Making Chocolate with Cleveland Chocolate Co.’s Rebecca Hess

Rebecca Hess found her way to chocolate-making in a unique way: through a tropical fruit CSA. The CSA began to send her fresh cacao, which Rebecca collected until she had enough to make a batch of chocolate. Learning the process quickly inspired her to order more beans, invest in equipment, and eventually led her to outline a business plan for her own company—placing her on the path towards opening the Cleveland Chocolate Company.

Before that first cacao pod arrived, Rebecca worked as a chef in restaurants for more than fifteen years. Growing up on a blueberry farm and an avid baker herself, she had been around chocolate personally and professionally most her life. “As a chef, there isn’t a lot of space to dig into chocolate. It’s just milk, dark, or white chocolate,” Rebecca explained. As the owner of Cleveland Chocolate Co., Rebecca has the opportunity to pursue the independent flavor profiles and to share the natural characteristics of the beans. “All of the flavors are so special and different,” she said.

From that initial batch of chocolate created from her CSA to the products she makes today from her store front in Fairmont Creamery, Rebecca has discovered a love of the process. She often experiments with translating spices, herbs, or freeze-dried fruits into her chocolates. She said, “There are so many different ways to infuse flavor—from grinding spices into the chocolate to finishing the bar with different candied citrus or nuts.”

Rebecca sources all of her cacao from organic and fair trade partners like Uncommon Cacao. She places a lot of emphasis on ingredients. “There are few ingredients going into the chocolate, sometimes no more than three, and it’s important to have ones you know and trust.” In addition to Uncommon Cacao, Rebecca also relied on suppliers like Jacobsen Salt Co. and Singing Dog Vanilla.

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The chocolate-making process begins with roasting, which is done on site. Then, the cacao is cracked to remove the husk and expose the cacao nib. Rebecca uses the husks to make select products, but they are not incorporated into the bars themselves. The cacao nibs are ground with cocoa butter and then combined with sugar to make chocolate. At this stage, other ingredients are also added to develop various flavor profiles, such as milk powders, spices, chilies, freeze dried fruits, etc. The chocolate is then conched for the flavors to mellow and fully incorporate. When it’s ready, it’s tempered, moulded, sleeved, and boxed for sale in the store or at stores across Ohio.

All of the bars are produced in small batches, and Rebecca has about fifteen varieties of chocolate that are sold in the store. “The 79 percent dark chocolate bar is the most popular among customers, and it is one of my favorites.” Rebecca said.

In addition to her store in Fairmont Creamery, you can discover your own favorite at locations across the state, such as Ohio City Provisions, the Market at the Fig, Old Brooklyn Cheese Company, Nature’s Oasis, Constantino’s, The Wine Spot, Merchant Manor, Local Roots (Wooster), Rittman Orchards, Bent Ladder Winery, Meza Wine Shop (Westerville), Cleveland In a Box, Visible Voice Bookstore, and Harvest Owl.

You can also find Rebecca at the Tremont Farmers Market this summer, which starts Tuesday, May 11.