Chocolates de Mendaro – chocolate producer

by admin on 08/06/2016

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Chocolates de Mendaro is a small company, which was founded and has been owned by the Saint-Gerons family for generations. The story starts during the First Carlist War, a civil war in Spain from 1833 to 1839  , when the Frenchman Bernardo Saint-Gerons, who was married to a local woman, founded a company for importing and selling colonial products like cacao, vanilla, coffee  and sugar in the Basque country. Later his son, Juan Maria, went to Bilbao in order to learn how to produce chocolate. Then, he set up a mill in Mendaro in 1850 where his descendants still produce chocolate manually following traditional recipes.

Initially, whole cocoa beans were imported and a donkey was used to rotate a mill for grinding the beans into cocoa mass, then an electric motor substituted horse power, while nowadays they aren’t allowed to grind cocoa beans any more. Instead, they buy raw chocolate  from a company in Valencia. The cocoa beans come from Venezuela, Ivory Coast and Ecuador, while sugar comes from the area of Alava in the South of the Basque Country and the adjacent province of Burgos. They are also using honey, which they buy from a beekeeper in Getaria located near Mendaro, as a sweetener.

Cacao beans were brought to Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1502, but it didn’t have any impact. Shipments of cocoa seeds to Spain started in the 1520s. The first documentary evidence of chocolate in Spain comes from a delegation of Dominican monks led by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, who travelled to the Iberian Peninsula in 1544 to visit Prince Philip, future Emperor Philip II.

The story of chocolate apparently goes back millennia, bu the earliest written document is the Dresden Codex made by Maya Indians dating to the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. As described here and here, the Mayans drank a liquid made from crushed cocoa beans, chili peppers and water. When the Aztecs conquered a large part of Mesoamerica in the 1300s, they imposed a tax, consisting of cocoa beans, on the Mayans.

As regards the meaning of chocolate: The English word ‘chocolate’ comes ultimately from the Nahuatl word chocolatl, an edible substance made from, amongst other ingredients, the seeds of the cacao tree. When the first Spanish explorers encountered chocolatl in Central America, they apparently mixed it up with the word cacahuatl, the name of a drink made from cacao.  However, as suggested here, the Spanish conquistadors didn’t want to use the word cacahuatl because “caca” is a vulgar Spanish word for feces. Certainly, the conquistadors encountered Indians, like the Aztecs, who were  drinking cold chocolate liquor and using cocoa beans as a form of currency in the early 1500s.

From the outside, the chocolate mill looks like any brick house in this area apart from a large sign with the text Chocolates 1850 Mendora, but having entered, the owner Maria Saint-Gerons led us first to their small shop, which was full of their exquisite products, then we entered the workshop where Ana Mari, who had worked for the same company for 25 years, and a woman colleague were dipping small pieces of chocolate in hot chocolate, then rolling them in cocoa powder. Last but not least, the the whole workshop was immersed in a pleasant flavour of chocolate. Besides, it was quiet and it seemed like nothing was rushed, making it a wonderful place to work

As noted on the web site of this company, chocolate is a mixture of sugar and cocoa. Two products are derived from cocoa beans: cocoa paste, which is dark brown and bitter, and cocoa fat which is yellow. According to the proportion of paste and fat mixed with sugar and ingredients such as milk, or dried fruits, different types of chocolate are produced such as auburn, milk or white chocolate.

Interestingly, there were three machines in the workshop, each of them mixing either hot white, milk or dark chocolate by letting a wheel somehow lift the hot chocolate upwards, then letting it fall down through a chute back to the vessel from which the wheel had lifted the hot chocolate, forming an infinite loop.

Changing tasks, Ana Mari mounted three moulds on a plate, then she held each mould under the chute which let the hot chocolate fall down continuously. After having filled all the moulds and scraped away superfluous hot chocolate, she put nuts in the hot chocolate, then stored them in a cool place such that the hot chocolate would turn solid.

Next, she put a bowl under one of the chutes at a time, filling one bowl with hot white chocolate, one with hot milk chocolate and one with hot dark chocolate. Then, she poured the contents of all of them onto a stone table and mixed them with a spatula. Having mixed the hot chocolates, she held another bowl under the table and scraped hot chocolate such that it flowed down into the bowl. Having stirred the mixture thoroughly, she poured the hot chocolate into a mould and scraped away excess chocolate. Finally, she stored the mould in a cool place.

Ana Mari also showed us how to make chocolate bars for «chocolate a la taza», the Spanish hot chocolate, when she put a dark and very dense chocolate mass in the mill, which had been used from the 1850 to grind cocoa beans. Below the upper millstone, there were a set of wooden rollers and , according to a newspaper clipping on the wall, the millstones had never been replaced, while the rollers had been replaced because they add flavour to the chocolate . When she turned on the electric motor, the upper millstone was rotated, forcing the rollers to rotate at the same time, compressing the chocolate. After having compressed the chocolate mass, she picked up pieces of chocolate mass with a spatula and put them one by one into moulds. Next, she put the moulds on a shaker table to shake them as well. Until recently, she had to do it manually instead. A film showing this process can be watched here.

This company produces a wide variety of chocolates, as can be seen here.

The products include

Their products are sold in specialty shops in Donostia, Bilbao and Mendaro.

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