Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rodolphe Lindt: Chocolate Smooth as Silk

Rodolphe Lindt
In the 19th century, the tiny land lock country of Switzerland became the center of development for chocolate production. The advent of industrialization led to the commercialization and improvements to the production of once luxurious products and turning to a product that the masses could enjoy. Names like Jean Tobler and Daniel Peter were pioneers to the rise of chocolate. And among the most ingenious and successful of this chocolatiers was Rodolphe Lindt.

Rodolphe Lindt was a hard working son of a pharmacist. Born in 1855 in Berne, Switzerland, his relation with chocolate begun when he became an apprentice to a confectioner. During his apprenticeship, he learned the art of chocolate making that was becoming popular in Switzerland. After finishing his apprenticeship, during the 1870’s he decided to establish his own chocolate factory in Berne. He build his dream chocolate factory from trash. He bought two factory buildings that were damaged by fire. And his roasting machinery for his cacao beans was second hand, bought from a bankrupt company. Nevertheless, with hard work and perseverance, and with some help from his brother August Lindt, his factory began production by late 1870’s.

During his chocolate production, he saw problems to it. First, he saw that his hard press dried cocoa cakes caused “whitish” coating that repel customers. It also had a rough texture in the mouth and also had bitter taste. Also, he saw problems in production. He saw that the pressing of dried cocoa into cakes were labor intensive and back breaking.

Lindt looked for solutions. He asked the aide of his pharmacist brother, August for help. With research and observation they found out that the whitish coat was caused by too much water. They also found out that cocoa butter was the solution to make the chocolate smoother in the mouth.

The result of their research came to a form of a new machine in 1879. Hot rollers were placed in an iron trough in a granite stone. This would serve as the mixer for the cocoa and the extracted cocoa butter. The machine was then power by the nearby river of Aare. Lindt called his machine Conche, coming from the Spanish word Concha meaning shell. It was because the machine resembled a half shell. And the process though the machine was called conching.

After creating the machine, the next task for Lindt was to look for the perfect chocolate recipe for his company. This search, however, would end in an accident, not of a tragic kind. One weekend Lindt worked with his machine to make his chocolate recipe. For unknown reasons, he left the factory without turning his conche machine off. For three days, the machine continued to roll. Upon the return of Lindt he discovered that the chocolate in the conche was smooth and easy to mold. He dubbed his product chocolat fondant.

Lindt was more of an artisan than a businessman, but it doesn’t mean he was generous with his techniques. Chocolat fondant became an instant hit. From rich and middle class Swiss, they looked for Lindt’s product. They loved its silky texture and its sweeter taste. The melting of the chocolate mesmerized them. Lindt on the other never expanded his business. He did not built a larger factory or even established a distribution chain throughout Switzerland. It turned out, he made chocolate for passion. Although not looking for a huge chocolate empire, he kept his conche machine and chocolat fondant recipe a secret. He defended his secret as if it was a city of gold. He kept the machines in another building. Its keys were only in the hands of the few. Authorized personals were also minimal.

Many sought his secret. In 1899, a crazed for the formula of Lindt begun when the German Magazine, Gordian, published an article titled “Why does this chocolate taste different from others?” Letter for guesses on Lindt’s recipe flooded the publisher.

But in 1905, Lindt shocked many with his decision. He decided to sell his company to Rudolf Sprungli, a chocolate maker from Zurich, Germany. For 1.5 million Swiss Francs, Lindt turned over the rights for his products and his recipe to Sprungli. And ever since, the Lindt & Sprungli continued to produce good quality chocolate.

Cadbury, D. Chocolate War: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers. New York: Public Affairs, 2010.  

Grivetti, L. E. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. New Jersey: Wiley, 2009. 

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