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By taking over the family business, François Pralus has fulfilled his lifelong dream of producing his own chocolate. After a few trials at the atelier in the center of Roanne, it soon became necessary to set up a dedicated facility for chocolate production: a factory that includes all the production steps, from bean reception to candy making, including roasting, conching and molding. In addition to chocolate production, the factory also produces pralines, pastries and Pralulines for the shops in Roanne.
In this former clothing factory on the outskirts of Roanne, fully refurbished, around forty employees manufacture, pack, prepare and dispatch the products to shops and customers throughout France and abroad.
«From the bean to the bar, I make everything myself», explains François Pralus, who is one of the pioneers of bean to bar and raw cocoa. Here, all the chocolate is produced from beans chosen from about twenty producing regions around the tropics and sent to the Roanne. François Pralus strives to reveal the typical characteristics of the beans and speaks of grands crus as one would speak of wines. This is why the range of chocolates is essentially made up of 75% pure origin vintages, an ideal percentage to appreciate their qualities. No mixtures or very few: each origin has its own qualities and flavors, provided by the soil, the work of the planters and ultimately revealed by the work of the master chocolatier.
After its arrival at the factory, transforming cocoa is a long and delicate process, specific to each vintage. Each bean is indeed treated differently based on its quality, stronger like the trinitario or more delicate like the criollo. It all starts with the roasting of the dried beans, a very important step that will enhance the cocoa's aromas. «The roasting process must be slow and gentle, not too intense, but long enough, explains François Pralus, who has developed the process for each vintage, as well as the recipes for the different blends. Once roasted, the beans are peeled, crushed and ground before the sugar and cocoa butter are added. A long refining process comes before the molding that gives its final shape to the chocolate bars. «Real» chocolate, as François Pralus likes to call it - this raw chocolate will be used by pastry chefs and chocolate makers to make their sweets.
At the Roanne factory, the forty pastry chefs and chocolatiers produce chocolate bars and candies as well as the whole range of candies and pastries.
On the hills of Nosy-Be, after the rice fields, between vetiver trees, frangipani trees and raphias... it is on a red and perfumed earth that François Pralus' cocoa trees grow.
The plantation was created from scratch on the hillside, starting with the nursery where more than 25,000 cocoa plants were born. The chosen beans, from a variety of criollo, are typical of this Malagasy land where the white bean is cultivated, highly prized for its finesse. Once strong enough, the seedlings were planted in a preserved primary forest, in the shade of large trees, where they were able to grow for at least five years before producing their first pods.
Working with cocoa beans purchased from farmers around the world, François Pralus dreamed of opening his own plantation.
This small plantation's annual production remains small, as the steep terrain and the lack of water in recent years do not allow for large-scale production. Nevertheless, it keeps the twenty Malagasy planters busy all year round, in charge of making the compost, maintaining the trees and harvesting. All of them live in the neighboring village and their children attend the school supported by François Pralus, who rebuilt it after a cyclone. The planters and their families also benefit from medical support in case of need.
«There are about 20 workers on the plantation. They first created a nursery, then planted 25,000 trees of Criollo cocoa, in the shade of tall trees. The plantation extends over 17 hectares. The first harvest was in 2012. For François Pralus, «Criollo is a variety of chocolate, a bit like arabica and robusta for coffee.»
Like a jewel box, the cocoa pods contain the precious cocoa beans, the seeds of this small evergreen tree. The cocoa beans are fermented and dried by the producers before arriving in our factory.
There are several varieties of cocoa: the Forasteros, the most produced today, the Criollos, which are the rarest, and the Trinitarios, which are the result of a crossbreeding of the two previous ones, which took place in the 18th century on the island of Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela. We talk about varieties, like arabica or robusta for coffee. Each bean has a different taste, depending on its origin, depending on the soil and depending on the expertise of the planter», explains François Pralus.
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