Could there be a better place to visit on a freezing cold, sleeting February morning than the Pump Street Bakery in Orford?
I was immediately transported to the Caribbean or Jamaica, Madagascar or Equador, by the smell of hundreds of kilos of cocoa beans as I arrived in the chocolate making area for a tour with manager, Rob Sledmere. Pump Street Bakery is renowned for bean-to-bar chocolate production using beans of single estate origin.
From pod to bar
With much enthusiasm and knowledge, Rob explained the annual process of growing and harvesting cacao pods, and how the beans are fermented for several days in large wooden boxes, traditionally covered by banana leaves. This fermentation process harnesses the power of wild yeasts to create unique flavour in the beans and ultimately Pump Street's chocolate. After drying in the Caribbean sunshine, the beans are transported by air or sea to the UK.
Once in Orford, the cocoa beans sit happily in their hessian sacks until they’re needed.
First the beans are sorted by hand to weed out any that aredamaged or poor quality.
They’re then laid out on trays to be roasted in the same ovens that the bakery uses for their croissants, pain au chocolate and Portuguese custard tarts - a wonderful reminder of the close connection between the bakery and chocolate making. Different roast times and temperatures are used to bring out the best qualities of different batches of beans.
Breaking & Winnowing
Next the husks are opened to release precious cacao nibs inside and remove the hard shell. The husks aren’t wasted, some go to a tea producer to infuse tea, others are snapped up by local gardeners.
Looking closely at the nibs even the untrained eye can see there is significant colour variation between the different types of bean. Madagascan nibs have a fox-red hue compared to the much darker, almost purple tones of nibs from Equador. The smell is different too. Rob warned me not to sniff too deeply in the bucket of Madagascan nibs. Whilst strong chocolate tones hit you, the smell is also raw and acidic, it burns in the top of your nose and makes your eyes sting!
Grinding & Conching
The nibs head to the chocolate room to be transformed into shiny, molten chocolate. It takes four days of continuous grinding in metal drums, between granite rollers, to smooth the nibs first into a paste and then a liquid. The only other ingredients used are sugar for dark chocolate, and milk and sugar for milk chocolate. These are added to the nibs on day one of the grind. Pump Street have four drums at the moment but are hoping to add more soon so that this part of the process doesn’t become a bottleneck as interest in their chocolate grows.
Back out in a cold container, Rob showed me the "maturing room". Molten chocolate is poured into large plastic tubs and then matured for at least 28 days to allow its flavour to further develop. Beautiful patterns appear on the bricks of chocolate as fats rise to the surface on cooling.
Tempering & Pouring
Finally the chocolate is tempered - a precise process of heating and cooling to stabilise the chocolate crystals and give a shiny finish. The chocolate is heated to 31 degrees for a short period of time, before being poured into bar moulds by an enormous, sophisticated piece of Swiss machinery. In huge contrast to this machine, once the bars have been air-dried they are packaged by hand in the distinctive brown paper envelopes of Pump Street.
The chocolate team is surrounded by their product all day long but still love eating it. Rob reckons he eats at least half a bar each day, and his colleague Sally enthusiastically joined me in tasting fifteen different bars as I selected those we would like to include in the expanded range we will now be offering at Lawson’s.
Also look forward to the sweet little Easter chicks that we will have on our shelves from mid March. I have seen them sitting in trays waiting to be hand packaged by the team - a busy few weeks ahead!
Pump Street Bakery Chocolate Tastings
Saturday 18 March and Saturday 8 April just in time for Easter!
Call in to try Pump Street Bakery Chocolate and learn more about the craft and skill that goes into making it.
To find out more about Pump Street Bakery visit their website >