"Conching" His Way to Success

Bill McCarrick

Set away from the bustle of city life in leafy, affluent Weybridge sits the Sir Hans Sloane Chocolate and Champagne House. From this hideaway hub Bill McCarrick, world class Chocolatier and member of the Academy of Chocolate , prepares his product with the aid of his very own “conching” machine.

“Conching” is the flavour and texture stage of chocolate production, where coco liquor is converted into couverture. A “conching” machine kneads and rolls the liquor over an extended period of time, while the chocolatier adds cocoa butter, sugar, milk and flavourings to achieve his or her desired result.

“We are the first chocolate studio in the UK to use this type of equipment and the results are a chocolate with a satiny texture and sumptuous feel in the mouth. By “conching” our own chocolate, we ensure that the chocolate kettle temperature rises gradually. It really is an art form.

“We literally nurse the chocolate as carefully as we can so that the subtle overtones of caramel, roasted chocolate and other flavours can develop naturally. We don’t want anything to be forced.

“To put this into perspective, the “conching” process for most over-the-counter chocolates can be as short as 6 hours. We “conch” our chocolate for 72 hours and it is no small coincidence that only last year we were presented with the Gold Award for the Best Organic Chocolate of 2007 at the World Chocolate Awards.”

Impressive stuff, but Bill was quick to point out that “conching” was only part of the secret behind why his chocolates taste so good.

“Our ingredients are the best money can buy. They include Tahitian vanilla, cocoa beans from Orinoco and hazelnuts from Alba. As someone who has been in the business for many years now and having worked all over the world I firmly believe that once you have tasted our chocolate, nothing else will satisfy you in the same way.”

Bill’s love affair with chocolate began many years ago when he was a small boy growing up in Philadelphia , where he spent a great deal of time in his grandmother’s kitchen.

“I developed a keen interest in food from a young age and when I was a teenager I started making deliveries for my father through our family butchers and this led to my securing an apprenticeship in a neighbourhood restaurant.”

From there on he embarked on a globe-trotting career which took him from the US to Switzerland, Austria and Australia and finally to Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Malaysia , where Bill became the first non-European executive pastry chef to lead a five star hotel.

By the time he arrived in London in 2001 his name was already familiar to those in the know and he took up a position in Harrods which saw him responsible for the entire chocolate, pastry, bakery and petit fours production in all the department stores’ restaurants, cafes and food halls.

“Through the course of my travels I came to appreciate how chocolate was handled and even consumed so differently around the globe. That experience – I believe – is enabling me to attempt things that no other chocolatier is currently doing.”

Having been given the opportunity to sample some of Bill’s products I have to say that there is a distinct taste to the chocolate he prepares and I was particularly impressed by his hot chocolate range which comes in the form of small, hard shelled candy shapes. They can be eaten as a snack out of the bag but when mixed with milk they really come into their own.

Going forward, Bill is developing a relationship with cocoa farmers so that he is able to adapt cocoa growing techniques to suit his own style of chocolate.

Currently, the growers have no idea what the chocolatiers want or how their product is being used. I would like my beans over fermented, for a purer intense flavour and under roasted, for a lighter, fresher sensation to bring out the true characteristics and rounded profile of pure cocoa at its very best."

Before I finished my interview I was curious to discover where the name came from for the company.

“We take our name from one of Britain ’s' greatest sons. Sir Hans Sloane dominated the intellectual life of his time. President of the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians, he was friend to such luminaries as Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. A core contributor to the
Natural History Museum and the British Museum , he was also a gifted botanist. “In London , Chelsea's famous Sloane Square and elegant Hans Crescent bear his name.

“But it was his contribution to the sweet art of chocolate, which may rank as his finest work. While exploring the Caribbean , Sir Hans discovered that milk and cocoa beans make perfect partners and he created the famous Sir Hans Sloane's Milk Chocolate recipe. It is in the spirit of this tradition of excellence that we bring you our chocolates today.”

If you would like more information on Sir Hans Sloane Chocolates then visit their website at www.SirhansSloane.com