Thursday, March 31, 2011

Friedman and the Chocolate Factory

by Ellen Cynar

A group of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition students recently had the sweet pleasure of touring the Taza Chocolate Factory located in Somerville, MA. The tour was a combined force of Slow Foods Tufts and Tufts Food Works, looking to see good, clean and fair business in action. We began our tour by learning about the history of Taza and its production philosophy. Taza, which means cup in Spanish, was started by Alex Whitmore and Larry Slotnick who wanted to get back to the roots (or the beans) of chocolate making. Emulating Mexican-style artisan chocolate, Taza crafts 100% stone-ground chocolate with a unique, slightly gritty texture. The company considers itself ingredient obsessed, using only high-end, organic chocolate.

DID YOU KNOW: Taza is one of the few “bean-to-bar” chocolate companies in the United States? This means Taza makes their chocolate in the Somerville factory, beginning with raw cacao beans.

While sampling Taza’s delicious chocolate, the group learned about the process of growing and harvesting cacao beans. Taza works directly with farmers in the Dominican Republic through a Direct Trade Agreement, which seeks to provide fair compensation to farmers in exchange for high quality, environmentally conscious, cacao crops.

DID YOU KNOW: Cacao beans come from pods grown on trees and vary in color from yellows to greens to reds? Different colored pods can grow on the same tree.

After donning very stylish hairnets, we made our way back into the factory where we checked out the roasting and winnowing (de-shelling) machines to learn how to process cacao beans. We sampled cacao nibs, which are the little pieces of roasted cacao beans that can be covered in chocolate and used for snacking, baking or toppings.

DID YOU KNOW: Roasting cacao beans give off the smell of brownies? This brings new meaning to the idea of “occupational hazard”.

A few additional samples later, we made our way into Taza’s shipping and packaging room and learned how Taza lovingly wraps those perfectly round Mexicano chocolate disks. Taza works to create a sustainable product starting with sourcing all the way to packaging and delivery. Shipping is kept to a minimum with direct sourcing and Taza utilizes UPS carbon neutral shipping for long journeys.

DID YOU KNOW: Taza chocolate is delivered locally via pedal power? Taza partners with Metro Pedal Power for Boston, Cambridge and Somerville deliveries.

Hairnets removed, the group moved back into the Factory Store area to finish learning about the chilling and molding process of Taza chocolate, and of course, try more samples. Some favorites included Guajillo Chili, Salt and Pepper and for the pure at heart, Cacao Puro.

Slow Foods Tufts and Tufts Food Works would like to thank Taza and its generous staff for coordinating such a delicious event. Visit Taza Chocolate's website for more information about the company, their chocolate or to go on a tour of your own. Don't worry, we left some samples behind. For more information regarding nutrition and agriculture private sector connections, please visit Tufts Food Works' website.

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