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Cacao trees begin bearing fruit in the fifth year after planting. With skillful pruning and cultivation, it takes four to six months for fully ripe fruit to develop from the tiny, waxy, pink-and-white five petalled blossoms that sprout in clusters on the tree trunk and older branches. To protect the young plants from the equatorial sun, they are grown in the shade of taller trees, such as banana trees. Their average life is 25-40 years.

A single tree, in twelve months, can bear 50,000-100,000 cacao blossoms. Their life is short, not exceeding 48 hours, and on average only one flower in 500 produces a fruit. The fruit is vulnerable to attack by animals, birds and insects, as well as by fungi, bacteria and even viruses. There is also the constant struggle against parrots, monkeys, squirrels, rats, and other rodents – all very fond of the sweet pulp of the cacao pods.

While the trees bear fruit (pods) all year around, harvesting is generally seasonal with the main crop harvest lasting several months and a mid-season harvest lasting several more months. Climatic differences cause wide variations in harvest times. The tree is so fragile and its roots so shallow that workers cannot risk injuring it by climbing to reach pods on the higher boughs. For this they use long-handled steel knives (machetes), taking care not to damage the floral clusters containing dormant buds, the promise of future harvests.

Only 10 to 30 percent of a tree’s fruit will grow and develop into mature cacao pods. These pods are of several types: Criollo, the most valuable. Long ribbed and thin-skinned, it is initially green and becomes red at maturity. Forastero, by far the most widely cultured species, has a rounded pod, almost smooth. It turns from green to yellow at maturity. Trinitario is apparently the result of crossbreeding the other two types.

It requires training and experience to tell by appearance which cacao pod is ripe and ready for cutting. Ripe pods appear at all times, since the growing season in the tropics is continuous. However, in most localities there is a main harvest and a mid-crop harvest, each lasting several months. The harvested pods are gathered in a pile at the edge of the growing area and the pod-breaking operation begins. One or two expert blows with a machete will usually open the woody pods.

Between 20 and 50 cream-colored seeds is the usual yield of a typical pod. The seeds, called beans, are strung in five chains or rows around a single placenta within the pod. Bean size varies with the species. The beans are embedded in a white mucilaginous flesh whose harsh, yet sweet taste is highly appreciated by many animals. In some regions, natives use it for preparing a refreshing drink, as well as a sort of jam. The husk and inner membrane are discarded.

The cacao bean consists of a leathery seed coat, rich in tannin, which envelopes each seed, and itself consists of two halves. It contains cocoa butter, proteins, starch, alkaloids, essential oils and various substances, which will release their aroma at the roasting stage of chocolate making. In fact, the pleasant chocolate aroma is not at all apparent in the fresh seed.

Harvested cacao seeds are placed in piles and covered with banana leaves. This starts the fermentation process, lasting three to nine days, and generating temperatures up to 125° F. The cacao beans themselves do not ferment; the pulp sugars outside the bean are converted into acids, primarily lactic and acetic. At the same time, within the bean, the germ is killed, and hydrolyzing and oxidizing reactions occur which give the cacao bean its characteristic flavor after roasting. After fermenting, the beans are spread on racks to dry in the sun. For protection from the rain, the racks can be slid under roofs, or roofs moved out over the beans.

In some countries beans are dried mechanically in driers of various sizes and types, depending on the size of the operation. Hot air is forced through the beans, which are stirred regularly during the drying period. The process reduces the moisture content of the fermented beans from 60 percent to 5 to 7 percent, and the beans from an average pod weigh less than two ounces; and approximately 400 beans are required to make one pound of chocolate.

The process of transforming the cacao bean into mouth-watering chocolate is as much a blend of art and science as coaxing a ripe, flavorful bean out of Mother Nature.

Once grown, picked, dried, culled, and packed in 130-200 lbs. jute, sisal or burlap bags, the cacao beans arrive from many countries on four continents at various U.S. ports. Quality control begins at the pier, with samples taken randomly from each lot for analysis at our Lititz, Pa. laboratories. The principal test in the judging of cocoa beans is the cut test. After careful evaluation of the cocoa bean halves conclusions are made as to the degree of fermentation and flavor development of the raw cocoa. Additional analysis will include testing the beans for size (100 gram bean count), moisture, and foreign matter. If all of the test results are within the specifications, delivery is accepted and the beans are shipped to our chocolate liquor plant. Upon arrival at our plant, samples are taken and retested for comparison with the pre-shipment test results. Since Peter’s purchases many flavor grade beans, a small test batch of chocolate is made and tasted before final approval is granted for the lot of beans to be used in manufacturing.

Only after the final approval does the manufacturing process begin. The beans are dumped onto a grate and go through a series of screening steps to remove foreign matter such as stones, twigs, pod fragments, sack threads, dust, etc. They are scanned by an electro-magnet to remove any metallic particles. Each type of bean, because of varying size, is roasted individually to ensure uniformity.
Roasting is done slowly in continuous roasters for approximately 30 minutes at temperatures ranging from 100° F to 150° F, depending upon the bean. During the process, the heat swells the bean, bursting the shell.

The roasted cacao bean then goes into a winnowing machine, where it is cracked into small pieces and the fragments of shell removed. The husked and winnowed beans are now called “nibs.” It is at this point in the process that the nibs of many varieties are blended. It is a test of the chocolate maker’s skill to achieve the subtle (and secret) mixtures that ensure the quality and flavor consistency that are the hallmarks of each Peter’s product.

The roasted nibs undergo a grinding process and then pass through mills, which transform them into a fine paste. The heat generated by the friction of the milling process melts the cocoa butter in the paste, constituting 50-60 percent of the bean, and produces a thick, liquid mixture called chocolate liquor.

The process for manufacturing our milk chocolates begins with fresh, whole milk being converted to a proprietary sweetened, condensed milk. We convert this sweetened, condensed milk -- along with other ingredients -- into a proprietary “crumb”. The process results in a product that possesses unique caramelized milk notes. The critical processing equipment utilized today is the identical equipment that has been used to produce Peter’s™ Chocolate for decades.

Crumb, cocoa butter and other ingredients are mixed together to create a milk chocolate mass. At this point the chocolate is already quite tasty, but has a somewhat gritty feel in the mouth. To break down the particles the mass is conveyed to a refiner where it passes through vertically stacked rotating steel rollers under heavy pressure and emerges as a fine, flaky film.

The resulting product, however, is still not smooth enough, the flavors of the various ingredients have still not emerged and the pure, rounded chocolate aroma still not fully developed. The mass is conveyed for further processing. This stage is called “conching.” The churning action not only mixes the chocolate but also ventilates it to ensure perfect flavor components. This is also the stage when flavors, such as vanilla, are added to give the product its final flavor.

At every step of this complex manufacturing process there is continuous sampling of the product. In-Process Quality Assurance Laboratories are located in the midst of the manufacturing operation at each facility for on-the-spot testing to ensure the quality and consistency of Peter’s™ chocolate, batch after batch, shipment after shipment, year after year.

After conching, the chocolate is stored in large tanks, then pumped to individual tempering units connected to each moulding and depositing machine. Peter’s™ products are produced by depositing, lush, creamy tempered Peter’s chocolate into large moulds. The chocolate moulds or pieces then enter cooling tunnels for a period that depends upon their size. Moulds are shaken to remove air bubbles and disperse the chocolate evenly as they enter the tunnel. When the Peter’s™ chocolate is sufficiently solid, it is demoulded.

Thus, through complex and seemingly magical processes of nature, science and technology and guided by over a century of experience and consummate flavor artistry, simple ingredients are transformed at Peter’s™ into many varieties and shapes of chocolate.