allow me To Introduce Myself" forum category, though I think a blog post might be more a more appropriate way to do it as Forum threads are really for subjects that invite a lot of interaction (like this one), where blog posts are really more about expressing viewpoints or perspectives that don't necessarily invite a lot of (or any) responses.
I think the public view "artisan" associated with hand made, small batches and with methods of the past.
But artisans of the past were not traditionalists, they would have been innovating for their time. So it is only normal that modern artisans continue on the path of innovation on flavours, techniques, equipment.
For me the guiding principle of an artisan is that at the end of the day he/she is proud of his/her product.
For me, artisan definitively means being proud of the chocolate products we make.

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