The difference between a chocolatier and a chocolate maker

Updated on 18 September 2012 | 0 Comments

If you are thinking of buying expensive chocolate anytime soon, make sure you read this first!

One of the most common misconceptions about the chocolate industry is that chocolatiers make their own chocolate from cocoa beans.

They don’t.

Chocolatiers leave the buying of cocoa beans, roasting them and grinding them into chocolate to ‘chocolate makers’. The chocolatiers merely buy this chocolate (or couverture as it’s known in the industry) to use in their creations.

Because, rather like chefs, good chocolatiers take their ingredients - of which chocolate is only one - and aim to create something truly wonderful.

In other words, the chocolatier is the person who fills chocolates, makes truffles and creates flavoured bars. It’s a very different discipline from making chocolate from cocoa beans.

The world’s finest chocolate makers

So where do the UK’s best chocolatiers go when they’re looking for chocolate to put in their recipes?

In the past, the answer was always:  Pour la France, of course! Because France is home to some of the world’s finest chocolate makers:

  • Valrhona,
  • Bonnat,
  • Pralus and
  • Michel Cluizel.

Valrhona is particularly popular amongst chocolatiers here and in France, and also used by pastry chefs – 80% of Michelin starred restaurants in the UK use it and their Manjari couverture is a particular favourite in the industry.

Having said that, Italy is also very well respected with Amedei consistently winning top awards at the Academy of Chocolate Awards.

And the good news is, over the past few years we’ve seen a transformation in the industry, with some fantastic new small batch chocolate makers launching in the UK, such as:

  • Willie Harcourt Cooze, of Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory fame
  • Duffy Sheardown, who has a tiny factory in Lincolnshire and is making the most incredible chocolate with just a few small machines.

However, in my opinion, the US is currently the most vibrant country for small batch chocolate makers. Amongst the best are:

  • Amano,
  • Askinosie,
  • Mast Brothers,
  • Patric and
  • Rogue.

There are also some really exciting makers based in the growing countries: Madre Chocolate in Hawaii, The Grenada Chocolate Company and Pacari in Ecuador to name a few.

Here’s where it starts to get confusing

So far, so good. This is where the distinction between chocolatiers and chocolate makers starts to get confusing, however. There are small batch producers who don’t own their own factory but use bigger chocolate makers to work with them to create their own chocolate.

These companies include:

Original Beans

Which personally sources all its beans and has its chocolate made in Switzerland by Felchlin. Original Beans also plant a cocoa tree for every bar of their chocolate that is purchased.

Bertil Akesson

Who owns his own plantation, sources beans from other plantations and has his chocolate made in France by Pralus.

Hotel Chocolat

Which owns their own plantation, the Rabot Estate on St Lucia, where they have re-planted thousands of new cacao trees and have created over 300 jobs on the island.  They harvest and ferment their own beans and then have them made into chocolate for sales in their stores.

The chocolate deception

Despite these confusing examples, very few chocolatiers today make their own chocolate. So if you come across a chocolate company in the UK which claims or alludes to making their own chocolate from the bean, then the chances are they’re deceiving you.

There was an interesting expose of Noka Chocolate in the US a number of years ago. The company - which produced some of the world’s most expensive chocolates - claimed to make its own chocolate. But a US chocolate aficionado tracked down that the source and discovered it was, in fact, a famous name in France making the chocolate, not Noka at all.

Apart from big commercial chocolate factories, Willie's and Duffy's are the only chocolate makers in the UK making from the bean.

However, Artisan du Chocolat and Sir Hans Sloane, do part-make their own chocolate, carrying out the final stages themselves.

This is why it’s always a good idea to ask of a chocolate company where they buy their chocolate from and the answer is a big clue to the quality – if they say ‘Belgium’ then you can be pretty confident it’s mass produced.

Top chocolatiers

Top chocolatiers tend to be pretty transparent about the origins of the chocolate they use to create their chocolates:

  • William Curley is a big fan of Amedei and exclusively uses their chocolate to make his wonderful filled chocolates and bars.
  • Paul A Young uses a variety of suppliers – mainly Valrhona, some Michel Cluizel and he likes to support the smaller artisan producers such as Mast Brothers and Duffy Sheardown. 
  • Rococo mainly use Valrhona, as does Melt.

If there were more transparency in the chocolate world, if some chocolatiers were more open about whose chocolate they use, then there wouldn’t be so much confusion amongst consumers.

With more interest in finer quality chocolate and with more chocolate makers starting out, then hopefully the difference will soon become clearer.

What do you think?

Do you think it’s important to know where your chocolate comes from and who makes it? Let us know your views using the comments box below!

It's chocolate week!

Why not immerse yourself in a decadent feast of chocolate with the worlds best chocolate companies all under one roof? Take part Chocolate Unwrapped 15-16 October - you can get a discount ticket and out more here.

Also worth your attention:

The best way to melt chocolate

The most unusual chocolate flavours

The most delicious dark chocolates

Image 1 - Hotel Chocolat from the plantation in St Lucia

Image 2 - Duffy’s bars


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