We have a gem in Eastern Ontario, a rare and unusual enterprise that you must visit – Hummingbird Chocolate in Almonte. It is one of only a few places in the country that produces quality chocolate from bean to bar. They make Hershey bars taste like coarse sugar candy.
Using only the finest sourced cacao (or cocoa if you like), Drew and Erica Gilmour opened their production facility in 2012 at 9 Houston Drive, Almonte.
The two met as foreign aid workers helping farmers in developing countries like Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Their mutual love of chocolate combined with the contacts they made in countries that grow cacao allows them to operate on a direct trade basis, cutting out the middleman, unlike fair trade where buyers deal with a middleman or wholesaler to purchase beans. Drew travels to the countries to maintain relationships with the farmers and seek out new, high quality products so they can provide chocolate with different flavours that are unique to Eastern Ontario.
Hummingbird Chocolate gives public tours on Saturdays at 10 a.m., and Emmy, their very knowledgeable and informative production manager showed us their equipment and the stages of the entire process behind closed doors.
“There’s so much to learn in chocolate [making]. Get the right beans, do the right thing, and the flavours unlocked are incredible. Rush it, and it can be a disaster,” explains Erica.
Sort beans, roast beans, crack beans, sort beans again, winnow, grind, temper, wrap — these are just some of the steps in the art and science of producing quality chocolate. You can read more about the process on their website, www.hummingbirdchocolate.com.
When you go for a tour, be sure to look at the homemade roaster and machine to winnow the chaff from the nibs!
Ivory Coast in west Africa produces about 70 per cent of the world’s chocolate, which is used commercially by the big four international companies. Most of this is the forastero cacao variety which gives a high yield, is disease resistant but is of lower quality.
Hummingbird Chocolate uses trinitario and criollo varieties that are lower yield and take more care in growing. Criollo is the premium quality cacao and it represents about 5 per cent of world production. It is native to Central and South America as well as the Caribbean islands and Sri Lanka.
After the tour, Ashley and Emmy let us go at the self-sampling table. Here’s the rundown:
- Hispaniola using Dominican Republic cacao that is fruit forward with hints of raisin and cherry;
- PB & Joy – roasted peanuts and fruity chocolate;
- Oh Mama! – using Nicaraguan cacao has notes of brown sugar and butter;
- Copan – using Honduran cacao gives creamy goodness with lovely bread notes and hints of caramelized sugar and toasted almonds;
- Fleur de Sel – using single origin cacao with Vancouver Island Salt Company gives a burst of fruit flavour with the tang of BC Fleur de Sel; and
- Mayan – uses organic cacao with a complex balance of traditional Mayan spices and a little heat.
Hummingbird is experimenting with new bars and combinations like toffee and nib, strawberries and toasted hazelnuts and maple made with Lanark County maple sugar. Plans are in the making for milk chocolate too.
This article was first published in the August issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our August issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer or read our digital version.