Patric Chocolate – Columbia
Missourian’s heartfelt business of fine chocolate making leads to discriminating taste buds worldwide
Alan McClure is passionate about chocolate. He’s so passionate he’s made it his life’s work.
But his is not just any kind of chocolate. McClure makes gourmet single-source-cacao products in his factory in the northeast corner of Columbia, Mo.
Patric Chocolate, the company he founded in 2006, strives to please the palate of the most discriminating chocolate connoisseur. This is not Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory with Oompa-Loompas churning out Wonka Bars by the hundreds of cases.
McClure prides himself on his micro-batch approach of hand-made dark chocolate production.
“I strive to maintain the standards I set to ensure the best possible product,” says McClure. “And also so I can look back on my career with love and respect knowing I did the best I could to offer true devotees of fine chocolate a wonderful experience.”
Seeking such a pinnacle of achievement might seem haughty to some. But he tempers his high ambitions with the sincerity of a dedicated artisan and the humble background of a faithful fan.
As a young boy Alan always liked chocolate, becoming quite familiar with the typical domestic commercial varieties found on candy shelves everywhere. But he really became a fan of fine chocolate in his early teens when his father brought home to St. Louis some dark French chocolate following a trip to Europe. That’s when Alan began to understand the depths of the gastronomic possibilities of his favorite confection.
A few years later, while pursuing religious studies at MU, Alan met a fellow student, Viviane Ducret from France, who later became his wife. They lived for a year in France and there Alan informally initiated his study of chocolate making. He frequented the Lyon-based chocolate maker Bernachon, which served as one of his main inspirations and primary quencher of his chocolate cravings during the year abroad.
After his return to Columbia, Alan visited domestic producers’ facilities throughout the United States. He also collected and read authoritative books on the subject, developing an in-depth understanding of each stage of production. He learned lessons about sourcing cultivated cacao from the tropical venues of Mexico, Central and South America, and Madagascar where farmers grow, ferment and dry the raw material. Then on to production techniques employed in chocolate manufacturing: roasting the beans; winnowing, separating the inert shell and germ from the raw chocolate or nib; grinding; mixing with sugar; refining (final grinding) and conching (intense, heated mixing); aging; tempering and molding. He also learned that all these steps collectively take time, patience and love.
To learn even more he began applying his new-found knowledge in the experimental laboratory of his home’s kitchen. Eventually the experimental stage paved the way toward the ultimate step, establishing a factory and business. However, while he had become well versed in the complex production techniques of chocolate making, Alan also needed some practical business advice.
“One of the challenges that I faced was trying to figure out if I had enough money to do what I needed to do,” explains Alan. “I didn’t want to get half way and run out of money, and I didn’t know if I needed a loan, and if so, the best way to go about applying for one.”
At that point, in the spring of 2006, he turned to Virginia Wilson, a Small Business & Technology Development Center counselor in Columbia with MU’s University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She helped her chocolate-maker client determine the level of financial resources he would need to secure a production facility, obtain equipment and procure a steady flow of raw inventory … the all-important cacao.
One of the tools she offered for Alan was an electronic spreadsheet financial statement. He continues to use the computerized statement on a regular basis, frequently plugging in numbers to create a variety of possible business scenarios he can consider. Wilson also connected Alan with a foreign trade expert, who provided Alan with information on exporting to Europe.
“Virginia, with her obvious expertise in business, absolutely helped me to feel more confident in what I had been doing by allowing me to discuss all of the details of Patric Chocolate with her,” says Alan. “Additionally, she followed up with me vigilantly over the months that followed to make sure I was still doing well.”
So with confidence instilled by Wilson’s business counsel, Alan turned to chocolate production.
Much of his work is done by hand. However Alan also uses specialized tools, some of which he made specifically for his one-man factory. From initial roasting to final packaging, he devotes more than three months to each batch. But despite all his labor, Alan considers source selection to be the most challenging aspect of the process.
He has visited several of his suppliers on their tropical farms to help them understand his expectations for perfectly fermented and dried cacao. During his travels he’s seen vast amounts of raw cacao, most of which he would reject.
“It’s a matter of matching my requirements with a producer who will take the time and effort necessary to grow and process the raw material I need to make a single-source product worthy of the tastes of the customers I plan to serve,” insists this central Missouri maker of fine-chocolate, which rivals the best that European chocolate makers can offer.
Currently (2008) McClure’s 70 percent Madagascan cacao fine-chocolate bar is available at select retailers in Columbia: World Harvest, The Root Cellar and Super Suppers. By Oct. 1, he plans to broaden his product line and expand his market via the Internet, tempting the taste buds of chocolate aficionados across the nation and around the world.
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