- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Chocolate lovers got the opportunity to look behind-the-scenes, or under the wrapper, at the chocolate-making process with tours at DeFluri’s Fine Chocolates in downtown Martinsburg, part of the 2015 Main Street Martinsburg Chocolate Festival and Book Faire.

Co-owner Charlie DeFluri welcomed visitors to “Charlie’s Chocolate Factory” on April 25.

After going over safety and sanitation guidelines, DeFluri took curious crowds back to the kitchen area of the 10,000-square-foot factory.

“This is our cooking area, and it’s really just like a home kitchen, but on a much larger scale,” said co-owner Brenda DeFluri. “These machines are what are called ‘fire mixers.’ They are essentially large gas burners and we use them primarily for cooking caramel, but we can cook any center in them.”

DeFluri said the fire mixers are used for caramel because caramel must be stirred constantly, so the machine can heat and stir the sticky stuff for long periods of time.

DeFluri explained that most of the machines in the factory have one specialized purpose, so each step of the candy-making process is done at a different station.

He demonstrated a machine called a depositor, which works like a hand-held pastry bag to squeeze out small quantities of chocolate onto a tray in rows. The amount of chocolate the machine squirts out and how many rows it makes can be programmed in by the operator, DeFluri said.

“A question we often get is where our equipment is made. This machine (the depositor) is Swiss. There’s no company in this country that makes a machine this small to do this. The machine that wraps the candy in foil is from England, but other than that, the rest of the equipment is made here in the U.S. The Swiss, the Dutch and the Germans are the world leaders in sophisticated candymaking,” he said.

Once visitors saw how the candy centers were cooked and formed, DeFluri led them to the enrobing station, where the candies - ranging from peanut clusters to mint patties to marshmallows - are covered in a layer of chocolate.

The enrobing line, a conveyor belt that moves the candies along through a ‘bath’ of liquid chocolate to a cooling tunnel, can produce 180 pounds of finished chocolates an hour, DeFluri said.

DeFluri said the price - and demand - for chocolate is on the rise around the world, specifically in Asian nations.

“As the middle class grows in a society, the people move from buying cocoa products, like drink mixes, to cocoa butter-based products like chocolate. It’s really hard to try to increase production to meet that demand,” he said. “When the worldwide demand goes up but the supply doesn’t, you’re going to get an increase in price.”

DeFluri explained that the supply of cacao (the raw seeds of the Cacao tree, which are later made into powdered cocoa) has remained the same, and that many of the cacao farms are small, family operations where the seed pods are harvested by hand.

Cacao must be grown in tropical climates, so all of the world’s cacao farms are located within 20 longitudinal degrees north or south of the Equator.

While there is not currently a shortage of cacao, DeFluri said, growing it can take years. A cacao tree won’t produce any seed pods until eight years after it has been planted.

According to DeFluri, the demand here in the United States fluctuates with the seasons and holidays. He said the typical “candy season” when his factory is busiest lasts from September through Mother’s Day.

“Although people tend to buy less chocolate in the summer, it’s a good pick-me-up anytime. Chocolate has the same chemical compounds in it as antidepressants, so if you’re susceptible to that brain chemistry, eating chocolate will make you feel really good,” he said.

DeFluri’s Fine Chocolates, located at 130 N. Queen Street, makes and sells more than 200 varieties of chocolate confections, including sugar free and vegan and organic chocolates.

For more information, including hours of operation and order placement, call (304) 264-3698.

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Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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