The grand opening of The Aggie Chocolate Factory is set for Friday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. The newest addition to Utah State University’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences food science program is in the Aggie Blue Square complex at 1111 N. 800 E., Logan, just west of Maverik Stadium.
The process of sorting beans, grinding and roasting them, tempering and molding the chocolate is visible behind a glass wall in the newly renovated space. For the grand opening, bars will be available of some of the factory’s high-cacao-content, dark chocolate in its signature Thistle and Rose collection of organic, fair trade chocolate. The factory’s chocolate café will be open and serving a dark hot chocolate drink and a small selection of pastries. The full menu and product line is still being developed and other drinks and confections—including novelty milk chocolate creations—will be added in the future.
“The factory serves several purposes, but it is first a laboratory for students in food science,” said Professor Silvana Martini. “It will also facilitate research and outreach to the confectionary industry. This will be the only chocolate factory at a university in the western United States, and people in the industry are excited about the opportunities for short courses and working with us to produce certain flavor profiles.”
Martini has taught a general education science course about chocolate for the past 3 years, and students find out on the first day of class that chocolate is much more than a bite of something sweet–which is sometimes shocking to students who managed to get in the class and thought it was going to be all about tasting chocolate.
The factory is capable of working in batches as small as a single kilo of cocoa beans or up to as much as 250 kilos. Research will also be done in partnership with commercial chocolatiers locally and from around the world. Opportunities to work with Utah’s commercial candy makers will be a new facet of extending USU’s land-grant mission to serve people in the state as there are many candy companies in Utah and the majority produce some kind of chocolate confection.
There are also economic and natural resource lessons to be learned regarding chocolate production. All cocoa beans used at the Aggie Chocolate Factory are sourced from sustainably farmed operations that receive fair trade prices for their product. Steve Shelton, Aggie Creamery business manager, said artisan chocolate making from bean to bar is much like the artisan cheese or craft brewing industries in that small batches allow careful control of flavor profiles and exploring the nuances that different ingredients and processes create.
“Most artisan chocolate makers are involved in ethically sourcing cocoa beans from small farms or co-ops and working directly with producers,” Shelton said. “They invest time and money to help farmers develop ways to grow and process their crop, manage fermentation and give them an outlet to sell it for fair prices that provide opportunities that change their families’ lives.”
For example, one of the factory’s signature Thistle and Rose chocolate bars starts with certified organic cacao beans grown by more than 350 small-acreage cacao farming families—most of them indigenous Q’eqchi’ and Mopan Maya—that comprise the Maya Mountain Cacao Co-op in Belize.
Eventually, The Aggie Chocolate Factory will produce the chocolate used in Famous Aggie Ice Cream. Other confections will be added to the factory’s offerings and large bars of processed and aged chocolate will be sold to candy makers.