Chocolate Maker's Journal

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Ray Major

About the Blogger

Ray Majors leads cacao development and sources the fine cacao used to produce SCHARFFEN BERGER Chocolate. His interest in cacao and sustainability began in West Africa where he saw cacao's potential to provide environmentally-friendly income to farmers. Ray also leads chocolate and confectionery optimization projects and our Cacao Center of Excellence program.

Ray has 34 years of experience making chocolate on five continents. He has received industry-wide recognition for cacao sourcing and flavor bean applications, and is a consultant for cocoa farmers and broker representatives. Ray also represents Hershey on the World Cocoa Foundation's Latin American Regional Sub-committee.

Aside from making the finest chocolate, his passion is the Amazon rainforest and how cacao can help reforest its ecosystem.

Chocolate Maker's Journal

Markham Valley Part 3: A Plantation Tour

Posted on 12/8/2011 by Ray Major

After observing Markham Farm’s careful fermentation and drying process, I was beginning to understand what gave their cacao such a unique flavor. But more secrets were hidden in the soil.

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Markham Valley Part 2: Large-Scale Fermentation & Drying

Posted on 11/29/2011 by Ray Major

After a difficult journey over the mountains of Papua New Guinea, Lech Moonsbourgh and I drove across the Markham River Valley. We finally located Markham Farm, where a burly security guard directed us to the fermentary. We drove around and parked beside what looked like an airplane hangar. It was the Markham fermentary and it was enormous. Outside of the Dominican Republic it was the largest single unit I had ever seen.

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Markham Valley Part 1: The Road to Markham Farm

Posted on 11/2/2011 by Ray Major

Lach stopped the car at the top of a ridge and we got out to look at the view. Flat as a tortilla, the Markham Valley fanned out in front of us. It was a stunning sight. The valley looked like a slice of pizza held in two great jaws; the Finisterre and Saruwared mountain ranges to the north and the Kratke and Herzog ranges to the southeast. Along the southern margin of the valley ran the Markham River, the fourth largest river in Papua New Guinea.

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The Ben Tre Bar Goes Home

Posted on 11/15/2009 by Ray Major

Last November, John Scharffenberger and I made a trip to Southeast Asia. As always, we were looking for new sources of great beans, but we'd also planned to swing by Vietnam to meet with the farmers who had produced the truly wonderful cacao we used to make the Ben Tre bar as part of the Chocolate Maker Series.

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Beans from South East Asia?

Posted on 11/1/2009 by Ray Major

Some time ago we received two samples of cacao from Vietnam. At the time we were not particularly interested in expanding our sourcing options from Southeast Asia. We had just purchased some fine flavor beans from Papua New Guinea, were working with fermented Sulawesi and some fine Trinitario from Bali, but we decided to look at these samples anyway. One was from Dak Lak up in the highlands, more famous for Robusta coffee than cacao, and the other was from Ben Tre Province in the Mekong delta.

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The "Swiss Farm" Part 2: A Great Example of Fermentation

Posted on 5/18/2009 by John Scharffenberger

The other great thing about Finca Elvesia is their fermentation. Fermentation is the key step in bringing out cacao's great flavor. Get it right, and you've got a fantastic chocolate. At Finca Elvesia, fermentation starts in the field. The cacao is harvested and then the babas (the seeds with the fruit on them) are removed from the pods and put into plastic gunnysacks. (Note that the empty pods are left in the field to mulch and serve as micro reservoirs for the small midges that pollinate the cacao.)

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The "Swiss Farm" Part 1: The Tasting Lab

Posted on 4/13/2009 by John Scharffenberger

I recently traveled to the Dominican Republic with Ray Major, one of our Chocolate Makers. While there, we visited one of my favorite places, Finca Elvesia, managed by Jo Locandro, a friend I met at the Chocolate Show in NYC several years ago, the farm was converted to cacao in the early part of the 20th century by a family that had emigrated from Switzerland. To this day, it is known as the Swiss Farm. Its name, Evesia, is actually a slightly garbled local knickname for Switzerland.

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A New Bar From Ghana Beans...

Posted on 4/6/2009 by Ray Major

Our long awaited Asante Bar is in production. When Brad, Peter and I tasted the final product it lived up to all of our expectations—even Peter's. I think Robert Steinberg would really be proud of this bar, in fact I believe he even participated in the original selection of the beans.

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Our Guatemalan Beans Have Finally Arrived

Posted on 3/16/2009 by John Scharffenberger

We're excited to say that some very intriguing beans from Guatemala have finally arrived. We'd never thought about Guatemala as a source for cacao until a bag of fat, pale cacao beans landed on Brad Kintzer's desk a few years ago. (Brad is one of our chocolate makers.) I saw them sitting on his desk and noticed that they were much bigger and rounder than the beans we've been seeing. I bit into a bean and was surprised by how mild it was. Usually the beans that we get from new cacao growers are extremely bitter because they are under fermented.

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A Bean Unlike Any We Have Ever Tasted

Posted on 2/23/2009 by Ray Major

I'd like to tell you about a new bar we are making for the store. It is a 68% bittersweet, but what I am really excited about is that it is a single origin from the Brazilian Amazon and the beans are just superb. I found this cacao about a year ago while I was visiting a cooperative of farmers in the Brazilian State of Pará, about 150 miles south of Belém in the municipality of Tome Acu. These farmers are just incredible. They are all descendents of Japanese immigrants who came to the area in the 1920's.

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Our First Post

Posted on 2/2/2009 by John Scharffenberger

From making wine, I learned l lot about flavor and its origins in nature. This same idea carries over to chocolate making. We simply try to bring out all the terrific cacao flavors – the deep tones, the red-fruit sweetness, and a final, long crescendo of taste.

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A distinctive taste experience