I'm considering adding a pre-grinder to my set up (probably a nut butter type), but I'm wondering if any one out there already using one can tell me what particle size you get after a single pass through? Is it the same particle size you'd get running peanuts through it?
I don't know the particle size, but I'd imagine it's similar to what you'd get running peanuts through it. It's kind of a thick, chunky paste. To get an idea of the consistency, see this video from Dandelion Chocolate:
Depends a great deal on the specifics - what type of pre grinder? how's it configured? what are you running through it (EXACT %'s), your % fat in your paste, how big your particles are to begin with (ie 1000 um sugar will result in a very different end product than if you start with 500 um sugar).
Thanks Ben and Sebastian for your replies. Ben, thanks for posting the video link, I'd seen it before and it does look like peanut butter, but I'd like to know if chunks come through, or if the paste is a uniform particle size.
Sebastian--I'd be running just nibs through the pre-grinder prior to loading them in a Cocoatown refiner. My budget pretty much limits me to buying an Olde Tyme nut butter grinder, like the one in the video Ben posted. With the Cocoatown, no matter how much scraping I do, there always seems to be a few nibs that don't get refined and have to be strained out prior to molding. A pre-grinder, so long as no chunks come through, would eliminate the straining step. Knowing the particle size would help me determine how much refining time I'd save with pre-grinding.
Grinding your nibs prior to putting them into the cocoatown mill, will not eliminate the need to strain your chocolate. It is an imperfect device. I use conche/refiners specifically designed for making chocolate, and we ALWAYS find nibs when we drain it out. The only time you wouldn't need to strain your chocolate would be if you are using a roll refiner for your sugar and cocoa beans prior to putting them into your machine.
A good commercial sieve way cheaper and a heck of a lot less messy than another machine.
For very small scale, there is no benefit/need to pre-milling your nibs and sugar.
Are you sure there's NO benefit? I my experience, it's a lot easier and faster to fill a CocoaTown with liquor than it is using nib. Also, because of the pre-grind step, batches tend to need to spend less time in the CocoaTown to get to the desired PSD. For the same reasons, I find that pre-grinding the sugar also reduces the amount of time needed in the CocoaTown.
For very small batch production it's one of the things that a Champion is good for, and I also refine up the whole vanilla bean in the sugar in the food processor.
Now - it's important to note that these pre-grind steps, especially when it comes to sugar, can have an effect on the final taste of the chocolate. So it's important to pay attention so you know what's going on.
And I completely agree, Brad -- sieves are very cheap and I would recommend that they be used for all production, no matter what type of machinery is being used, and even if pre-grinding is used. YOU NEVER KNOW what might be in the chocolate. A piece of metal could flake off. A sieve will catch it (especially if it is magnetized).
I have a champion juicer. I had it before I started making chocolate, and used it all the time. I think it cost me something like $350 CDN. When I first started "pre-grinding" my nibs, the burs were sharp. Within just a few uses, the burs were dull and more or less useless for anything.
I started heating the nibs, cocoa butter, and even the bowl and wheels of my santha knock-off, and never looked back. Regardless of whether I preground stuff or not, it was still taking the same amount of time to drive off the volatiles. I wish I would have known sooner. It would have saved me yet one more damaged piece of kitchen equipment thanks to those rock hard cocoa nibs!
Most of the artisans I communicate regularly with on another forum have also stopped using the juicer (including the forum owner himself), as there is no real benefit found from it - just cost.
Now having said that, if you are simply looking at particle reduction, well.... I guess it could save time. However in my opinion that takes a backseat to flavour development, and to be candid, happens anyway when developing a good flavour.
I think I read on chocolate alchemy that the champion's cutter wheel needs to be replaced every 250-300 lbs of beans. It's not impervious to damage, it's just plastic and steel.
Sorry for the late response mike - have been tied up. There are pros/cons to everything - it depends on what your goal is. Pregrinding your nibs can be very beneficial in that it can:
1) increase your throughput via reducing the duration spent in later steps
2) may decrease your moisture (liquor has moisture), thereby reducing your conch times / viscosity
3) may result in finer finished chocolate
The cons may include:
1) additional equipment and process steps
as noted initially, these things are VERY dependent upon your setup and your goals. Do you need it? No. Can it be beneficial? Certainly. Will it help you achieve your goals? That depends on what your goals are 8-) Don't you hate 'it depends' answers - but the reality is - it depends. Given your budget constraints, i'm going to assume it's a VERY small operation, and as such i'd probably suggest you just skip a pre grind step and live with the extra time spent in a rotary mill. Perhaps a quick run through food processor or blender to get the nibs smaller by a bit, but you may not find value in investing in another piece of equipment at this stage of your work.
I do echo the sentiment that post milling screening is important - regardless of the type of quantity of mills you have.
Thanks for all the replies. I guess I can't get around straining, but I am still interested in the time savings I'd get with the pregrinder + cocoatown set up. I'm making around 100 lbs a week, and that will go up if I can cut down the processing time.
Brad--I'm glad you chimed in because your set up is part of what got me thinking about alternative refining/grinding methods. Can you clarify though---with your refiners, how do chunks make it through? Or is there so much left inside after running a batch through, you need to scrape out the insides where there are nibs in various degrees of refinement? I picture these refiners and pregrinders as similar to my espresso grinder (a commercial burr grinder), where anything that doesn't fit through the set gap size doesn't come out the other end.
My refiners are like MacIntyre's - a horizontal drum with blades that rotate and scrape the inside of the drum.
For the most part, all of the nibs are ground, however there is a 4 inch guillotine spout at the bottom where nibs get trapped during refining. When my staff open the spout to drain the chocolate, the nibs that got trapped in there when they were first poured into the machine are washed out. This can be mitigated by my staff stopping the machine and pouring out a small amount of chocolate into a bucket and dumping it back in to the top. However sometimes they don't have the time. In one recent case, a small stone even made it through, so you can see how important it can be to strain it.
With the cocoa-town grinders, nibs and sugar stick to the insides of the wheels, the support structure for the wheels, and so forth, and never get ground. Then when the machine is emptied and scraped out, they get cleaned out and into the chocolate.
Hope that helps.
Ok, thanks for clarifying. The design of the Cocoatown grinders are what's driving me to look at pre-grinders to begin with.
It looks like the peanut butter machines are single pass types, more similar to an espresso grinder, so there shouldn't be any large particles in the output. I think I need to go buy some grind-my-own peanut butter and see what comes out.