By Amber Gibson, The Rabbit Hole - Utah is home to eight bean-to-bar chocolate makers, an active chocolate appreciation society and Caputo’s Market & Deli, which carries more than 300 different artisan chocolates, the largest selection of craft chocolate in the country. So how the heck did Utah become the craft chocolate capital of the country?
Tony Caputo started his deli and gourmet market in 1997 and it’s slowly became a capital for cheese and chocolate, thanks to son Matt’s dual food passions. “I became deeply obsessed with chocolate about 10 years ago,” Caputo says, and he has been learning as much as he can ever since. Now, he has what might be the best job in the world as a chocolate taste tester for his second company, A Priori, the largest distributor of craft chocolate in the United States. (One example: they’re responsible for the delectable chocolate wall at Hannah’s Bretzel in Chicago.)
Caputo’s Market and Deli
Caputo has been teaching chocolate classes at Caputo’s for five years now and even teaches a cultural anthropology class on chocolate at the University of Utah. As much as he loves geeking out about chocolate with his chocolate connoisseur friends, he also loves educating chocolate novices about what real chocolate tastes (Hint: Dove 70 percent dark chocolate is not the real thing) like. In a typical intro to fine chocolate class, he might sample three single-origin bars all made in Utah: Solstice Chocolate’s Sambirano Valley, Madagascar bar with bright berry notes, Ritual Chocolate’s Balao, Ecuador chocolate, which has a more classic and earthy cacao flavor and Amano’s floral Dos Rios, Dominican Republic bar with floral tasting notes of lavender and bergamot orange. These wide ranging flavors really showcase the concept of terroir as it relates to cacao.
Amano is America’s most award-winning chocolate, and Caputo’s was their first customer back in 2006. For Amano and many other local chocolate makers, Caputo’s paved the way for national distribution and international recognition. “We’re not just a store,” Caputo says. “It’s about engaging in the culture of food and sharing our genuine enjoyment and excitement for great chocolate with customers.”
Caputo also claims to eat a pound of chocolate a day, so he’s probably single-handedly responsible for consuming enough chocolate over the past decade to keep a few craft chocolate makers in business. He tells me that he thinks consuming quality chocolate actually speeds up his metabolism. Yeah, I’m going to start telling myself that next time I skip going to the gym.
In Park City, I also visited Ritual Chocolate to see the complex chocolate-making process myself. The sheer amount of specialty equipment needed to make great chocolate is astounding — and clearly expensive. From roasting and winnowing to conching and tempering, each step requires a different machine. Although some bean-to-bar companies use all-in-one machines, that doesn’t give you the same precision. For chocolate makers like Ritual’s Robbie Stout, it’s his pure single-origin and blended chocolate bars that he is most proud of and what he considers a chocolate maker’s true marker of quality. Bars with inclusions like fruits, nuts, nibs and spices, are merely distractions.