Tried Maglio Arte Dolciaria‘s 75% cacao “Africa” bar today. This smooth-tasting, fruity chocolate’s most remarkable quality is a softly melting mouthfeel that is almost yielding enough that it could pass for a very high cacao milk chocolate! It’s a four ingredient chocolate (cacao, cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla) so they can’t be using lecithin to manipulate viscosity. The combination of the texture and the slightly flat aroma of the chocolate lead me to believe that they are conching this chocolate for a very long time, and doing it without killing too much flavor.
It’s worth a short aside here to talk about conching and its effect on chocolate. Thalia Hohenthal made the point at the ChocTech course that chocolate is the only food that goes through a conching process. Conching is the process of stirring refined chocolate for a long period of time (from 24 to 80+ hours), which coats the cocoa and sugar particles in cocoa butter, and builds an even texture in the cocoa butter structure. Chocolate goes through some strange changes in this process. It goes into the conch in an almost doughy form (though this is different from batch to batch) from the refiner. As it conches, it slowly gets more and more liquid, then will change course and start thickening up.
In general, more conching gives you a better texture and will smooth the flavor of the chocolate. As the cocoa particles are coated with cocoa fat, they form little packages that slowly release flavor as they melt on the tongue. Unconched chocolate is a more random mass, with some “naked” cocoa particles hitting the tongue, giving a “spiky” flavor. Conching has another effect, which is that volatile, sometimes nasty tasting compounds (like acetic acid) are evaporated off the chocolate, as is undesirable moisture. So, why not conch for a very very long time? Because some tasty stuff is also driven off with the nasty stuff, and after enough time, the chocolate starts tasting very flat. Conching long enough will actually result in nearly tasteless chocolate.
There are ways around this, which is to conch at lower temperatures, which does the mixing, but less evaporating. I’m speculating that a chocolate like DeVries or the Maglia conch at a low temperature, yielding a good texture without giving up aromatics that result in some of the more interesting tastes. You can also control the effects of conching by adding cocoa butter (doing a “wet” conch) or holding it back (a “dry” conch.) Controlling the addition of emulsifiers like lecithin will also affect how the conch works the chocolate. Given all these controls, conching is definitely one of the places (along with roasting) that art enters into the chocolate making process, and not many makers will talk openly about how they conch their product.
Some chocolate trivia: Rodolphe Lindt, the founder of Lindt chocolate was the inventor of the conching process. (Wikipedia disputes this, and says that his partner Sprungli did, but I believe this is an error.)