RYE & RIVET doesn’t see a lot of posts about chocolate, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a major sweet tooth. After hearing about Olive & Sinclair, we were drooling to find out more about their old-school techniques. We caught up with Scott to learn about the machines, the origins, and of course, the chocolate itself. Being a Southern boy, he talked bourbon with us as well.
RYE & RIVET: When and how did you start creating your products?
SCOTT WITHEROW: I started making chocolate in 2007 (in my house and at F. Scott’s, the restaurant at which I was working at the time). I roasted beans in the oven and cleaned them using a a small hand cranked bean cracker and a hair dryer. Of course, I bought a different one for this use… hehe. I bought a small melanguer that allowed me to make like 3-5 pounds at a time. I made some truly awful stuff. It’s pretty difficult to figure out the times and temperatures of roasting Cacao, not to mention correlating that with bean origin, its attributes and what you’re trying to highlight, the ideal particle size, what to use as your sweetener, packaging, etc. For the longest time I was experimenting with beans from Ecuador, Panama, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Peru… For a good 2 years it was experimenting and R&D (research and development). Then I began working on sourcing equipment, (finding) better bean sources, and packaging– we initially designed the packaging to be letter-pressed. While we achieved the aesthetics I was looking for, the idea of letter-pressing all the band wrappers quickly turned out not to be an option. Just like any other business I guess, after losing my mind a few times and pulling my hair out on the way, I started a Chocolate factory.
R&R: What three words would you use to describe your brand’s ideology?
SW: Southern, Artisan, Chocolate. The Southern part reflects who we are, as a company and a product. While we strive to make the best possible chocolate, (we try to) add whatever we can to the growing and evolving Southern Food Movement that we feel like is re-emphasizing and defining its southern roots. Our process and packaging play a big part in this as well. While quality is always first, O&S really needed to be as personable and southern as it is quality. I wanted our bars to seem like they had been around for 60 years and to be quality chocolate that people could enjoy without putting too much snobbery into each bite. The artisan part of it is exactly that. We enjoy the fact that each bean is hand sorted, fed though the machines, molded, & wrapped before the finished chocolate gets to the customer. Call it hokey, but I feel like that hands-on experience and attention to detail translates in the final flavor of the products we all do as smaller artisan makers, of whatever sort. We’re actually trying to slow down our process even more by using some older, less-efficient machines in our new line of Buttermilk White Chocolate. This allows us to keep our Southern ideology and really just kind of made sense to us (in terms of) Slow Food. As for the word “chocolate”, this just sticks the other two defining words together– at the end of the day, we are chocolate makers, so that is first and foremost. It just kind of worked out that Southern heritage and love for food help us slow down enough and apply this to the chocolate that we make and the company that is being built.
R&R: What does “Integrity” mean to you in terms of modern production?
SW: For me, and O&S, (it means) doing everything we can to do each step the right way. It’s all about being totally transparent. Like I said, we have actually moved to using some machines that have slowed our production down a bit, but it’s because this is how we feel our products should be made. For this line we restored these century-old French stone mills that otherwise probably would have never seen their next batch. Stone grinding was just a knee jerk reaction in how to make chocolate. Now, it’s the only way we’re willing to make Southern Artisan Chocolate. It would have been a lot easier for us to but a brand new ball mill and be able to make 1000 (units) an hour, but that would have felt like using biscuit mix or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”. Stone Grinding is slow but Southern.
R&R: Who is an inspirational icon for you at the moment?
SW: At the moment i look up to my friends and co-workers in the food industry. Allan Benton for his craft and the continual humbleness he graces us all with, Chef Sean Brock for his dedication and drive. My wife for her patience with me. I am trying to get as much of these things from these folks as I possibly can.
R&R: What’s your drink of choice?
SW: I love craft beers…and Bourbon. Recently at one of my favorite spots, Abattoir, I had a Brown Derby. It’s my new obsession– Bourbon, local honey & grapefruit. It is perfectly balanced and it’s what I will be having all summer long. It’s only about 10 a.m. (right now), but it’s so stinkin’ hot I could go for one right about now. Yum.
Thanks so much to Scott for answering our questions and giving us so much insight into his fascinating company. Truly a man after our own hearts. To see what all the fuss is about, head over to Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co.