Rebecca Ankenbrand of Sweet Minou Chocolate tells her sweet chocolate story

Sweet Minou Chocolate has had a long, winding and bilingual road.

Chocolate maker Rebecca Ankenbrand grew up in the Midwest with rather more imagination than gourmet experience. With a childhood filled with reading mysteries, dancing to Madonna, plus a fascination with electronics, eventually, one intrigue led to another and she found herself faced with: dark chocolate – its history, its mystery, its real people.

Long hours were spent online researching this shapely passion while French homework was ignored. Discovery started with the corner stores and their weak offerings of 70 percent and higher dark chocolate. But she always just needed more. Wherever there was a whiff of dark chocolate, she would find it, taste it, try to understand it and its place in the world.

And then the real joy started when she was able to order her first cocoa beans, and eventually a battery of equipment, from Chocolate Alchemy. She roasted the first beans any way she could – burning them in the oven, burning them on the stovetop, and even burning them in a Dutch oven on top of a portable propane range outside (her parents were verging on asthma attacks from the fumes). But she persisted.

Everything was a subtle development, every taste of cacao an education. Even now when she roasts, 10 years later, each taste is like the first taste. Every single hot cocoa bean cracked and sampled is another world, and an old friend. Working with the same origins and people through the years had developed into a secure and yet subtly exciting love.

Several years after her introduction to raw cacao, after having taught English in France, Rebecca returned to Nebraska to finish her studies, which always included a good portion of avoidance thanks to small-batch chocolate making in her tiny apartment. She lived and loved in French and English, but also in chocolate. Out of all this time between countries and cultures, languages and literatures, boxed mac and cheese and baguettes, Sweet Minou (Sweet Pussycat) was born when the cafe she had been working for decided to take her (and all the whirly gadgets) on as head chocolate maker for Nebraska’s first bean-to-bar chocolate company.

Rebecca soon graduated from the small 10 lb melangeurs to a large one where she churns 65 lb batches, one per week. She loves the way the chocolate-making process is a bit like spinning plates; at any moment there is roasting, winnowing, grinding, tempering and wrapping to do in an infinite continuation.

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