Featured photo: Kevin Drummey and Stephen Knoop are the owners and operators of Eigen Chocolate based out of their home in High Point. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
When done correctly, the chocolate crystallizes and becomes shiny when it dries and it’s smooth in the mouth. It doesn’t melt at the slightest touch and it gives a nice snap when broken. But to get it to that stage is kind of a pain in the ass.
“During the tempering process, chocolate will crystallize into seven different forms,” explains Stephen Knoop, one half of Eigen Chocolate, a small-batch chocolate company based out of High Point. “And you want it to crystallize into one specific version, and it’s the one version it doesn’t want to be the most.”
Still, Knoop doesn’t have to stress out as much about it because that’s his partner Kevin Drummey’s role in the business, not his.
“There have been many frustrating times,” Drummey admits.
“As the seasons change and you forget, ‘Oh, it’s got to go from here to there faster, it can’t sit there that long,’” Knoop adds. “You end up remelting 80 bars to do it again.”
Drummey and Knoop, who are both life partners as well as business partners, have learned all of the little, meticulous details of the chocolate-making process since they began Eigen Chocolate last spring. For the last year and a half, the two have been cranking out bar after velvety smooth bar from their home in High Point where they moved from LA in 2021 at the height of the pandemic. The property also includes a sprawling garden replete with a flock of geese and ducks.
“We enjoyed it there a lot,” Drummey says about living in LA. “ But during COVID, you’re not doing anything.”
To pass the time during COVID, Drummey — who was working in automotive and aerospace engineering at the time — fell deep down a YouTube rabbit hole, one in which he watched a lot of videos of people making chocolate. It was the first time he learned about craft chocolate and became aware of the differentiations between say a Hershey bar and something higher quality like Ghiradelli.
“To call it craft chocolate,” Knoop explains, “You have to make most of the stuff by hand.”
That inspired Drummey to try his own hand at chocolate-making. He bought roasted cocoa nibs from Honduras online, some cocoa butter and a tabletop grinder, then churned out a final product in about two days. The result was a kind of almondy, rich chocolatey bar with a slightly cherry note.
“And I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is really good,’” Drummey recalls. “And this is just buying stuff that other chocolate makers have prepared.”
Once the two successfully made chocolate with the training wheels on, they decided to give it their own go.
Drummey, who had originally dreamt of going to patisserie school before he pursued the sciences, started doing his research and sourcing his own beans. He started making his own bars and sharing it with friends and family. When they moved to North Carolina, they decided to take what they had learned and turn it into a business.
Last year, they started selling their products — which range from chocolate bars to drinking chocolate and chocolate spreads — at the Corner Farmers Market in Greensboro. They also sell at the Cobblestone Market in Winston-Salem as well as online. Eventually, they want to sell chocolate to local bakeries so they can use them in their pastries.
“I want to incorporate the pastry and baking element because all of our chocolates have unique flavors,” Drummey says.
After a few years, they’d like to have a brick-and-mortar space for a café-bakery.
On Sept. 14, he quit his job to focus on chocolate full time.
Now, Drummey is the head chocolate maker while Knoop handles the package design and website maintenance. Currently, the company sells chocolate from 12 different origins. For the uninitiated, that’s a lot.
“We did too many at once,” Drummey laughs. “I still think we have too many right now.”
“Most places have four origins,” Knoop says.
The problem is that Knoop has a soft spot for the Vietnamese bars, but he can’t find it in him to get rid of any, even though they take more time to process.
Drummey’s favorite bars are the ones made with cacao beans from Tanzania. They have a bright, acidic quality to them and have a more fruit-forward flavor. The Vietnamese ones tend to have a more dried-fig or raisin flavor. The nibs from the Dominican Republic yield super fudgy, chocolatey bars. In addition to milk chocolate and dark chocolate options, the business has white chocolate and vegan bars, too.
While the beans themselves — depending on how they’re grown, processed and dried — yield their own flavors, a lot of the final taste depends on how Drummey takes the nibs and makes them into actual chocolate.
First, the dried and fermented beans get sorted, sometimes by hand, based on size and shape. Then, they get roasted in the same kind of machine that roasts coffee. Next, the roasted beans get cracked and winnowed to remove the papery husk that coats the outside of each bean. Once the beans are huskless, they get put into the melanger, or grinder. Cocoa butter gets added to the mix, then sugar; all of it stays in the melanger for two days.
Then comes the meticulous part. The mixture gets poured into pans where it will temper, or repeatedly get cooled and heated, to achieve that perfect glossy, snappy, smooth texture.
Once that’s achieved, the chocolate gets poured into molds where it will set. Then it gets packaged.
Each batch, which can range from 80-300 bars depending on the size of the melanger used, takes no less than five hours of working time, not including the two days in the melanger.
Despite the time-consuming nature of the work, Knoop says that it’s all worth it when they bring their chocolates to market and have people taste-test them for the first time.
“To see that organic reaction on their faces is really nice,” he says. “It’s way more rewarding. You can only describe something so well, but when you taste it, it clicks.”
That’s part of the reason why the company is named as such. The name refers to the eigenvector, a math and physics term that is used to loosely describe the transformative properties of molecules. And that’s what Drummey says they want to do with their chocolate.
“We’re trying to transform people’s perception of what chocolate is,” he says.
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