I own a small chocolate company which has been slowly growing over the last 4 years. I mainly sell wholesale to small gourmet shops, and am really looking to expand out of my city and to a more national basis. With that in mind, I really need for this business to become profitable. My sales doubled in 2010 and I did see a profit (for the first time) but I have yet to pay myself (or any employees). In other words, I need to start making money.
My biggest selling item are my truffles- they make up about 25% of my total sales. I have been doing everything by hand- making the ganache (though I have started using a food processor to help with this), scooping (#100 ice cream type scoop), rolling, dipping, everything. I can personally scoop, roll & dip about 200 truffles/hour. However, I have problems with consistency of size, as well as shelf life (I typically get a very thing shell). I am considering using premade shells, but I have always been opposed to them in the past. They seem like a copout to me, a shortcut, etc.
I got some samples from my local distributor (who does sell the Valrhona shells, though these were not V's) and tried it with one ganache, and I don't really notice a difference. Obviously if the shells made a difference in taste or texture, I wouldn't consider them.
So my question is, does using premade shells make me a bad person? :) I've never been one to take the easy way out just to make a buck, but to be honest, if I don't start making money soon, I won't be making chocolates at all for much longer!
Truffle shells are standard in the industry and are designed thin so you dont really notice them, and they should not be impacting flavor, but more used as a tool for your production. Although I would not suggest using bad chocolate truffle shells, I think spending the money on expensive truffle shells is not worth it, again as you likely will not taste the impact of the truffle shell in the finished product.
Qzina sells a truffle shell made in Germany, with Callebaut Chocolate, made by Keller. We stock these in Chicago, well priced, that should increase your profit vs more expensive truffle shells. Keller is probably the biggest producer in the world of truffle shells, top quality. They also have a number of shells in unique shapes by special order. We import direct from Keller in full containers and are very competitively priced.
Also Truffle shells allow you to manufacture very soft fillings, which is not possible without them. We also can get you liquor shells, smaller hole in the top, designed for liquid filling. There are also filling machines, and plates available for truffle shell trays that dramatically speed up your production, and make covering or topping the shells easy, consistent, and fast.
IF your production gets very high in volume, you should then consider the only machine that can truly deposit thin shell one shot, truffle shell and filling in one shot, the Avema Depositor. We have many customers who for example, have the round truffle shell molds, and fill the chocolate and filling into the round ball shape, in one shot, still maintaining a thin shell and liquid filling. That machine however is around 100K. But just for future reference.
For anyone interested in learning a tiny bit more about one-shot, try this page on the Awema web site.
Does anyone know who sells filling and sealing trays that match the Keller made truffles? I've read that there is variation in truffle hole openings and trays have to be matched to truffle shells.
Richard Foley mentioned that Qzina was selling the Keller shells. I would start there. Qzina also has operations in Canada if I recall correctly.
The person at Qzina I would start with is Tamara Fusick. Great service. Her contact information is below:
Gourmet Account Manager
Calgary & Southern Alberta
Qzina Specialty Foods, Inc
CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF INSPIRATION
FOR CHOCOLATE, DESSERT AND PASTRY PROFESSIONALS.
Toll Free: 800-563-4315
Have you thought about Chocoflex by Laghi, from Pavoni.it? Is an alternative to the already made shells, it gives you consistency in weight and shape.
I have used the shells for long time, nothing wrong or bad about that.
but if you wish to do everything from scratch, you could either trying piping, let dry and then hand roll (you could easily pipe about 200/300 every 15 min.) but you may have problem with size consistency. I decided to switch to Pavoflex mainly because the cost of shells is too high where i live.
Have you ever walked into a chocolate shop and seen perfectly round (except for a flat bottom) truffles? They were done either using a one-shot machine or by filling shells.
You identified the key issue for you - if there was any negative impact on taste or texture you would not use them. As there is not, then why not? A long time ago I learned that it was important to understand what I was "willing to fall on my sword" for when it came to production. Yeah, I know I could make my own puff pastry, but, there are so many good ones that are frozen, by using those I could concentrate on what really set my work apart and allowed me to increase production (or reduce the number of hours I spent in the kitchen).
One of the most famous chocolate companies in Chicago (whose name also starts with a V and is not Valrhona though the name is French) used shells from the very beginning - although they may be doing them on one-shot machines now for production and shelf-life reasons.
The only problem that I see is representing them as one thing (100% hand-made) if they are not.
BTW - just because you start using shells doesn't mean there is no longer room for a 100% hand-made product - a real truffe nature au chocolat.
Since your main concern is consistency in size, I'd suggest you buy a guitar. Different arms will produce different size squares, and from that point you only need to roll them into truffles. The end result will be size uniformity, you'll save yourself the cost of having to always purchase premade shells, and then in good conscience you can continue to say your truffles are handmade.
Premade truffle shells are the way to go, as you need to make extremely high volumes to justify doing it yourself.
And with truffles, the sweet, creamy center is what counts the most! :)