As founding partner of Zingerman's, the specialty foods store in Ann Arbor, MI, Ari Weinzweig is "always looking for great-tasting traditional food, and the search can definitely take a long time." His quest for authentic, traditional Mexican chocolate was no exception, since Weinzweig refused to settle for the "so-so chocolate of this sort on the market," he says. "It was really not to my taste." So why all the fuss?
Conventionally-made Mexican chocolate differs from the silky French and Belgian chocolates to which we've become accustomed, in part because it's unconched. Conching is the process through which ingredients in chocolate are blended together; in contrast, unconched chocolate has a crude look and texture. But Mexican chocolate's most distinguishing feature is its distinctive use of Ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon has a complex flavor, and is commonly associated with English and Mexican sweets. American treats, on the other hand, rely on the smoother flavor and weaker bite of the Indonesian Korintje Cassia cinnamon. So, while Weinzweig concedes that Mexican chocolate is indeed different, "it's also quite delicious," he urges, "so don't let its different-ness deter you."
Weinzweig finally found what he was looking for with Susana Trilling, the highly respected owner of the Seasons of My Heart cooking school in Oaxaca, Mexico, and author of its eponymous cookbook. With a small staff to support her, Trilling uses Mayan methods to produce 55- to 110-pound batches in about two days. The initial milling of the cacao, sugar and cinnamon takes about two hours alone, before beginning the long process of "extending" and cooling the liquid chocolate to the right temperature and consistency. It then takes another 2-3 hours to work the chocolate and hand-shape it. After refrigerating overnight to harden, the resulting bars are finally ready to be packaged in one-pound paper bags. For your added pleasure, Zingerman's even includes an easy hot chocolate recipe, though we think the chocolate lends itself exceptionally well to brownies.
Zingerman's retail store is located at 620 Phoenix Drive in Ann Arbor, MI; www.zingermans.com; 1-888-636-8162.