By binging I mean give me a potato chip, and I'll eat the entire bag. One handful of nuts and one hour later the can is empty. And, of course, there's chocolate. One square becomes two, then turns into three or four until the entire bar or package has been consumed. Bruce hides his Milka bar because he knows I will eat all of it. Chocolate chip cookies? When my friend Jane brings her freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies on a bike ride, I manage to eat more than my share and hope no one else notices. Her cookies are especially addictive because when they are warm, straight out of the oven, she sprinkles them lightly with salt. The best way to manage my binging problem is to keep half-opened food packages, like chocolate bars, chips and cookies, out of sight because for me there is no such thing as just one.
With this personal factoid in mind, you can imagine how serendipidous it must be to have a good friend who owns a chocolate factory! Yes, really--and not just a Willy Wonka version, but a major worldwide supplier. Last week I finally made it to Germany to visit our good friend, Claus, and his family, and most happily, the amazing chocolate factory.
The company, Rubezahl Schokoladen, was founded in 1949 by Joseph Cersovsky, the grandfather of Claus, who is now the company's CEO and the King of Chocolate. The company, which has several plants in Germany, is headquartered near Stuttgart, and is still a family business, but a mighty big one, with more than 800 employees. We were excited to be able to don our sanitary coats and hats and tour the factory, from raw material to finished products ready for the retail shelves.
|PAM AND BRUCE WITH FRAU QUALITY CONTROL|
Rubezahl makes several different chocolate products and until recently was best known for making seasonal products, like chocolate Santa Clauses, Easter bunnies and advent calendars. In fact, in 2014 they sold 30 million advent calendars that year. As the company grew, so did their product line, and now they make a variety of products using about 40,000 tons of chocolate each year, and exporting to over 50 countries worldwide. One seasonal product that I think is unique is the chocolate advent calendar, but my sweet tooth ranked their Sun Rice crunchy as number one.
Chocolate consists of the basic ingredients: cacao mass, cacao butter, sugar and milk powder. The milk powder comes in enormous bags weighing 750 kilos (2.2 pounds per kilogram) or 1,650 pounds, as much as the weight of one cow.
|THE KING OF CHOCOLATE POSING WITH BAGS OF MILK POWDER|
First the ingredients are weighed, and the milk powder is mixed in with the cacao mass, butter and sugar and ground together by big rollers and kneaded by a huge food processor. The chocolate is stirred in a vessel that resembles a conch shell and is, therefore, conched for multiple hours at a very high temperature, and then stored in huge tanks. Conching is considered to be a very important step in producing chocolate's complex flavor and smooth texture.
|CHOCOLATE SLURRY DESTINED FOR GREAT THINGS|
It was fascinating to watch the production of Sun Rice squares. This addictive little treat is a chocolate square filled with crunchy little morsels. Cereals, puffed rice and rice crackers are mixed and blended with the cacao creme. The Sun Rice mass goes through big rollers until it is smooth and compressed to the right thickness.
|SUN RICE READY TO BE CUT INTO SQUARES|
As the Sun Rice filling blend moves along the conveyer belt, grooves are pressed into the bottom of the dough, resulting in long Sun Rice strips, which eventually get cross-cut into squares. When the morsels are almost done, it needs a chocolate coating, which happens when the morsels are pulled apart. The Sun Rice morsel moves onto a grid through a curtain of whole milk chocolate which coats the pieces perfectly. Afterwards the squares go through a cooling tunnel for about five minutes, which makes the chocolate solid.
|WOULDN'T YOU LOVE ONE RIGHT NOW?|
|I WANT ONE, TWO, THREE!|
Finally, a robotic picker system recognizes each individual morsel and the robotic arms put the pieces into small compartmentalized thin plastic trays.
(See Youtube Videos at the end to watch the robotic arms at work)
Now the trays are wrapped with foil and packed into cardboard boxes ready for shipment.
Rubezahl is one of the largest buyers of UTZ certified cacao, the largest program for sustainable farming of coffee and cacoa in the world. They buy different brands of cacoa from West Africa, Ivory Coast, Ecuador, and Madagascar.
When we left Germany, the King of Chocolate made sure we brought home an ample supply of every product that Rubezahl produces. Our refrigerator, the best place to store chocolate until it is ready to be eaten, is full. Rest assured. I have made a pact with myself to only open the chocolate when I want to share with friends. CHOCOHOLICS BEWARE.
|CHOCOLATE SANTA AND HIS HELPERS|
YouTube -- chocolates on a roll
YOUTUBE -- WATCH THE ROBOTS WORK