As America's longest continuously operating chocolate manufacturer, Ghirardelli has established its position as America's premium chocolate company for more than 160 years.
We are one of very few American manufacturers that make chocolate starting from the cocoa bean through to finished products. Throughout the process, we take special steps to ensure that our premium chocolate delivers our signature intense, smooth-melting chocolate taste.
Chocolate making starts with the cocoa bean. Cocoa beans are seeds from the pods of cacao trees, a tropical plant that thrives only in hot, rainy climates. Where the beans grow determines the flavor characteristics of the cocoa. After harvesting, the beans are fermented, which serves to develop the characteristics of the chocolate flavor. Without fermentation, chocolate does not taste like chocolate. After fermentation, the beans are dried. In some countries, the beans are simply spread out on trays or mats and left to dry under the sun. The beans are dried down to 6 to 8% to ensure a stable, long shelf life.
After the cocoa beans are carefully selected, they pass through a bean cleaning machine that removes extraneous materials. Ghirardelli selects only the finest cocoa beans, rejecting as many as 30% of the beans that do not meet our rigorous flavor standards. Different from many chocolate manufacturers, Ghirardelli Chocolate utilizes a nib roasting process that allows for deeper roasts in order to produce a more robust chocolate flavor. The nib is the inside of the cocoa bean which is left over after removing the shell, it is often considered as the “meat” of the cocoa bean. The result is a deeper roast that produces the legendary intense flavor of Ghirardelli.
The roasted nibs are milled through a process that liquefies the cocoa butter in the nibs and forms “chocolate liquor.” Chocolate liquor is non-alcoholic and simply refers to the chocolate liquid. The chocolate liquor can either be pressed for cocoa butter and cocoa powders, or molded and solidified to make unsweetened chocolate. The cocoa press hydraulically squeezes a portion of the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor, leaving “cocoa cakes.” The cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of chocolates; the remaining cakes of cocoa solids are pulverized into cocoa powders.
Mixing & Refining
Ingredients such as chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, and milk powder are blended in mixers to a paste with the consistency of dough. Chocolate refiners; a set of rollers, crush the paste into flakes that are significantly reduced in size. This step is critical in determining how smooth chocolate is when eaten. At Ghirardelli, we refine many of our chocolates to 18 microns, giving them an extremely smooth texture with no "graininess," unlike other mass market chocolates that are only refined to 40 microns. One micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter.
Conching is a flavor development process during which the chocolate is put under constant agitation. The conching machines, called “conches,” have large paddles that sweep back and forth through the refined chocolate mass anywhere from a few hours to several days. Conching reduces moisture, drives off any undesirable flavors, and coats each particle of chocolate with a layer of cocoa butter. The resulting chocolate has a smoother, mellower flavor.
Molding & Cooling
The chocolate then undergoes a heating and cooling process, known as tempering. Tempering creates small, stable cocoa butter crystals in the fluid chocolate mass. The tempered chocolate is deposited into different forms: chips, chunks, wafers, or into molds for SQUARES™ and bars. Proper tempering creates a finished product that has a glossy, smooth appearance. The molded chocolate enters controlled cooling tunnels to solidify the pieces. Depending on the size of the chocolate pieces, the cooling cycle takes between 3 minutes to two hours. From the cooling tunnels, the chocolate is packaged for delivery to retailers and ultimately into the hands of consumers.