A Tale of Three Chocolatiers: Elmer's, Sucre and Acalli
The Easter Bunny has plenty of options for sweet local treats this year, including new flavors from a local favorite.
For New Orleans’ candy makers, the smell of money can come with a rich, deep, chocolate aroma. That is certainly true when it comes to three local chocolatiers, each with their own distinctive approach to the business.
Founded in 1855, Elmer’s is the elder statesman of the three. In the 1960s, Roy Nelson purchased the company from its original owners, persuading his physicist son, Allan, to join him in the business. At that time, Elmer’s product line was quite diverse. Along with chocolate candy, the company manufactured Fruit Bublets and crunchy, cheesy snacks known as “Chee-Wees”.
In the 1970s, the Nelsons moved Elmer from its original location on Magazine Street in downtown New Orleans to a manufacturing plant in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. At that time, the Elmer’s product line was narrowed to strictly chocolate, specifically boxed bonbons and Easter eggs.
Today, Elmer’s dominates the Easter candy scene in the Gulf South, where loyal customers purchase between 14 and 15 million Gold Brick, Heavenly Hash and Pecan eggs annually. Devotees of the eggs stockpile them at Easter, most stashing them in the freezer to enjoy all year.
During the rest of the year, Elmer’s operates one of the most efficient boxed chocolate operations in the world. Weekly, over 38,000 pounds of chocolate is turned into bonbons through a completely automated manufacturing process, never touched by human hands.
Conversely, at Sucré, only the chocolate-tempering machines are automated – virtually everything else is done by hand under the watchful eye of chef/owner Tariq Hanna. Hanna is so passionate about chocolate that he sports a tattoo of the molecular structure of theo bromine, the primary alkaloid of cocoa, on his forearm.
At Sucré, Hanna exclusively uses chocolate from Swiss chocolatier Felchlin. Sucre is the third-largest user of Felchlin chocolate in the United States, importing over 35,000 pounds annually.
In 2018, the Felchlin chocolate used at Sucré will be crafted exclusively for the company using formulated flavor profiles developed during Hanna’s factory visits to Switzerland.
Eagerly describing the “taste of Sucré,” Hanna envisions the new white chocolate as “dairy forward with a hint of salt.” His milk chocolate is designed to be “cocoa upfront with a finish of creamy sweetness and a mild salt finish.” Hanna describes the complex profile of Sucré’s signature dark chocolate as having “floral forward notes that transition into fruit, with a low acidic finish.”
From French macaroons to drinking chocolate, there are many ways to compare Sucré’s nuances of flavor, but Hanna believes the purest way to explore the difference, is by tasting the bars.
Susan Morse of Acalli Chocolate takes the “know your farmer” philosophy to a whole new level. Her business, Acalli, was the first chocolate maker in Louisiana to go direct “from bean to bar.” Morse works with a Peruvian cacao grower’s cooperative to source the whole beans used in her distinctive chocolate bars, bringing in over 2,000 pounds a year.
As sacks of beans arrive at Acalli’s chocolate workshop in Gretna, they are carefully cleaned and sorted before being roasted in a converted rotisserie oven. Next, the beans are cracked to separate the hull from the nibs before the nibs are turned into cocoa liquor using a stone wheel grinder. Sweetened with sugar, that liquor is used in varying percentages to create Acalli’s chocolate bars.
Morse is just as particular about the origin of Acalli’s sugar as she is her cocoa. Three Brothers Farm in Youngsville, Louisiana, provides Acalli with the raw sugar that adds a deep, rich molasses element to the finished product.
Continuing the effort to “keep it local,” Second Line Brewing uses Acalli’s cocoa nibs to enhance the chocolate finish of dark brews and NOLA Distilling is experimenting with her nibs as well.
When she’s not turning beans into bars, Morse loves to host educational pop-ups that include an Acalli tasting. She says her favorite tasters are toddlers, whose parents watch wide-eyed as they sample the Barataria Blend Extra Dark. At 81 percent cocoa and 19 percent sugar, this chocolate packs quite a punch, but so far Morse says the chocolate has been met with nothing but smiles.