Food science freshman Ally Taylor measures raspberry filling into a bowl for the dark chocolate raspberry crisp chocolate.

Is there anything as delicious as a fresh bar of chocolate? The smell. The texture. The taste. Whatever it is that draws you to chocolate, Cal Poly Chocolates perfects it. The process of creating chocolate is a mix of patience, quality control and troubleshooting. On Jan. 24, Mustang News had the chance to sit in as a team of 10 students created the flavors of the week: dark chocolate raspberry crisp.

Though it isn’t Willy Wonka’s wonderland, Cal Poly Chocolates nonetheless brings the spirit of that chocolatier to life. The talented and disciplined group of students endeavor in the labs of the Food Processing (building 24) to create the perfect chocolate bar.

Video by Austin Linthicum & Erik Engle 

From Melting to Mixing

When the chocolate first comes to the Pilot Plant, it is in a relatively raw form, shaped in shallow tear drops. They mix it into a tempering wheel that slowly melts and churns the chocolate until it is smooth. Food science senior and Cal Poly Chocolates student manager Rachel Rosenbloom explains why the heating is vital to good chocolate.

“Heating the chocolate to 97 degrees melts all cocoa butter fat crystals,” Rosenbloom said. “Bringing the temperature down to 89 degrees allows only desired fat crystals to form, while the rest stay melted. This tempering process makes the chocolate uniform and gives it a shiny appearance.”

While it churns, flavorings like freeze dried raspberries are mixed in. Through this process, Cal Poly Chocolates produces anywhere from 100 to 125 pounds of chocolate per week.

From its cycles on the wheels, the chocolate is poured into a depositor machine that equally distributes chocolate into mold trays, each with five bars. The machine is prone to deviation and the variation in flavors and fillings means it needs constant adjustment. For example, flakes of freeze-dried raspberries get stuck inside the machine and impede the flow, making adjustments a necessity.

These molds, now filled with chocolate, are taken to the vibration table. Students press molds to the table to shake the chocolate to remove any air bubbles, ensuring the chocolate seeps into every crevice and keeps its shape.

Once enough molds are shaken, they cool and harden in a separate room. Rosenbloom shared some trade secrets for chocolate.

“When a bar is ready, you can hear the chocolate rising and popping out of the molds,” Rosenbloom said. “The cooling time is different depending on the chocolate. Dark chocolate will take around 10 minutes to settle and cool enough to come out of the molds.”

Food Science sophomore Taran Virdi breaks the chocolate from the plastic molds.

“If the chocolate has sat correctly, then they’ll pop right out,” Virdi said.

With two taps and a swift turn, the chocolate is out and in perfectly formed bars. The bars are stacked and stored for packaging the next day.

Wrapped in red

The next morning, the bars are lined up and the packaging machine is primed. Centered on a large reel, the wrapping paper is nearly 10,000 “impressions” long and roughly the size of a basketball. The origami machine seamlessly and folds more than 1,000 chocolate bars in 30 minutes.

“We used to wrap every chocolate bar by hand,” Rosenbloom said. “The number of man hours this machine saves [is]  innumerable. This machine still has its quirks and we need to adjust things, but it saves time. By the end of the day, around 1,100 bars of chocolate will be packaged and shipped.”

Bumper to bumper, the bars move along, quickly and carefully nestling into a coat of red wrapping. They move over a heated plate to melt the adhesive seal and are precisely cut to form that perfect rectangle.

The chocolate is taken from the belt and placed in boxes, ready for distribution. According to Molly Lear, the food science and nutrition operations manager, they often sell their chocolate so quickly that Cal Poly Chocolates cannot keep up with every flavor.

“We make chocolate on a quarterly basis,” Lear said. “Since we don’t work during finals week, we generally work eight weeks a quarter. We have nine flavors that we make
every quarter.”

The students behind the chocolate

So, who are the chocolatiers behind Cal Poly Chocolates? The program can hold anywhere from five to 10 students and is watched over by the operations manager. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate making isn’t as sexy a job as it may seem, as Virdi elaborates;

“When I was a kid, working with chocolate was my dream job,” Virdi said. “But now that I’ve seen the industry, I realize it isn’t as glamorous. I’m covered in chocolate all the time.”

In addition to the benefit of attending class smelling like chocolate and raspberries, Cal Poly Chocolates offers students tantalizing industry experience. For the student manager, the work allows her to hone her troubleshooting skills and find out what works — and what does not.

“As manager, I have a great opportunity to see what I’d be doing in the food industry.” Rosenbloom said. “The planning and thought put in make me feel prepared for anything I’d face in work. I can show people that I have initiative and efficiency as a team lead.”

Lovers of chocolate

Draped in chocolate-covered lab coats, the students bring heart and personality into their craft, and their chocolate reflects that. To these students, chocolate can be more than just a sweet treat.

“Chocolate is a great food.” Rosenbloom said. “It’s versatile and can be a multi-textural experience.”

“Sugar is a drug, right?” Virdi said. “Chocolate is my preferred method.”

For food science freshman Ally Taylor, raspberry crisp was the first chocolate flavor she made with Cal Poly Chocolates. She shared her thoughts about her first day.

“I actually didn’t like chocolate for a long time,” Taylor said. “But since being here for the last few hours, I remember why chocolate is so good. I’m really glad that I get to experience this as a student.”

Cal Poly Chocolates is an organization that embodies the Learn by Doing philosophy while facilitating community. The students create lasting memories and build career skills. It just so happens that the sum of all this is great-tasting chocolate.

For more information, check out Cal Poly Chocolates’ Facebook @CalPolyChocolates or follow the entire Cal Poly Food Science and Nutrition Production’s Instagram @cpfsnproduction. Cal Poly chocolate is sold on campus at the University Store, Campus Market or Village Market. You can also find products at a number of off-campus locations, including the Downtown University Store and local and gourmet grocery stores and shops.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *