Chocolate making: From bean to bar
FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — Good chocolate is like wine, according to chocolate makers Josh and Kristin Mohagen.
The couple started their business, Terroir Chocolates, in 2013. The name comes from "terroir," a term from viticulture for how the climate and soil of a region affects the taste of the grapes grown there.
"It means you can taste the soil; you can taste the place," Josh said.
Some of their homemade chocolates will have a fruity flavor while others come out with an earthy or tobacco taste, he said.
"We try to share the flavor that is in the cocoa bean," Josh said. "Each one is unique. They soak in the flavor of what is in the ground around them."
Chocolate isn't just chocolate. He compared the complexity of chocolate to the variety found in wine.
Part of their job is educating the public about the types and choices available in chocolate, Josh said.
The Mohagens import their beans from a dozen different farms in South America. Bolivia and Guatemala are two countries from which they've recently received shipments of beans.
It's a process that benefits the local farmers and the small businesses, Josh said.
The plan is to narrow down their list of cocoa bean supplies to a four or five once they've decided what beans work best for them, he said.
The couple is at the start of their busiest season of the year, which runs from Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day, Josh said. They make up to 200 pounds of chocolate in a week, he said.Josh and Kristin, both raised in Fergus Falls, first met in junior high, but it wasn't until after college that they "re-met" and married.
"We sat next to each other in junior high," Josh said. "I was so afraid and wouldn't say anything, so that's why the teacher put us next to each other."
Kristin went off to a culinary school in Arizona, traveling and working at several restaurants before returning to Fergus Falls.
"I like art and I like cooking, and pastries seem to make those coincide," Kristin said.
Kristin enjoyed working with chocolate but wasn't sure when that opportunity would arrive.
"I loved the chocolate part of it," she said. "I was wondering at what point I would work with chocolate, but I didn't know I would make it."
Josh stayed in his hometown. Working toward his business administration degree at M State Fergus Falls and online from Moorhead and Metropolitan State University.
"Ten years later we met up at Cafe 116," Josh said. "So it took me 10 years to work up the guts to talk to her. That's how we re-met."
"We were married a year later," Kristin said.
The possibility of making and selling their own chocolate first came to the couple when they toured a chocolate-making facility during their honeymoon in San Francisco.
A couple of months afterward, Josh purchased some small pieces of chocolate-making equipment, and the couple went on a tour of a dozen different chocolate makers in the South and along the East Coast.
"We toured from Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Michigan and back," he said. "We did a loop and tried to see every chocolate maker that we could."
The trip was an education experience that allowed them to see what did and didn't work for different chocolate makers, as well as gave them ideas for what to do when they came back to start up their own business, Josh said.
"I think we bought about a 100 different bars," he said. "We bought as much chocolate as we could to taste it and see what bars we liked and the ones we didn't."
Now that they had a vision of what they could do with their business. It was just a matter of getting it off the ground, Josh said.
For the Christmas of 2013, they made five pounds of chocolate, he said.
To make it go further, they spread it out over 20 pounds of homemade toffee, Kristin said.
It was with help from family and the community that they were able to expand their business to what it is today, Josh said.
One of the people who ended up trying the toffee with their chocolate was Harold Stanislawski, the former executive director of the Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission. He helped them get their business started, along with other investments from family members, the community and the West Central Initiative, Josh said.
Before they got all the equipment necessary to set up an approved kitchen in their home in Meadow Hills Lane, the made their chocolate at Zion Lutheran Church, which allowed them to use its kitchen facilities.
Their chocolate is now sold in about 70 stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, according to Josh.
Terroir Chocolate can be purchased in Fergus Falls at the Falls Baking Co., Meadow Farm Foods, The Market, The Spot and Victor Lundeen Co., as well as online at www.tasteofplacechocolate.com.