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Asheville's French Broad Chocolates opens factory and tasting room



6/25/2012 - Asheville's French Broad Chocolates opens factory and tasting room
by Carol Motsinger - Asheville Citizen Times

Dan and Jael Rattigan aren't just sweet on chocolate.

The husband-and-wife duo behind French Broad Chocolates are in a committed relationship with the decadent dessert.

"Most confectioners buy chocolate and use it as an ingredient," said Jael Rattigan. "We feel like we do better and really commit to the ingredient."

They have kept their promise: From 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, they will celebrate the grand opening of French Broad Chocolates Factory & Tasting Room on Buxton Avenue. The event will feature tastings and tours.

The factory will produce a new line of artisan, bean-to-bar chocolate bars, including single-origin dark chocolates, milk chocolate and chocolate bars made with such ingredients as organic coffee, salt, organic nuts and malt powder from Asheville's Riverbend Malt House.

The nibs -- the center of the bean used for chocolate -- and shells are inspiring others as well. They're being used by local brewers, including Pisgah and Green Man. The opening will feature a Green Man chocolate milk stout made from French Broad Chocolates nibs.

The Rattigans also plan to use the bars to make truffles, which, according to the couple, will make French Broad Chocolates one of the handful of confectioners in the country making bean-to-bar truffles.

The chocolate will be used in the couple's French Broad Chocolate Lounge menu on Lexington Avenue. Busy nights at the hot spot prompted the Rattigans to seek a dedicated chocolate-making space.

"The lounge kitchen is just packed all the time," Dan Rattigan said. "We've got seven full-time pastry chefs. We weren't able to get a moment in edge wise to make chocolate."

And it's not just the chocolate that's handmade at the factory. Rattigan designed and built a winnowing machine (it helps separate the bean from the broken shell), as well as a prototype parabolic trough solar cacao roaster housed on the roof of the factory. It's the only cacao bean roaster of its kind, they say.

The opening comes about a year after the duo traveled to Peru, meeting with farmers and cooperatives to source the cacao beans and brown sugar they use in their new chocolate bars. When the 88 bags of beans (weighing more than 5 tons) arrived in Asheville, "that was a big moment," Jael Rattigan said.

"It was a lot of work to get it off the truck and into the shop," she added. "We worked for it, but it was definitely the moment when we felt like OK, this is really happening."

In the fall, the Rattigans hope these beans ship from Costa Rica: Eight years ago, they bought a cacao farm and have been restoring the abandoned farm since, as well as help a Costa Rican build a fermentary to prepare the beans for roasting. The first cacao harvest should be this fall, they say.

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