First of all, I would like to thank Clay for this wonderful website. It is a great source of invaluable information for chocolate lovers.
I am located in Toronto, Canada, and have been looking at different options to store finished chocolate truffles and pralines, for a small scale operation. It is not easy to find climatized chocolate cabinets, and if I find them, they are very expensive.
I think one of the options would be a wine cooler. According to Callebaut, the ideal temperature for storing finished products is between 12C and 20C, and the maximum relative humidity should be no more 70%. Here is the excerpt from Callebaut:
Chocolate must be protected against humidity. As a general principle, the maximum relative humidity in the warehouse should be 70%. Storage of chocolate products on floors or against walls should be strictly prohibited because this greatly increases the risk of absortion of humidity.'
Based on this, wine coolers manage the ideal chocolate storage temperature range, and their humidity is around 70%, making them an acceptable storage option.
Has anybody used or tried a wine cooler to store finished chocolate truffles and pralines?
If humidity is too high, how could be reduced? Maybe loading a try with rice or salt into the wine cooler?
Thanks for your feedback.
I understand completely the question about reasonable risk. What I do know is that many people make decisions based on the price of an item and not the TCO (total cost of operation) of an item.
For example, the smallest Irinox cabinet has a list price of over US$11,000 the last time I looked and is worth every penny. (I've sold two TP-20s to customers who swear by them - one of them works in an open market and could not be in business without hers.) The cabinets are purpose-designed to crystallize chocolate.
The units hold 20 full-size pans and will keep the internal temp and humidity to within .5C even with the door open for a minute or longer.
What this translates to is consistent throughput and quality. If you put items on trays in a speed rack in the ambient environment of the kitchen (or in a wine cooler), crystallization times will be uneven, can be fairly long, and there is the risk of humidity in the room damaging work. In the Irinox, crystallization is consistent - quality and timing. While expensive, if you could triple production (or more) just by using a proper cabinet - making no other changes - then the price tag could actually be very affordable ... if you focus on total cost of operation, not price.
There two other company making units like the Irinox, both Italian. One is Koma and they are more expensive than Irinox. The other is the company I referred to above, Desmon. At the moment they do not have a North American sales agent. The Desmon equivalent of the Irinox TP-20 costs 60% less.
I strongly agree with you in regards to what it matters is the consistent throughput and quality. In the mid and long term, the Irinox cabinets will allow to increase productivity by maximizing throughput and minimizing waste, at the end becoming affordable and even cheaper than other short term budget solutions.
Desmon seems to be a good alternative to Irinox. How Desmon's quality compares to Irinox? 60% less is a big difference. Is Desmon's quality not as good as Irinox?
Once again, thanks a lot.
The major difference is that Irinox has invested a great deal of money in sophisticated electronics that go into every unit they sell - you can't buy any units without the electronics.
Desmon has chosen to go a much simpler route in the controls it builds in to its cabinets. This accounts for most of the difference in price.
In some respects, the Desmon cabinets are actually better built ... in their 20-pan lowboy cabinet, the door hinges are much sturdier for example.
Last year I was introduced to refrigeration produces from an Italian company, Desmon. I have been trying to work a deal with their US distributor and just got off the phone to discover that they are no longer the US distributor.
That said, they have about 70 pieces of equipment in inventory they are looking to sell at deep discounts. All of the humidity-controlled units went first and there are none left. However, the Avive panels I mentioned would address this issue without any problems in any of the units. Some are under-counter lowboys with marble tops, others are one and two door display cases.
I am expecting pricing information and brochures in the next few days and I will post in Classifieds. The company also makes humidity-controlled walk-ins just for chocolate and I will be getting more information on those as well.
If you're looking for a simple STORAGE option (i.e., you're not going to be using this for crystallization), the absolute least expensive option is to buy an inexpensive chest freezer and use an external thermostat like this one to control the temp between 0C (32F) and 27C (~80F). You can easily get 7 cu ft of storage and the thermostat for under $300 (not including tax/shipping).
This is a no-frills solution (i.e., there are no shelves), but it works and it has the advantage that the entire inside of the chest is usable for storage.
If humidity is an issue, you can use the PolarFresh or Avive panels.
Some people mistakenly thing that chocolate "dries out" when it cools. What is actually happening is that the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms crystals as it cools. Cocoa butter can crystallize in a couple of different shapes (or forms), and only one form gives the nice snap and sheen.
We have actually been talking two different things here - a storage solution, and a solution for crystallizing chocolate. Most refrigerators are set in the upper 30s F making them too cold for chocolate work - as you say, they shock the chocolates, which may not be the best thing.
A chocolate crystallization cabinet is set lower than a storage cabinet and its job is remove the heat given up by the chocolate as it cools and crystallizes - evenly and efficiently. Once crystallized properly the chocolate can be moved to longer-term storage, at a slightly higher or much lower, temperature.
I guess the question really is how long are you needing to store your chocolates? We store chocolates in wine coolers for a max of about a week, restocking our store inventory from them (which are kept in confectionary showcases) If I overproduce I freeze chocolate to stop the shelf life clock as they can easily be defrosted in a few days. We have never had any problems with either solution. I use wine coolers in the $500 range quite successfully.We are constantly producing and turning over the inventory, I don't think you want it in storage too long with freezing.
I don't have any connection with Thermalrite and from a quick glance at their web site all they are selling are the Desmon pizza prep tables so I am not sure there is a fit there.
Irinox is gold standard - very expensive, but they do the job very well. They are expensive like a cooling tunnel is expensive but the footprint is a lot smaller. The Desmon products are less expensive but not all of them have humidity control, which is important in most parts of the country for at least some of the year.
In the end it all comes down to airflow, cooling load, and "recovery time." Airflow is about the ability to remove what's called the latent heat of crystallization, the heat that comes off the chocolate as it cools. You want the chocolate in the mold to cool consistently and evenly to ensure proper crystal formation and to reduce the likelihood of de-molding problems.
Cooling load is a measure of the amount of heat that can be removed. Think of an air conditioner and a room. A small AC unit might be able to cool the room but it might take a long time. Put four or five people in the room (or a window) and it might not be able to keep up. So, you need a cooling unit that is sized to the amount of heat that will be added to the system (in the form of warm chocolate).
Recovery time is important for cooling units with doors on them. As most doors are hinged and swing open, that action extracts a lot of cool air from the unit that is replaced with warmer air from the room. The question is how long does it take for the unit to return to the set temperature?
There are many different ways to approach cooling and it all depends on throughput and space. If you have the room and you need to move a lot of product, cooling tunnels are very good solutions. Lots of people I know build cabinets or even large rooms. You can use household AC units (split systems are good) and theCoolBot [Note: that's an affiliate link] will enable you take the household AC units below 60F, which is normally their lowest temperature.
There are a couple of ChocolateLife customers who are also building "static cooling tunnels" that I came up with the idea for. These are enclosed wire shelves (e.g., Metro shelving) under positive pressure from a cooling unit. The nice thing about these is that they can buy wheels for the units and move them around as needed.