Utah State University opened the Aggie Chocolate Factory to the public Tuesday afternoon. The Dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, Ken White, introduced the college’s newest enterprise and said their chocolate program is the only like it in the western United States.
As White spoke the crowd got larger and larger as people waited for their turn to tour the new facility and take in the aromas. Mothers with children, college students and some Sr. citizens all came to get a look at how chocolate is made.
“It’s a really cool process and an exciting project,” White said. “When the factory is up and going they will have a café that offers drinks, pastries and chocolates.”
The Aggie Chocolate Factory came about when Professor Silvana Martini of Nutrition, Dietetics & Food Science was teaching a class on chocolate. Students in the class felt like they needed a lab to get some hands-on application instead of just the theoretical learning.
They started teaching a class on chocolates in 2015 as a general education class and have 120 students a year expected to go through the program.
She said this is really an exciting opportunity for students to have a hands-on chocolate making experience.
“With this lab we will not only be able to have students make chocolate, we will be able to offer opportunities for small companies to visit our lab,” Martini said. “We can also do outreach and short courses and other experiences people may want.”
She said as far as academia goes this is a new program.
“We are the only university that has a bean-to-bar processing facility that can be used for teaching and research,” she continued. “I think it became possible because of the support of the college but also because we have the combined expertise of the Aggie Chocolate manger Steve Shelton and the academic side of it.”
The beans they are using currently are from Belize.
“Shelton tested several cocoa beans and felt like the Belize cocoa beans produced the taste he wanted,” she said. “The flavor of the beans is unique to the country it comes from.”
Martini said they do have some beans coming from Ecuador. Seventy-percent of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Chocolate beans grow best at 20 degrees north of the equator and 20 degrees south of the equator. There are no beans grown in the continental United States. Groups are trying to grow beans in Hawaii.
There is a lot more to making chocolate that one might think, the native of Argentina said.
“It takes three to four days to make the chocolate,” she said. “Chocolate has to be made at the right temperature and time. Deviation of either the time or temperature can change the taste of the chocolate. When it’s done, it needs to have a shiny surface, have the right snap when it is broken and not have a waxy surface.”
Although Shelton has had years of experience making candy and understands what it takes to make good chocolate, there are a lot of variables. They are trying to refine the process before they get students doing labs next week, Martini said.
It takes 300 to 600 beans to make on kilo or 2.2 pounds of chocolate, she said.
Shelton had been working at Aggie Ice Cream before switching to the chocolate factory.
“We were really lucky Shelton had confectionary experience,” Martini said, “and he was already working for the university and I had the academia.”
“We go from cow to cone with Aggie Ice Cream,” Shelton added. “And now we are going from bean to bar with our chocolate.”
Shelton estimated they had 450 people come through the open house for Aggie Chocolate Factory. They hope to be selling chocolate to the public by USU’s homecoming football game on October 13th.