Cao Chocolates Welcomes Us to the Dark Side

By Gretchen Schmidt / Photography By Robert Parente | October 01, 2013
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Trillos family at Cao Chocolates store

Trillos gets very animated about chocolate. “Chocolate is one of the sexiest things!” he announces, popping into his mouth a dark square he pulls from a special bin, and, shortly afterwards, a few freshly made mendiants. “I eat a lot of chocolate,” he says. “I don’t get tired of it.” He’s quick to explain the art and science of making chocolates in his tiny atelier, testing the temperature of melted chocolate by touching it to his lower lip as if he’s been doing this for decades.

Yet it’s only been four and a half years since Trillos traded a career as an accountant for that of an artisan. He decided to make his chocolate-making obsession into a profession, setting his sights on becoming not just a chocolatier – someone who transforms bars of chocolate into delectable truffles and bonbons – but a chocolate maker who can perform even more alchemy by turning the humble beans of Theobroma cacao into extraordinary bars of pure, rich, chocolate goodness.

Perhaps this passion was a calling. Trillos is a native of Venezuela, arguably the source of the world’s finest chocolate. When he moved to Miami in 2004, he worked in accounting during the day and made chocolates at night and on weekends, a hobby that he nurtured far beyond book learning. “If I’m going to do something, I have to know as much as I can,” he says. Trillos studied at Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago and Ecole Professional School of Chocolate, trained with top pastry chefs and served internships in chocolate shops in Chicago and North Carolina. When he was ready to start his online business, friends thought he was crazy. This encouraged him more, he says gleefully. He rented space in Cutler Bay to make chocolates to sell at farmers markets and via the website. Cao Chocolates – “Cao” is his nickname – was born.

His handcrafted morsels caught on. One year ago, he went to bricks and mortar, opening his tiny atelier in a strip center just south of Dadeland. Here, he creates and sells his confections: plump truffles like chai tea, passionfruit chocolate and Thai, with toasted coconut, peanut butter, curry, crystallized ginger and dark chocolate; tidy molded bonbons filled with fruits and flavorings like single malt scotch, nut-studded bark and smooth tablets adorned with chewy candied fruits.

This is, happily, a mom-and-pop in every sense of the word. When we visited, Trillos was piping ganache in bonbon molds in the back of the shop; his wife, Anelith Ortega, was packaging chocolates for a corporate client, keeping an eye on daughters Sophia, 6, and Camila, 3, playing in the front of the store. Ortega also designed the company website. Visitors are greeted so warmly they, too, feel like family. “We don’t have customers,” says Trillos. “We have friends.”

 Shop Cao Chocolates
Wine and chocolate tastings give Trillos the opportunity to share his passion. “What I love about this is that I get to teach about how chocolate is made and harvested,” he says, letting participants taste different chocolates and “bringing them to the dark side.” In good chocolate, he tells them to look for flavors of Brazil nut, wild berries and spices, for example. “We look for complexity. The aftertaste is the most important.” Trillos encourages his students to visit other chocolatiers and ask where the beans are from. “If they don’t know where they’re from, they’re just a distributor.”

Trillos is a passionate advocate of supporting local businesses. “I’m a local freak,” he says. “I get fresh fruit at the farmers markets,” – tamarind and lime are some of the local ingredients that go into his confections. He makes it a point to use local suppliers for other products sold in his atelier: cheesecake from The Cheesecake Gallery, flan from Martica’s Sweet Creations and artisan ice cream from Roc Kat Ice Cream.

At the end of his tasting classes, he devotes a few minutes to talk about the benefits to all small businesses – his and the small businesses he works with – when they shop local. “Whatever you spend here, stays here. It’s a circle. We all benefit.”

{ Begging for Mendiants }

Among the many treats at Cao Chocolates are mendiants, a traditional French confection made of thin chocolate disks studded with nuts and fruits.

To make them, Trillos begins the same way he would to prepare any confection that requires a smooth, shiny chocolate coating: by tempering it. This process of heating and cooling forms and stabilizes cocoa butter crystals, resulting in a glossy finish that sets up quickly and stays crisp at room temperature. “This prevents fat bloom, where the cocoa butter separates,” he explains.

There are many tools of the trade, such as professional chocolate melting tanks and sophisticated extruders, enrobers and molding machines, but Trillos prefers to use old-school methods, relying on his microwave, a hair dryer to regulate temperatures, a makeshift agitator to remove air bubbles, and an instant-read thermometer. Even the latter is unnecessary, he says, since he’s able to gauge temperatures by touch.

One way to temper chocolate is seeding. First, it’s melted [1] - Trillos uses a microwave at low power - and stirred briskly. Solid chocolate pieces [2] are added to get the temperature to 90 to 92ºF.

Another method is to pour most of the melted chocolate onto a marble slab, and work it, using a spatula and scraper, until it cools [3]. The cooled chocolate is then stirred into the melted chocolate until the temperature reaches perfect crystallization. Trillos tests the chocolate by dipping a piece of candied orange peel into the melted chocolate and making sure it sets properly: shiny and smooth. (The melted chocolate could be poured into molds for bonbons [4] at this stage).

For mendiants, he pipes small rounds onto parchment, then places a pistachio, an almond and an orange peel on each disk [5]. Within minutes, they’re ready to eat [6].

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9804 SW 77 Ave.
Miami, FL
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