Locally Made: The Chocosol Team
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Locally Made: The Chocosol Team

Handmade chocolate honours time and tradition.

Walking into the Chocosol kitchen at Dufferin and Dupont streets is like stepping back in time. An old-fashioned-style grinder lines one wall, while canvas bags filled with raw cacao beans spill out onto the floor. Bustling around the space is Chocosol’s team of expert chocolate makers, who are busy handcrafting chocolate based on methods that date back hundreds of years.

Founder Michael Sacco got the idea for Chocosol while travelling through southern Mexico. He had brought a solar-powered roaster with him from his graduate school. After an Oaxacan medicine woman showed Sacco how to make traditional chocolate, he decided to bring the knowledge back to Ontario and create a social enterprise that partnered chocolate enthusiasts in Canada with cacao growers in southern Mexico.

Chocosol is built upon a traditional method of chocolate production—one that doesn’t involve computerized machines or genetically altered ingredients. “We like to build everything from the ground up,” says wholesale manager Mathieu McFadden. “Our stone grinders are spin-offs from Oaxacan-style grinders; we just make them so that they are safe by Canadian standards. They are tools, but they are not machines, the way you’d find machines in chocolate factories. What happens here is something very old, very rooted in tradition.”

The traditional method requires a number of time-consuming steps. The beans are first put in a roaster, and then cooled. The roasted beans are then hand-fed through a winnowing device, which crushes them and removes their shells. They move onto the Oaxacan-style volcanic stone grinder, from which they emerge as a thick sludge (because cacao beans have such a high fat content, grinding them creates a liquid substance) that’s mixed with organic cane sugar and one of Chocosol’s many flavourings (like vanilla pods, hemp, or chili, to name just a few).

The chocolate mush is then taken to the tempering device. “Tempering is done when you want to create a solid structure,” says head chocolate maker Crystal Porter. “Glass gets tempered, clay gets tempered, and so does chocolate.” Porter raises and lowers the heat as a wheel circulates air into the chocolate, creating a unified consistency. Finally, the chocolate is placed in trays and cooled before being separated into bars (for eating) or pucks (for Mexican drinking chocolate).

Each of these steps is handled with careful precision by Porter, a former pastry chef at Palais Royale. Porter and McFadden are quick to point out the difference between European-style chocolate, which is characterized by its super-smooth texture, and the more fibrous, tannin-rich Mexican kind. “The flavours really speak themselves—they’re totally complex,” says Porter. Adds McFadden, “In our chocolate, you taste all the different varieties of beans, and you get a sense of the soil and the people who grow it.”

The majority of the Chocosol staff have travelled to southern Mexico to meet the farmers whose beans they work with. Virtually every step of Chocosol’s process is designed with an intercultural, ecological perspective in mind. All farmers are paid above fair-trade organic wages, and offered annual contracts where they dictate their terms and conditions. The cacao is grown according to forest stewardship methods that preserve biodiversity, in keeping with Mayan tradition. In Toronto, the chocolate production creates minimal waste—all refuse from the kitchen is composted, and the finished product is wrapped in completely biodegradable packaging. Chocosol’s kitchen space also serves as a location for community meals, book readings, and food education sessions.

The chocolate makers at Chocosol are committed to fostering a community that values both chocolate and the people and processes that are involved in crafting it. “This isn’t just a product—it’s about discussion, dialogue, and education,” says McFadden. “What we do here represents a symbolic relationship between Southern Mexico and Southern Ontario, and is rooted in the soil of both locations.”

Thanks to Moosehead for making this series possible.