Local Business

Enjoying the Dark Side

Cumberland chocolate shop turns the sweet confection into organic art…

“The chocolate that I use is all made with organic cocoa beans and some of it is fair trade certified and some of it isn’t, but even if it doesn’t have the fair trade certification it is harvested ethically. The fair trade certification costs money and not every farmer can afford to do that.”

When asked if she has been to see the harvest and meet the farmers, Peavoy wistfully shakes her head, but brightens as she mentions the tip jar in the store that’s devoted to funds for a trip to Costa Rica.

“One of the guys I buy chocolate from, Steve Devries, takes people down there and runs a week long course in one of the plantations where he gets his beans. He is directly involved in the harvest.”

“The flavor starts right from how ripe the pod is when it’s taken off the tree to how it is dried and fermented and how long the flavors are left to develop. He takes 10 people each year to help with the process and learn how it is done.”

Peavoy hopes to be there to harvest next year. She points to a large narrow painting on the wall that at first glance appears to be a painting of chilies, but is, in fact, two cacao pods.

“First the cocoa pods are cut open. Then the beans are scooped out and put in vats of banana leaves and fermented for a couple of days. That is when they start to develop flavor and change into a darker brown color. After the liquid is drained off, the beans are dried in the sun for two days. They are then ready to be shipped to the chocolate maker. These are the raw cocoa beans.

“Steve Devries receives them at his facility in Denver, Colorado and he roasts them. Like coffee, you can roast them longer and at a higher temperature for a stronger flavor. That is the part that chocolate makers don’t reveal—it is the secret to their flavor. Then, the beans are ground down or ‘conched’ (blended for days) until it gets a super smooth consistency so that you can’t even feel the granules. Some makers will add cocoa butter or cocoa powder at this point.”

Once a bean has been roasted and ground it will separate into two parts—cocoa butter and cocoa powder,” Peavoy adds. “Those are the two things that make up cocoa mass. Some companies will separate these two and then add more of one thing or another into the main bulk of it to change the flavor.”

It is becoming clear why chocolate has evolved slowly and through the efforts of many hands. It is no simple thing making solid chocolate from the beans of the cocoa tree.

The day Peavoy decided she was going to open an artisan chocolate shop she went to the video store and rented Chocolat. After watching the movie she went online and looked up chocolate making schools and found a great three-month, part-time program out of Vancouver. She signed up the next day.

“The school taught me the basics,” she says. “It started with tasting different kinds of chocolate and then learning how to temper it. This is taking dark chocolate, melting it down, adjusting it to the right temperature so that it sets up correctly and then using it. You can tell if you are doing it right by how it sets up. If the room, the chocolate or the working surface is at the wrong temperature, or if there is too much humidity in the air or your timing is wrong, then it will have streaks or dots on it or it will be soft and floppy and not have a shine. If it is perfect temper then it has shine and snap and sets up quickly. Tempering was the first and most important thing that they taught us.”

Peavoy laughs as she explains that streaky, spotty chocolate “will taste great, but it won’t look very good.”
With a new appreciation of just how complex this process is, I ask about the early days of Dark Side Chocolates.
“In the beginning, I screwed up so many batches of chocolate and truffles. To make the chocolates you blend the chocolate with cream and infuse it with different flavorings. You make the centre which has to sit overnight before you chop it, roll it or scoop it and then dip it in straight chocolate to coat it. So, I would have already gone through the process of making the centres and then go to dip them and mess up the temper on the chocolate. They would have streaks all over them or they wouldn’t set up properly. It is really hard to maintain the right temperature in the chocolate, and I spent a lot of money learning how.”

Her biggest hurdle was getting past the mistakes and ruining batches of chocolate. “They were still edible and my friends got a lot of chocolate, but it cost me a lot of money and a lot of frustration. And of course, it would usually happen when I was still up at one in the morning making chocolates for the Farmer’s Market.

“It is some of the most frustrating work I have ever done, but because it is so frustrating when you get it right, it is the most rewarding,” Peavoy says. “It is like arts and crafts with food and it is so much fun. The high point of this job is doing it and having it work out because it is a treat every time it works out!”

The first truffle she created was the Mexican Chili, in honor of the Aztec and Mayan roots of chocolate. “It contains three different kinds of chillies, vanilla and cinnamon, which is similar to how it used to be drunk,” she says. “Ancho chillies gave it a nice rounded chili flavor without too much spice. It is a really full flavoured truffle.”

Setting up shop in the village of Cumberland was an easy decision for Peavoy. “Cumberland is a great place to have a store,” she says. “Everyone has been so welcoming. People often ask if I get enough business in Cumberland and the answer is ‘Yes!’ The locals are huge supporters of the stores in town.”

It is hard to leave the comfortable couches and intoxicating aromas of Dark Side Chocolates, but the tempering chocolate needs Peavoy’s attention and my box of chocolates is calling to me. Nestled into the black box are a double dark, tequila lime, chai spice, baileys and organic red wine truffles. I can tell that I will have no trouble finding inspiration in this box as I write.

Dark Side Chocolates is located at 2722 Dunsmuir Avenue in Cumberland. You can also find their products at the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market, Edible Island Whole Foods and Brambles Market in Courtenay.

For more information visit darksidechocolates.com