The Chocolate Life

Discover Chocolate and Live La Vida Cocoa!

I must share with you one of the most incredible tours of anything I've ever been on, a rare tour through the Guittard Chocolate factory in Burlingame!

Mark Hodgson, Pastry Chef Instructor at City College of San Francisco has been working with me on product development for the last few months. He works with someone who is friends with Gary Guittard. It's always who you know and that allowed Mark 25 spaces for a tour of the factory. Since he knew I used their product he asked if I'd be interested. Well you didn't need to ask me twice. I had heard they didn't give tours often and to see how much work and preparation went into it, I understand why.

To begin, we were asked to take a big sniff of the air which smelled of roasted beans.

Unfortunately no picture-taking was allowed inside "We don't even allow the FDA to take photos" stated our tour group leader, Alvin, Guittard's Safety Manager. So you will just have to use your imagination...

Most of the factory was hot with small spaces of air-conditioned rooms such as the "big panel room" where they control the formulation and the "Mint Room" that holds pallets of mint flavored chocolate. Because chocolate easily absorbs scents, the flavored chocolates must be separated from the rest of the factory. I was almost left deaf by the end of the tour. Lots of big, loud, hot machinery to make that scrumptious little chocolate bar.

We started with the sorting room where pallets of burlap-bagged beans were being poured into an industrial grader. They must separate the beans from other foreign objects like stones, concrete, nails and knobs of beans that had been stuck together during the fermentation process. Next, it was off to the roaster. The roasted beans are removed of their skins by winnowing. Most were on their way to becoming chocolate liquor, about 1:1 cocoa mass to cocoa butter, but some were saved to be sold as cacao nibs. These are the nibs I use to top my Crushed Bittersweet Nib Truffles!

Then on to the grinder where the beans are ground down into tiny particles to create a smooth texture. Although the factory was very clean there was evidence of Oompa-Loompas at work. You can't go to a chocolate factory without thinking "Oompa-Loompa". We had been warned about the slippery cocoa butter floors so I wasn't surprised when I noticed the tourists in front of me taking tiny steps as we walked through the pressing machines extracting the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder.

One of the highlights was climbing up to the top of the conching machine and taking a deep breathe. A slightly acidy burn cut through my sinuses, but the essence of the roasted bean was there. I thought of the history and origin of conching by Rudolphe Lindt...

We did a taste test with coverture. Do you know how you tell if your tasting coverture vs. chocolate? Before this test it was an indescribable yuckiness but now I have the vocabulary, sticky (from the replacement of cocoa butter with oil) and a lack of depth of chocolatey flavor. All in all, I think the world would be just fine without coating chocolate.

Tempering: Amazing to see 10 pound bars being made! We got to see these large bars being poured, slowly passed through refrigeration and gently turned out and boxed to be aged in their case.

At the end of the tour Alvin scored us each a 2oz, Sur del Lago 65% bittersweet chocolate bar as they were being wrapped and boxed up. Then he asked us if we had any last questions and started to escort us out of the building. But right next to the door was a stack of big white cardboard Guittard boxes and we were astounded when Alvin announced that we each got to take one home.

A smart move for the company as they recognized that the culinary students were future buyers of their products.

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Tags: Chocolate, Guittard


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Comment by Malena Lopez-Maggi on May 1, 2009 at 7:17pm
Lucky you! I would love to go on that tour. I'm looking forward to the Commonwealth panel...still have no idea what we'll be talking about though.
Comment by Christine Doerr on April 10, 2009 at 8:45pm
Man, I wish I had asked to taste the liquor!

I have to admit, I kept smelling the sleeve of my sweater while driving home. It smelled like the factor, permeated with chocolate. A few days later I ran into one of the students who was also on the tour. Without prompting, he told me he did the same thing!
Comment by Clay Gordon on April 9, 2009 at 1:16am
Just FYI, everyone, the spelling of Mark's last name is "Spini" (and pronounced spin'-ee, not spine'-ee). Also founder Guittard's first name is spelled Etienne.

I had a Guittard factory tour in Feb '08 and Felchlin in July 08. There are fascinating samenesses and differences. But I have to agree with Bill, tasting finished liquor fresh and warm (as long as its good - I've had some really bad liquor from CCN51 beans during a Tulicorp factory tour in 05) is really quite marvelous. One of the great reasons to get into making small batches at home.
Comment by Bill Tice on April 8, 2009 at 4:44pm
I met Gary Guittard and Mark Spiney (Director of Sales. His Great Great Grand Father started Guittard with Etian Guittard) at the Fancy Food show in NY. When I was in Burlingame Mark gave my wife and I a personal tour. The highlight for me was tasting the warm chocolate liquor as it dripped off the plates of the grinder. Since my favorite chocolate is the darkest and highest content I can find, the liquor was like dying and going to Chocolate Heaven. It had such a distince nutty flavor. You mentioned the smell. I stayed at a hotel on the bay a couple blocks east of Guittard and you can even smell it there, sometimes even driving buy on Hwy 101 you get a whiff of the wonderful sent. Glad you got the chance. Did you notice the huge train tanker cars outside the factory on the west side? They pump them full of cocoa liquor or molten chocolate and ship it up to South SF to Sees candy. Sees buys 10s of 1000s of pounds of Guittard Chocolate a year.

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