The Conche was invented by Rodolphe Lindt in Berne, Switzerland, in 1879. This invention was a landmark in the production of chocolate. Chocolate in its various forms has been used by humans for thousands of years. Early chocolate was nothing like the smooth, creamy confection that we enjoy today. It was a course, mostly unsweetened concoction made by grinding raw coco beans and then mixing it with water and adding herbs and spices. The result was a drink that while crude by today’s standards was highly regarded as a medicinal, even sacred elixir.The Conch was one such machine. It is reported that the discovery was made quite by accident; One story goes as follows; Mr. Lindt had a batch of chocolate in a stirring machine. It was Friday night and he forgot to turn it off. On Monday morning he discovered his oversight. Much to his surprise and delight he found that the batch of chocolate was not ruined, but was, in fact the best chocolate that he had ever eaten; it was smooth in his mouth, with less sour notes, it was sweet, but without the sharp sugary sweetness that was characteristic in chocolate of the day. The ingredients that comprise the chocolate were blended into a homogenous, smooth flowing, much improved product.
The early conches were shaped like a seashell, thus the name Conche; the French word for shell. They used a longitudinal motion, where a cam moved heavy granite roller’s back and forth; rolling and smearing the chocolate mass between the rollers and granite bottoms. These stone beds, rollers and drive cams are shown below:
The intimate contact between the granite rollers and heavy granite slabs, grind the chocolate to a very smooth consistency. The long grinding time (often days,) combined with the heat produced by the friction of grinding, transforms the chocolate by reducing acids, and imparting a caramelized flavor. As other ingredients are added the conch blends the various components that are used in the chocolate recipe and also grind them to a smooth, taste bud pleasing, homogenous, mass. Human taste buds, perceive anything ground finer than 20 microns, to be smooth. As the individual particles of the various ingredients, pass between the rolls and granite beds their sharp edges are smoothed. As they are smeared into the other ingredients they bond to form a homogenous, pourable liquid, which can be molded and shaped into candy bars and other confections.
As with many industries today, with soaring production cost, chocolate processing companies are often forced to look closely at their bottom line. They examine every major process to see if it can be done in a more economic manner. Conching was no exception; This style Conche has a time honored history of producing an exceptionally smooth product. The cost was that it took time, floor space and extra energy consumption. Modern conching machines do take up much less space, use less energy and can produce an “acceptable” product in much less time. However, many will argue that they do so at the expense of the exquisite taste and texture of long conched chocolate. I do know that some things like fine wine and Amore just can’t be hurried!