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Preview Chicago’s Graham’s Fine Chocolate and Ice Cream

According to The Examiner:

Bob Untiedt is the owner of Graham’s Fine Chocolates & Ice Cream in Geneva, IL. This locally famous candy shop has some of the best chocolates in the area and is only a short drive from Aurora. Early in January, Bob Untiedt sat down with Aurora Food Examiner Kelly Lenza to answer some questions for the community. This first portion concerns the making of chocolates. Watch soon for two more portions of the interview, cut for length into discussions of global influences on chocolate and Graham’s influences in the community. For the interview, the Examiner’s questions are marked with a K and Bob Untiedt’s responses are marked with a B.

K: First question…I looked on the website and I found that you make the chocolate yourself. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got interested in chocolate and how you got started?

B: Sure. Quite awhile ago in college I wanted to be a band director and I did that for a couple of years. I had a friend who was in candies, and his job was as a consultant, where you design and develop candies. They made snack foods and things like that at the place where he worked, and he came up with things like the fruit roll up.

At the end of my second year in teaching, I was thinking I wanted to do something else. And he asked me if I wanted to manage a candy factory. Which was wonderful pay, but I didn’t know anything about making candy. But it was right next door to his consulting r and d place. And [he said] they’d teach me everything I needed so don’t worry about it. So I started working there and he was right, they just filled my head with all kinds of stuff. It was like every day you go to work and learn something new.

K: That’s amazing.

B: Yeah, it was a lifetime opportunity that just put candy making in my blood.

K: So, did you never really make candy before that?

B: No.

K: Do you do any cooking outside of candy making?

B: Yeah, in college I worked in a bakery. That’s how this guy knew me. ‘Cause he consulted for a bakery as well, they do all kinds of snack foods. He got to know me there and … he got me working at 2 or 3 bakeries because he liked what I was doing. So I bounced around bakeries and that got me into the candy thing, and after I worked at that one company, they sold to a company in New Jersey. So I’d been jumping around other candy companies, and then I thought, “This is too much fun, I should do one of my own!” So, then I started looking and Geneva was the coolest place to go.

K: I haven’t been down here around Christmas before, it’s very beautiful. And it’s a nice place to come in summer, too.

B: Oh yeah we’ve got it all year ‘round, except right now, it’s kinda cold!

K: So, moving on to actually making the chocolate. How do you define high quality chocolate? When you’re choosing chocolate to make your candies with, what is it that you look for in the flavor, and the texture, and the actual type of chocolate you buy?

B: I look for all those things, the flavor, the texture, you know. It’s really intuitions about what you’re tasting. After doing it several years and you eventually start to find what you like, and in terms that would be your quality chocolates, because you start to see what makes a diamond. So there’s all kinds of things that go into it.

The actual manufacturing of it kind of warrants good quality. The conching process, the roasting, where they get the beans from, certainly that’s a big factor because that’s the start of the whole thing. You can get all kinds of cocoa beans just like you can get coffee beans, you know, some are good and some are bad.

K: What’s conching?

B: Conching is taking the cocoa mass and running it through a machine that sweeps, presses, or scrapes the particles against a heated wall. The wall ends up getting heated because there’s so much movement from friction. Until those particles break down into smaller and smaller bits so that the smoothness of the chocolate comes out. Also the flavor comes out because the smaller bits you have, when you start bringing all these ingredients together, your sugars, your cocoa butter, and your chocolate mass, and milk if it’s milk chocolate, all comes together into a smaller and smaller, more refined particle. Then the flavor comes out, because you’re not going to have just one particle attack your taste bud, but many, because they’re so small.

K: So do you guys specifically do that for Graham’s; do you buy raw beans?

B: Well we don’t, which is not unusual for a small chocolatier. For a small chocolatier it’s not unusual because there are so many good chocolate manufacturers out there, to let them take control of that process and do what they do best, sometimes that behooves you, because then you have one less worry. So if there’s other people that can make the chocolate so you can start with that, and then go into your centers, your caramels and your crèmes and things like that and not have to worry so much. So we do shop around for great chocolate makers that will make sure our chocolate tastes wonderful.

Tim Padavic