The Feeders: Charley & Jessica Wheelock, Woodblock Chocolate
What They Feed: Chocolate from the bean. Woodblock roasts, winnows, conches, ages, and tempers chocolate sourced from farmers they have direct connections with in Peru, Madagascar, Ecuador and Trinidad. Family owned and operated in SE Portland.
Where You Can Find Them:
From The Shop: The Woodblock Chocolate Manufactory, SE Portland
Retail: Over 30 other retail locations in Oregon, plus more nationally. See full listing here.
Online: Woodblock Chocolate Online Store
Their Story: Charley and Jessica Wheelock started Woodblock Chocolate with the desire of having a business that married food and design, something that would sustain both their creativity and their family. Charley dabbled in working harvest at a winery, they considered building cheese caves, making crazy yogurts and popsicles. Then Jessica discovered the difference between chocolate makers and chocolatiers (hint: it has to do with starting with beans). A little research revealed hardly anyone in Portland was actually sourcing the beans and making the chocolate from scratch.
They started in their home kitchen, experimenting and learning through trial and error. Charley took chocolate making classes at UC Davis and an online course through Ecole Chocolat, which included a field trip to the source: Costa Rica. Friends and family got more than their share of the trial bars. They started handing out the hand-wrapped bars quite simply labelled “Woodblock Chocolate – Coming Soon” to restaurants and retailers. Once Charley and Jessica got the hang of it, Charley’s friend Marty from Olympic Provisions agreed to sell the bars in his shop. It was a great first client. Woodblock Chocolate soon outgrew its home kitchen and moved to their current location in SE Portland, The Woodblock Chocolate Manufactory, in 2012.
Small batch chocolate making proved to be a bit challenging though. Equipment is generally made for much larger production and they had to be resourceful and crafty, using an old 1910 coffee roaster to roast coffee beans and making a winnower out of a juicer and a shop vac. Sourcing beans wasn’t any easier. If you weren’t buying a whole container (= 12 tons) you were buying it from a middle man. So Charley went back to the source, this time to Trinidad with his friend Gino. Their goal was to connect with the cacao research center at the university and then directly with the farmers. Gino ended up starting a bean sourcing company called Meridian Cacao. Charley still uses Gino to source his Trinidad and Ecuador beans, but has also made direct connections with farmers in Madagascar and Peru.
Woodblock Chocolate made about 80,000 bars in 2014. They’re staying true to their roots with their small 25 gram, 70% cacao bars, made of only cacao and sugar (occasionally salt) and hand-wrapping each and every one. The intent is to “show the agriculture” in the bars. Most bars are single origin, but they make some “double origin” bars as well. Qualities like the source, the fermentation process and the roasting profile affect the chocolate’s flavor. Charley is trying to connect back with the farmers after the chocolate is made, sending them samples of their own chocolate and others so they understand how their cacao farming and bean handling affects the final product.
In late 2014 Woodblock opened the Manufactory up to the public. Now you can go right into their SE Portland shop and sample chocolate, buy chocolate drops or bars and even get a cup of drinking chocolate. Stumptown Coffee exclusively offers Woodblock Chocolate in their drinks. When the LETumEAT team was visiting, Charley was shipping a box of chocolates to a customer in Japan.
“We’re trying to show the agriculture in the bar” – Charley Wheelock
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