Spagnvola produces delicious treats from farm to finish
By Amy Orndorff
Friday, Oct. 14, 2011
Hands off the Hershey bar. Get away from the Godiva. Leave the Lindt.
If you want real chocolate in its simplest form, head to Spagnvola Chocolatier in Gaithersburg. At the small boutique you can indulge in premium bonbons and truffles, tour the factory where the cacao beans are processed, learn about the chocolates' origins and visit the kitchen where the delicacies are made fresh by hand.
Husband-and-wife team Eric and Crisoire Reid and two business partners opened the boutique in February with the desire, Eric says, to create and sell "the purest of the purest" chocolate. To accomplish this, the company manages the entire process from the farm to the store. They specialize in making 54 percent milk chocolate, 62 percent semisweet chocolate and 70 to 80 percent dark chocolate bars.
Walking into the boutique, the first thing you notice is the warm atmosphere. The staff greets you, the walls are painted cozy autumn browns and oranges, and rows of chocolate treats beckon from under glass counters. Regulars with reading materials in hand lounge at tables with coffee and sweets; the shop also sells gelato and pastries.
Fifteen- to 20-minute tours of the small factory and kitchen are free and given upon request on weekends. As the door to the factory swings open, it's hard to miss the aroma - a pungent and slightly bitter chocolatey scent that makes your mouth water.
Business partner Justin Brooks fills the tours with educational and edible tidbits. On a recent tour, he explained that the ideal climate for growing cacao is 20 degrees above and below the equator. Spagnvola gets all its beans from the Dominican Republic, the homeland of Crisoire Reid. Her sister runs the family's 350-acre farm on the slope of a mountain, where workers pluck cacao pods, scoop the beans out of the pulp, ferment them with banana leaves, and package and ship the dry beans to Baltimore. Everything else happens within the walls of Spagnvola.
In the first room, the cacao dries in a modified commercial chicken roaster. A machine called a winnower separates the shells from the nibs, also known as the seed. Then the nibs are ground with pure cane sugar for days until the concoction runs smooth.
Of course, the highlight of any food tour are the tastings, and Spagnvola doesn't disappoint. Visitors get to nibble a nib, take a lick of the chocolate as it is mixed with cane sugar and sample the final product.
The second stop on the tour is Reid's haven, the immaculate kitchen with bonbon molds stacked high, fridges full of ganache and a large granite table where Reid and her small staff work.
"It made me really appreciate fine quality chocolate," said Gaithersburg's Jin Wang, 28, after a recent tour. "I don't want to eat Snickers anymore."