Upon being asked for an interview for Spins and Staples regarding Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates, Tom Neuhaus, a Food Science and Nutrition professor here at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and owner of Mama Ganache along with his sister Joanne graciously invited me for an afternoon in his Cal Poly Chocolates Class and lab. What originally piqued my curiosity with the Mama Ganache family was their emphasis on staying true to creating Artisan chocolates with all Organic and Fair Trade ingredients and that they had an abundance of options for Vegan chocolate seekers, as I had just been gifted a box of entirely Vegan Valentine’s Day chocolates. Their flavors ranged from the more classic leaning rich Dark Chocolate to the more eclectic and one of a kind Passion Caramel truffle which was also Vegan.
During this day tour, the first part of the Lab portion gave me the opportunity to see Cal Poly Chocolates being packaged as well as Peanut Butter Cups being made, and how foods such as Espresso beans for example would be coated with chocolate using a sort of large Tumbler while being carefully monitored by a student for any clumping. During the second portion of the Lab, Professor Neuhaus went more into the science behind Temperature and learned how to Temper chocolate without a thermometer. As a true Chocolate connoisseur, he can judge chocolate by the feel, and relies on precise measurements as far as temperature as well as his own senses for the readiness of a Chocolate. Not only was it a day of tremendous exploration and exposure for me into the world of Chocolate, but it was a truly awe-inspiring day as well. I had the pleasure of hearing about Professor Neuhaus’ extensive travels to West Africa and Mama Ganache’s main vision which is to support Project Hope and Fairness, a non-profit organization he started that “focuses on improving the economic and environmental sustainability of West African cocoa farmers.” He, as well as everyone at Mama Ganache are truly an example of givers, in the business of chocolate to better life for cocoa farmers. The passion he has not only for teaching and his students, but his service and passionate sense of community was so visible and motivating. I would like to give a great thank you to Professor Neuhaus for his time and teachings, Ms. Joanne for helping me get in touch with Professor Neuhaus to make this day possible, and to Paul Brenneman, my friend and photographer who so eagerly lended his talents for the day!
Be sure to swing by Mama Ganache for Artisan chocolates and hand-crafted Coffee drinks on Monterey in SLO!
Q & A ||| Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates’ Very Own Tom Neuhaus as told to Anna
Q ||| What was your inspiration for the atmosphere and vision of Mama Ganache?
A ||| We were originally called Sweet Earth Chocolates. Our ultimate goal was to help West African Cocoa Farmers and explore ways to get academia involved in making cocoa farming sustainable. We originally made Fair trade Chocolate and sold it to church and took the money to West Africa. We decided to start our own business to fund the foundation [Project Hope and Fairness] I had in mind in 2006. We haven’t yet reached profitability, it just hasn’t happened yet and eight years later, we’re sort of scraping by. On April 26, we are having a fundraiser at the Pear Valley Winery and Kelsey, the author of “Where am I Eating” will be speaking. I went to the Ivory Coast with him. Garrett Morris will be there, he bike rode across the US to raise money for Project Hope and Fairness. It costs 3K for Machinery needed in West Africa and 13K for the trip. They need machinery for Rice hulling and Chocolate making.
Q ||| Who makes up the Mama Ganache Family?
A ||| My sister Joanne and I are the owners. It’s a corporation, and we currently have 20 employees because it’s chocolate season.
Q ||| What exactly is Artisan Chocolate?
A ||| Artisan is when something is made with your own hands, so there’s skill in that. Most businesses that are “Artisan” generally don’t have money for machinery. An example of Artisan chocolate are the Chocolate Lips we make, which are small-run, the mold makes 24 at a time, and there are lots of steps involved. With machinery, you could make 1000 bars within three hours. Most of the time, you can’t truly be 100% Artisan or you’ll be bankrupt. Different companies have different things they do, in Hollywood, the focus is on providing top of the line packaging in order to appeal to those high-end customers.
Q ||| Out of curiosity, what kind of diet do you have in your lifestyle? What mentality do you live by when selecting what to eat or cook with?
A ||| The worst thing to do is to stress. So my Rule #1 is Don’t stress. Try not to overdo it. I try not to hardly eat red meat at all; my wife doesn’t eat it. I try to eat vegetables. Japanese food is good, it’s the perfect diet: Rice, seaweed, fish. Asian food in general, Chinese Korean…I eat lots of fish, fresh vegetables and fruit. I’ll maybe eat a burger every six months. I support local farmers, mostly buy directly from the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. I do have diabetes.
Q ||| Did you come from a background of eating locally grown foods?
A ||| To some extent, we did. In Detroit, my mom grew currants, so we always had currant jelly in the house growing up. There was an Italian farmer who came by and sold vegetables on his truck. When I moved to South Dakota, I processed my own meat and poultry, geese and sheep. I had a restaurant/bakery in Austin, Texas and dreamed of having a farm and restaurant but then I moved to New York.
Q ||| What is the most challenging aspect of operating a business that is focused on using all Organic, Fair Trade, high quality ingredients and products?
A ||| Paying the money that’s expected to be paid. It’s at least 6K a year simply for the privilege of being a “Fair Trade” corporation. And it’s another 4K to be “Organic.”
Q ||| As an old-time chocolate shop straying from the impersonal ways in which you can buy chocolate today, how does Mama Ganache offer a unique atmosphere in the city of San Luis Obispo? In having a more personalized intimate setting, what experience are you looking to provide the customer that differs from that of say, See’s?
A ||| We provide a more holistic view on Chocolate. See’s is about gratification or gratifying someone else. In our store, we provide information on the history of chocolate, the cocoa tree, varieties of chocolate, games for children, and many more products. We want to empower the cocoa farmers. Most chocolate that comes from large producers is slave produced.
Q ||| What was the moment you first knew you would be making chocolate, and that was what you wanted to do?
A ||| 75% of Chocolate is Ivorian, or made with slave labor on the Ivory Coast. There are different kinds of Child slavery, there’s Chattel slavery, Indentured Servitude, etc…With making chocolate to support Fair trade endeavors, you’re helping children go to school in those villages. In order to be aware, you have to want to be aware. Most people don’t want to know how people are suffering. The defining moment or the epiphany was during Bill Clinton’s term; he was President in the late 90’s. The US and Europe had just signed the World Trade Agreement. Single mothers in the Carribean sold bananas to Europe because you can’t use any business trade besides cost/not for a good reason. Clinton established a trade war with Europe and overnight, Bleu cheese doubled. To punish Europeans, we put a tariff on their stuff so it was too pricey. It’s about learning the politics behind food. Why is it that the average US farmers gets 18 cents on the dollar and tropical farmers get a fraction of a penny? They get so much less-Why is that? I want students to get involved in stuff like that. To quote Al Gore, they’re “inconvenient truths.” It’s not easy being inconvenient. Trying to raise money to fix a situation is really, really, really, really damn hard. It’s not as hard as being president or a concert pianist though. People ask me why are you helping people over there? (Over there as in Africa) Because, the world is a community, we are all brothers and sisters. We are all responsible for each other.
Q ||| I was reading about your trips to West Africa and Mama Ganache’s efforts to help the West African cocoa farmers, Why is this an issue so close to your heart? Tell me about Project Hope and Fairness.
A ||| First, came my interest in the culture, and I first went to Africa because in 2003, someone called me and asked if I wanted to go to Peru. The idea was to start a chocolate company in this village to better the peoples’ lives and so there were different chocolates, and each chocolate represented a different culture; the idea was to sell to museum gift stores. Nothing really came of it. So that summer, I ended up going to Ghana and took jewelry with symbolic meanings and at the time, I was melding chocolate with more reading, and I sold them at a mission and would make 1K a Sunday at seven different services. A trip to Cameroon followed Ghana.
Q ||| What is your all time favorite Chocolate that you’ve made?
A ||| It would have to be a chocolate that my friend had me make this last Christmas. She was very skilled in Graphic Communication so she created the packaging. She wanted to put together a Chocolate bar with a Recipe from 1925. It was a fudge, from a pastry tube and I froze that and dipped it in Butterscotch Caramel and it had Peanuts and was covered in Milk Chocolate.
Q ||| As far as Vegan or Dairy Free and Gluten Free Chocolates that you have at Mama Ganache, what would you recommend here?
A ||| Vegan..I would say the SLO Chew, which is a Vegan Caramel with Cashews and it’s dipped in Dark Chocolate and flavored with Peanut Butter with Rice Krispies in it. Also, the Passionfruit and Vegan Caramel Truffle or Raspberry Truffle. The Dark chocolate Peanut Buttercups are really good and we have very clean tasting mint patties as well.
Q ||| What is the most popular chocolate here that college students order?
A ||| Dark and Milk Chocolate Bars or Peanut Butter Cups.
Q ||| Does your menu change seasonally?
A ||| We do seasonal all the time. Next up is Easter. October 1st marks the beginning of the Chocolate Season. In summer we do lots of Milkshakes, We also make milkshakes with Coconut or Almond Milk to make it Vegan. The malted Milkshake is my favorite.
Notes from Lab Part 2
In teaching his class about the Science behind Tempering Chocolate, Professor Tom Neuhaus said “How many times can you temper chocolate? Till the cows come home..Indefinitely.” Chocolate is comprised of six small crystals and the desired crystals are called Beta crystals. With tempering, the cocoa butter is encouraged to form into a crystalline pattern. Tempering is a way to prepare chocolate using Heating and Cooling. Properly tempered chocolate can often be spotted for its beautiful sheen and crisp snapping sound when breaking. In examining different bowls of Chocolate, one with Milk, one with Dark, and one with White chocolate, Professor Neuhaus explained that you can tell one of the chocolate bowls was not tempered properly because of the beta crystals on top.
“It needs to be Four and Five for Tempering you need to force it to crystallize,” said Professor Neuhaus. He explained how the chocolate needs to be able to melt in your mouth. There are several ways to temper Chocolate. First, is Seeding. Seeding is when you mix the Chocolate “seeds” or chips in the bowl of Chocolate that is partially melted and let it melt in and it becomes a four and five. To get it to crystallize takes a half hour to an hour. “Seeding is populating this bowl with millions and millions of unmelted crystals,” he said. He continued to add chocolate until we could see the crystals. We were shown how Smear tests were used to test how the chocolate sets. If it’s very shiny, that means it’s very melted and not solidified. Tabling is another method. He smeared the chocolate on the table top and wiped it back and forth and mixed it with the untempered chocolate. Temperature for heating the Chocolate must be modified depending on seasons. Winter might need 86 degrees and Summer would need 84 degrees. The fail safe method he explained, was the fastest and messiest method which is to mix the untempered chocolate with Liquid chocolate. We learned that Cocoa Butter is a solid fat at room temperature so it will solidify. A pleasantly warm temperature would be considered around 98.6 degrees. I learned that it shouldn’t ever be more than 70 or 72 degrees in the room when making chocolate or it will take longer. Temperature and Air Flow of the room are important factors to take into account.
Mama Ganache’s chocolate is thinner chocolate with a richer more flavorful taste but is originally harder to work with we were told.
We learned the difference between White and Milk Chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have Liquor and Milk chocolate does. White chocolate has Cocoa Butter, Sugar, Milk Powder, and way down on the ingredient list is Soy Lecithin and Vanilla. Milk chocolate contains Cocoa Butter, Sugar, and Liquor. Liquor is ground up seeds which is Liquid which is why it’s called Cocoa Liquor.
In terms of the time it took the different bowls to Temper, Professor Neuhaus explained that Dark chocolate often beats Milk because the Butter in Milk deals the Crystals. If you don’t seed the Chocolate, you just let it melt halfway.
I was fascinated to hear what he had to say next. “Can you add Milk, Wine, or Cream to Chocolate?” I thought you could, because I’ve added Milk to Melted Chocolate to try to make it creamier for dipping Strawberries into. Professor Neuhaus said, “No, you can’t, because it’s hydrophobic and it’ll absorb into the hydrophilic substances and it binds.” He expressed the importance of learning to temper without a thermometer. “You might as well be as human as you can for as long as you can and not be reliant on machines,” he said. He spoke about his time in France and learning to cook there, and how he was taught to beat cream with a whisk and not a beater so that you will be strong enough to do so in case of a situation such as the power going out. “Machines don’t always come to work with us,” he said. He elaborated on this note in describing the importance of using your senses as well, “Use your lower lip as your thermometer.”
I learned that the most expensive part of chocolate was Cocoa Butter, and I got to taste Balinese Dark Chocolate which had fruity notes, as well as a Peruvian Dark Chocolate and compare them.
In the spirit of Cal Poly’s “Learn by Doing,” Professor Neuhaus humorously referred to the importance of Learning by “Screwing up,” and encouraged everyone to give the Chocolate piping via coronet a try.
As far as Professor Neuhaus’ travels, in 2003 he went to Ghana and did a seminar there at Ghana University. In 2004, he went to Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana. He met a man named Everiste there and wanted to go to Daloa and took a small bus with chickens and visited cocoa farming villages. Over the years, he’s established relations with eight different villages. The part he dreads the most is the drive over the African roads, which he believes to be the most dangerous part of Africa as they aren’t well put together like our roads. He describes the people as great, and in response to being asked about violence in Africa or potential dangers of traveling there, he said, “Usually if you’re nice to people, they’re pretty nice to you.”
Professor Neuhaus’ next goal is to buy a chocolate machine in Mumbai. He would fly it on South African Airways from Johannesburg to Abi Djain. As of now, he is just trying to find out how to get it out of the airport however and into the village!
Chocolate tasting, a tour of the Cal Poly Chocolates Facility, a Learning Day and Interview with such a World Class Citizen. I couldn’t have hoped for a greater experience, thank you again:)
For more information on Project Hope and Fairness, please visit http://www.projecthopeandfairness.org and for Mama Ganache’s website, please visit http://www.mama-ganache.com