By The Food Tease on December 5, 2021
As an integral element of Mayan culture, cacao was perceived as a gift from the gods, a divine elixir that empowered humans. Today, the cacao bean is being sought out globally to create exquisite chocolate indulgences, an art that Hummingbird Chocolate excels at.
Having spent many years working with farmers in developing countries, helping them connect to new markets and receive better incomes, Erica and Drew Gilmour strived to develop a bond with the locals. Intrigued by the chocolate-making process while working in Haiti after its catastrophic earthquake in 2010, the Gilmour’s sweet passion for cacao farming was ignited. Erica explained that they “started to do a deep dive into the very limited craft chocolate that was available at the time – blown away by the different, unique flavours in a single-origin cacao”. This was the beginning of how their passion evolved into Hummingbird Chocolate, a prized chocolate factory located in Almonte, Ontario. A venture that has placed them on the highest chocolate echelon, winning over 100 international chocolate awards, including “Best Chocolate in the World” in 2016 by the Academy of Chocolate.
We felt this might be something that we could do, that we would love, that provided a sustainable market to fine cacao and that brings joy to chocolate lovers! – Erica Gilmour
Touring of the Hummingbird Chocolate factory allowed me to experience the process involved in the creation of their exquisite chocolate. I must tell you that the aromas in the factory were something that can only be described as dreamlike. The roasting bean aroma alone could easily make a chocolate lover spellbound and wish to forever be in that sweet state.
The recipe to craft their chocolate, from cacao bean to bar, requires a ten-step, month-long process. I was absolutely fascinated to learn all about the factory’s chocolate-making techniques. And in true form, I learned as I tasted my way through the process – the sweetest education I have ever had! Without a doubt, the most memorable and telling moment occurred when I sampled two different single-origin cacao beans being transformed during the conching process (i.e. coating of cacao bean particles with cocoa butter). One chocolate exuded notes of honey, while the other of berries, even though no flavouring was added. It was just the bean, in its purest form.
Each chocolate-making step is only made possible by having that special connection with the farmers overseas. Cacao has long been one of the most underpriced and undervalued commodities, to which Erica added how they are “trying to be part of the solution (a small part) that insists on paying farmers something closer to the actual value of their product and by making the best tasting products possible so that people can understand the value of fine cacao. That chocolate is a valuable food, not an inexpensive candy.”
We’re hyper focused on creating the best possible tasting products and doing right by producers and farmers we partner with along the way. – Erica Gilmour
Erica shared with me that one of the most important things that people don’t know about the chocolate world in general, is the difference between Chocolate Makers, like Hummingbird Chocolate, and Chocolatiers. Hummingbird makes chocolate from scratch, starting with raw cacao beans. In contrast, Chocolatiers create bonbons or bars from chocolate that’s already been made, often by large chocolate manufacturers. She also noted that “both are very skilled, but I think it’s an important distinction for people to understand in order to improve chocolate education.”
What lies in the future for Hummingbird Chocolate? More great chocolate and confections! They are looking forward to continued growth in their new, larger space in Almonte. Erica specified that the new equipment will allow them to increase their production, but also continue to improve the quality of their chocolate, which they’re really excited about. “We’ve been really focused on the Ottawa market which has supported us so amazingly for the past 9 years. We’re looking forward to sharing our goodies with more of Canada in the coming years.” With their expansion, the factory will be launching some new single-origin bars and will also be expanding into the confectionery world, such as caramels, chocolate-covered coffee beans and almonds. Speaking of decadent caramels, I had the pleasure of having my hand on the chocolate assembly line, enrobing caramels with chocolate and finishing them off with a sprinkle of fleur de sel. And, of course I had to ensure they tasted as good they looked so I had no other choice but to devour a few. This was my ‘I Love Lucy’ moment!
Whether or not chocolate was a divine elixir or possessed mystical properties, what we know with certainty, is the fact that it brought much positivity to those that were fortunate enough to consume it. And that reasoning still applies to our present day. Much like sommeliers with their fine wines, chocolate aficionados appreciate high-quality chocolate with its multilayered scent and diverse flavour profile. And Hummingbird Chocolate, with their passion and dedication to ethically sourced sweetness, has thrived on producing nothing but the finest of chocolates for us to enjoy!
**This article was first published in the Ottawa lifestyle magazine Luxe and was given permission to post on the author’s site.
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