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July/August 2001
by Joe Sugarman

Just desserts
Thanks to two Frenchmen, an Italian and a German, Baltimoreans are enjoying the sweet life.
Albert Kirchmayr, a man who makes more than 10,000 pounds of chocolate a year, is skinny. As thin as an after-dinner mint. And it’s not because the 45-year-old German-born chocolatier doesn’t indulge in his products regularly. He says it’s what he doesn’t eat that keeps him thin.

“Chocolate is a very clean product, free of chemicals. If you eat chemically enhanced products - like junk food – I don’t think our bodies know what to do with it.”

Still, a visit to his small retail outlet in a Timonium strip mall ( he relocated in spring of 2000 after 14 years on North Charles Street ) is enough to make any lifelong dieter fall off the wagon with a thud. The warm smell of chocolate invites your attention even before you enter the store. Out front, a modest display case holds 12 varieties of candies and six types of truffles, some spiked with liqueur cream, marzipan or caramel. In one particularly creative concoction, chocolate ganache gets teamed with Earl Grey and Japanese teas.

The chocolate aroma that’s so alluring at the front of the shop is just plain overwhelming in Kirchmayr’s kitchen. Here metal vats of dark, milk and white chocolate sit ready to be ladled into plastic molds, and candy shaving clutter his marble workbench like chocolate sawdust.

Kirchmayr, a bit of chocolate smeared on his forearms, tries to explain the science behind his products. “Chocolate is a mystery,” he says. “It’s hard to understand unless you really work with it. It’s such an unforgiving product. With chocolate everything is either right or wrong, there is no in between.”

Apparently, successful chocolate making is all about having the proper proportion of crystallized fat cells, the right viscosity and the correct temperature. Otherwise, the chocolate turns gray and has a consistency like soft butter.

To get steady results, Kirchmayr uses several high-tech machines the mix the chocolate and heat it to the proper working temperature, 86 to 89.6 degrees. He and his staff of three either pour the liquid into molds of let it run in a chocolate sheet over fillings that move along a conveyor belt and into a cooling chamber, a la the famous “I Love Lucy” episode. Kirchmayr says he’s had some chocolate-making rookies “pull a Lucy” and fail to keep up with the relentless march of candy.

For all the chemistry involved--- Kirchmayr went to candy-making school in Switzerland and apprenticed under a German candy maker for a year----- the chocolatier realizes that customers don’t really care about the science behind his products. People just want good-tasting, high-quality chocolates, he says.

And perhaps a waistline just like his.

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