I will never, EVER turn down an activity related to chocolate. If I do, you will know I’ve gone senile so please commit me. Naturally, when I received an invite to tour the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut and Cococo chocolate factory, I was on it faster than over-whipped cream turns to butter (good one, hey?).
Greeted by the sweet smell of chocolate I knew it was going to be an amazing tour from the get-go. If they ever figure out a way to bottle that aroma without it smelling artificial, they will make millions from it, guaranteed. Anyways, I met up with Kristen, their wonderful marketing manager and once we got our coats and hairnets on, it was go-time.
First she showed me the aftermath of the 2012 floods and how it completely demolished their old production facility in the basement of the building. How they managed to get it from this, back up and running, cranking out chocolate like no one’s business, I cannot fathom. All I know is that the chocolate world is all the better for it.
Then we moseyed up to the current production area and the real fun began. Given that it is just over 2 weeks until Christmas, they were busy creating their signature hand-dipped cherries. They start with organic BC cherries (and you know they are real because they still have the pits in them), which are soaked in Kirsch and then dipped in alternating layers of chocolate, fondant and more chocolate. When you bite into them, you get an immediate liquid burst of boozy, cherry syrup. Needless to say it wouldn’t take too many before you were over the legal limit, but considering they are only available during the holidays, one must splurge. Just make sure you find a DD if you intend to eat more than 5 or 6 of them in one sitting 😉
From there we continued through the factory, walking by staff doing everything from filling and unmolding truffles, to mixing giant vats of their acclaimed sea salt caramel (used in milk chocolate covered caramels that recently won gold at the Canadian National Chocolate Awards). What really struck me was their commitment to using as many local, Canadian ingredients as possible. Obviously you cannot source Canadian cocoa beans, but they do use an assortment of native products including dairy, fruit, sugar, liqueur and even hazelnuts. In fact more than 50 of their ingredients are sourced locally and 11 other key ingredients are from other places in Canada.
I was also fortunate enough to get to chat with the master chocolatier, Chef Derrick Tu Tan Pho, that oversees the whole operation. I have never met anyone who knows as much about chocolate as he does, or is as innovative with it either! At Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, new products are constantly in the works but before they go to market, it takes anywhere between 6-12 months of testing to make sure they are absolutely perfect. I’m not sure how to describe how much dedication it takes to test something for up to a year, over and over again until you get it right. It involves a heck of a lot of commitment, that’s for sure.
As the tour came to a close, I had mixed feelings. Sad that it was over, I was also thrilled to get my goodie bag to take home and taste a variety of finished products, having just seen how they came to be. I’m hard-pressed to pick favourites when it comes to chocolate, but I am of the mindset “the darker the better.” Their dark chocolate caraques are simple but delicious, although you can turn things up a notch with mint or orange flavoured leaves (all naturally flavoured as well, which is great because no one likes the combination of chocolate and toothpaste). Of course their speciality Calgary bar with habanero and sea salt is a long-time favourite of mine so you cannot go wrong with that either. Most interesting though was definitely the dark chocolate oregano fusion bar. Similar to their rosemary fusion except made with dark instead of milk chocolate, it is studded with habanero and sea salt for that sweet, salty, spicy, herbaceous kick.
So don’t just sit there, get out and try some of Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut and Cococo’s delicious chocolate for yourself! For a list of locations across Canada and in the US, and to find one in your area, click here. You can also follow them on twitter @ChocBernCal.