Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Raising the Barr: From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate Barrs

If you're like me, you might have just assumed that chocolate came from... um... hmmm? 
Let me rephrase that: If you're like me, you might have wondered, Where the heck exactly does chocolate come from?!?

Last week I visited the only chocolate maker in Stratford.

Now, I already hear readers crying out: "But there's more than one chocolate maker in Stratford!!" To be clear: I'm not talking about 'operations that make candies using chocolate' here, of which yes there are more than a few in town (hence the success of the Stratford Chocolate Trail launched this past year). 

No, for this blog post I met with an artisan who actually takes the raw ingredients used to make chocolate and creates this "Food of the Gods" from scratch.

Derek Barr of Chocolate Barr's in Stratford is a do-it-yourself kind of guy. In my post about the Chocolate Trail from last summer, I described him as, "a chef who prefers to work with confection as his medium." The combination of self-reliance and creativity is, in my opinion, the ideal skill set for culinary excellence. Derek Barr doesn't seem to care much for recipes combining pre-processed ingredients; he creates the ingredients himself and then sees where they take him. I distinctly remember being extremely impressed when I learned he'd created a whole line of ice wine jellies by reducing bottles of precious Ontario ice wine himself. And at the recent Perth County Food Summit reception, Derek's was serving up an all-local '60 Mile Toffee' he'd made from scratch using Robinson maple syrup/butter, C'est Bon goat's chevre/milk, and wild boar bacon from Perth Pork Products!

Last week, Derek Barr generously allowed me to shadow him as he created chocolate by first roasting, husking, and juicing the beans of the tropical cocoa plant. He's sourced out  cocoa beans from Costa Rica, Venezuela and Madagascar, which he processes by hand as a true labour of love.

The bitter cocoa liquor Derek is extracting throughout the video is then added to raw sugar cane and powdered milk to create what we know as milk chocolate. Or it can be smoothed out by the introduction of some  sugar and cocoa butter and transformed into, for example, dark chocolate with 80% cocoa ingredients.

Which is exactly what Mr. Barr has done with his most recent shipment of cocoa beans from Costa Rica. The latest Bean to Bar product is called Itzamna, appropriately named after the Mayan god of creation.

I found the flavour of this authentic chocolate bar intriguing. Having been brought up on milk chocolate candy bars, I think my mouth has been trained to anticipate sweet creaminess when it comes across this particular treat. But the from-scratch bar was very different - it was somewhat bitter and  crisply crunchy. That's what real chocolate is supposed to taste like!

St. Patrick's Day is around the corner, and Chocolate Barr's also has a whole line of really fun Irish themed chocolates and candies like Guiness Truffles (above) and Irish Potatoes (below).

Thanks goes out to Derek Barr for sharing his method for creating chocolate from Bean to Bar with me. His painstaking efforts to keep it real are above-and-beyond the call of duty, and the products of his labour are absolutely heavenly.


  1. Does Derek source his cocoa beans from fair trade sources? I checked out the website and didn't see any mention of it.