Findlay Market is now home to only the second bean-to-bar chocolatier in Ohio: Maverick Chocolate. Maverick co-owner/president Paul Picton grew up in Canada and moved to Northern Kentucky 14 years ago to work for Comair. His job frequently took him to Europe, where he discovered interesting chocolates.
Feeling burned-out from his job, he and his wife, Marlene, decided to make a drastic change.
“I was tired of all the travel and tired of working on airplanes, so I semi-retired and decided to get out,” Paul says. “But I didn’t have any kind of big stockpile of cash to go and sit on the beach. It was time for phase two, and we started making chocolate at home.”
The autodidactic couple taught themselves to make chocolate from the bean up in their home kitchen. The stars aligned last year when Findlay Market renovated a few buildings on Elder Street and needed new tenants. Paul showed them a business plan to open a bean-to-bar chocolate storefront, and Findlay agreed. Maverick Chocolate opened at the beginning of July and had its official grand opening a couple weeks ago.
Paul runs the place as a family business with Marlene, their son Ben, who left his coffee-roaster marketing job in Seattle, and Ben’s wife, Hannah.
Inside the small storefront/factory, pendant lights and a chandelier hang over a wooden countertop displaying free, bite-sized samples of their chocolates. The chocolate processing machinery sits behind the bar. To make their bars, the Pictons purchase ethically sourced direct-trade cacao beans from farmers in countries like Ecuador, Belize, Peru and the Dominican Republic. Even though nearly 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa’s west coast, African farms have been dogged with slave labor incidents; therefore, the Pictons avoid it.
The Pictons then follow the same basic process they did at home but on a larger scale. They sort the beans and roast them, then separate the husks from the edible nibs. The nibs are ground for about two days and turned into chocolate liquor (the melted state of the nibs). The chocolate liquor is then conched — an agitation process that is required for flavor development — for two days. Sugar and other flavors are added, then the mixture is aged in pans for up to a month.
The aged chocolate is then tempered (heated and cooled to create sheen, texture and snap), poured into molds, vibrated, cooled, de-molded and hand-wrapped in packaging designed by local artist Jessica Jones. Bars sell for $7.95. Currently, Maverick offers a variety of chocolate bars with varying percentages of chocolate; a higher percentage means a stronger chocolate with less added sugar (a 100-percent bar would have no sugar).
Bars include a 65-percent espresso dark chocolate made with Deeper Roots coffee beans; Fahrenheit 513, spiced with cinnamon, star anise and hot peppers; a 60-percent dark milk chocolate; and more. They’ll soon add a white chocolate bar made with Churchill’s Teas’ caramel rooibos tea and a bourbon dark milk chocolate with smoked sea salt.
“Chocolate really is a special treat,” Paul says. “It’s become commonplace in America but it has lost some of its special quality. So we’re hoping to bring that back. Guys like Mast Brothers (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Askinosie (Springfield, Mo.) and before them Scharffen Berger (San Francisco) were the ones who really helped to create that craft chocolate ideal.”
Paul sees the burgeoning craft chocolate movement as the new craft coffee. “It’s because there’s so much flavor and complexity in those beans that there’s room for a lot of people to work with them and to experiment with them and to come up with new flavor creations,” he says. “I’m sometimes jealous of coffee roasters. They get to stop with the roasting process and that’s really my first step of seven.”
According to The Ultimate Chocolate Blog, the only other bean-to-bar chocolatier in Ohio is Fincachocolate in Logan — and several states don’t have any.
“We’re starting to grow, and within the next five years we’ll probably see that every city of reasonable size will have their own chocolate maker,” he says. “What we really want to see is that people in Cincinnati appreciate chocolate for what chocolate is and understand all of its nuances and different varieties.”
Gauging by how briskly Maverick’s bars are selling out — they make about a 100 bars a day — Cincinnatians do.