Chocolate Makers that Rock
Our 1:1 with an American Craftsman: Potomac
Every month we work with different craft chocolate makers. Along with tasting lots of their chocolate, we like to learn a little bit more about how they got started on their adventure. American craftsmanship is the future of our economy. This is a story about discovery and pursuit.
Ben Rasmussen, founder of Potomac Chocolate, began as a skeptic of dark chocolate.It wasn’t until family members introduced him to it that he quickly converted.
What inspired you to create Potomac Chocolate?
I was introduced to fine chocolate on December 23, 2009. My brother and his wife had taken a fine chocolate 101 class at Caputo’s in Salt Lake City and did a tasting for us when they were visiting. I was initially very skeptical, having a terrible palate, loving 3 Musketeers bars and was not a fan of dark chocolate. I had an open mind and was willing to try it, but I was not expecting to like it.
I guess it’s pretty obvious, but I was completely wrong. :) The first bar we tried was Manjari 64% from the French company Valrhona, and it was unlike any chocolate I had ever tasted before.
Incredibly smooth with these great citrus notes. Over the next hour or so, we tried about 10 different bars from different makers: Amano’s Dos Rios and Madagascar bars, Domori Java Blond and Arriba, Patric Rio Caribe, and Amedei’s Toscano Brown and Chuao bars, as well as a couple other Valrhonas if I remember correctly. I was blown away by the incredible differences in flavor as I tried each of these bars: spices, various fruits, earthy notes, tobacco, nuttiness, etc. I never knew chocolate could taste this way and that there so much variety was possible.
I just fell in love with it and started learning more, tasting lots of bars, and then started doing tastings for some friends. At one of these tastings, a friend said we should try making it. I thought it was basically a preposterous idea, but started looking around and decided it was worth trying. We got a used melangeur, some beans and started messing around with it in my kitchen. From that humble beginning, Potomac Chocolate was born.
What is your favorite part about creating craft chocolate?
There’s so much that I love about making craft chocolate, that I’m not sure I have one favorite part.
I enjoy the whole process from bean to bar (except maybe sorting the beans). I love roasting the beans and watching (and smelling!) the nibs be transformed into chocolate liquor by the melangeur.
On a different note, I really, really enjoy figuring out how to improve my chocolate. I am constantly researching chocolate, reading (and re-reading) everything I can find on cacao, chocolate and the chocolate-making process, tweaking my process and trying new processes to try to improve my chocolate. Sometimes, this is through learning more about chocolate itself, and how I can change my process to take better advantage of the equipment I currently have. Sometimes, this is through acquiring or building a new piece of equipment.
One of my other favorite parts is sharing my chocolate with others—especially those who have never tried craft chocolate before. I love that moment when someone tries my chocolate and says something to the effect of “I never knew chocolate could taste like this,” and realizes that there’s a whole ‘nother world of chocolate out there that they’ve never experienced.
What makes your chocolate unique?
Part of what makes my chocolate unique (from mass-produced chocolate, at least) is that it is hand-crafted all the way from the raw, fermented cacao bean through finished chocolate, using only cacao and sugar to best bring out the flavors of the cacao. But, there are a bunch of smaller makers doing this these days, so that’s not truly unique. What really makes my chocolate unique is the same thing that makes any craft chocolate maker’s chocolate unique: my/their personal vision of what makes great chocolate. Each maker is going to interpret a specific bean in different ways and will use a different process, which will result in different chocolate. Tasting different makers’ creative vision is one of the best parts of craft chocolate!
What flavor of Potomac represents you the most, and why?
The thing that blew me away when I first tried craft chocolate was how varied the flavor could be from origin to origin. After almost 3 years of making chocolate, it still kind of blows me away. So, with that being said, I’d say that the bars (I know I’m cheating here) are my two single-origin 70% bars made using cacao from Upala, Costa Rica and San Martín, Peru.
If you enjoyed this post and found Ben’s journey of building his chocolate brand interesting, it would mean a lot to us if you shared it via Twitter and recommended it here on Medium. @standardcocoa @PotomacChoco