Bruce Reininger shows Wallowa County Slow Food chapter members how he takes a slab of chocolate and gently cuts it into 210 separate truffles. Next step, dipping them in melted chocolate. KATY NESBITT / The Observer
An ever increasing national appreciation for locally produced food reminded some Wallowa County foodies that the rural lifestyle of growing and preserving food has become trend setting.
Since there are so many like-minded folks raising produce and livestock and others who simply love to cook and eat good food, a handful got together and started the Wallowa County Slow Food chapter, now simply dubbed, “Slow Food Wallowas.”
President Lynne Curry said locals have always raised animals, made cheese, and canned, but the chapter was started to raise awareness among people who aren’t inclined to go to the farmers markets.
The popularity of locally grown food has helped not only increase business at the Joseph farmers market on Saturdays and the Enterprise market on Thursdays, but two new markets opened Memorial Day weekend in Wallowa and Lostine.
This summer, Slow Foods Wallowa is expanding its scope a bit and offering after-hours events for members and non-members alike. On Wednesday, May 23, Arrowhead
Chocolate in Joseph hosted 14 people for chocolate tasting and to try their hands at both hand-dipping and using machinery to make truffles.
Curry said the chapter chose Arrowhead for its first after-hours event to gather around a table and celebrate food traditions.
“Our after-hours events will highlight people bringing exceptional food into our community,” said Curry.
Bruce, Wendy and Erica Reininger took turns describing where chocolate is grown and how it’s processed.
Wendy Reininger said chocolate is an ancient food that pre-dates Aztec and Mayan culture. Due to the extensive process of turning a cocoa bean pod into liquid chocolate, she described it as a “very” slow food.
Cocoa plants originated in Central America, said Bruce Reininger, but are now grown around the globe, within 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Cocoa needs sun and tropical humidity to flourish.
The plants grow to be 20 to 40 feet tall and need partial shade. When a pod is opened it reveals its fruit and seeds. To turn the raw product into chocolate, the seeds are fermented and then the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa solids, where the source of future truffles lies.
The seeds are dried and fermented like wine, beer, or coffee, said Bruce Reininger. When they are ground, 50 percent turns to liquid.
Arrowhead receives the bars they use to create confections in 10 pound slabs of 100 percent chocolate. It is then mixed in different percentages with cocoa butter, sugar and sometimes milk.
To illustrate the differences of chocolate, each participant at the chocolate tasting was served slivers of 100 percent all the way down to the lowest cocoa content, white chocolate.
The 100 percent slivers were a little bitter, but surprisingly delicious despite the lack of cocoa butter and sugar. The 85 percent version was slightly sweetly sweeter, but had a strong, chocolate flavor. The 75 percent blend was very smooth and the 63 percent mix had more sweetness than the previous offerings.
The next blend was milk chocolate with 38 percent cocoa and lastly, white chocolate, that is mostly cocoa butter and sugar.
Next, chocolate from countries around the world like Madagascar, Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela were sampled. Bruce Reininger said growing conditions dictate flavor and the plant takes on its character from its environment, especially the soil.
The Reiningers then explained the process of heating, mixing and tempering each of the different percentages to get the right consistency.
Lecture and tasting completed, the crew went to the kitchen.
A large rectangle of future chocolate truffles was laid out on a table. Bruce Reininger took a rolling pin with blades and carefully rolled it across the chocolate lengthwise and widthwise to create 210 separate truffles.
Next, he took a pizza cutter treated with cooking spray and cut deeper through the chocolate to separate the tiny squares.
Each person took a turn with a fondue fork dipping the cubes in melted chocolate, a feat much trickier than one would assume.
Eric Reininger said when they first made chocolates in their home kitchen they made each by hand, but wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand of their Joseph store and website without the aid of a conveyer machine.
The reward for the tour was a truffle or two to taste and a few to take home.
Curry said the next Slow Food Wallowas event is tonight — a dance party and fundraiser at Gypsy Java coffee shop in Enterprise at 7, which follows her book signing of her new cookbook, “Pure Beef” at the Bookloft in Enterprise at 5:30.
Future events also include a beer and beef tasting at Mutiny is Brewing in Joseph and a tour of Red Horse Coffee Traders in Joseph complete with a discussion on coffee roasting.