The aroma of roasting cocoa beans wafts through the Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, where machines and human attention bring the ingredients to life. The roaster, winnower, grinder and temperer transform the beans into the "liquid gold" that Videri co-CEOs and chocolate makers Sam Ratto and Starr Sink Ratto and their assistants handcraft into bars and other confections.
Sink Ratto grew up in North Carolina and convinced her then-fiancé that Raleigh was the place for their chocolate dream to take root. Videri has an industrial-meets-old-world vibe evidenced by the exposed brick walls and the antique font chosen for the logo. Even the name Videri harkens to an older time. It was inspired by the North Carolina state motto: Esse quam videri, meaning "To be, rather than to seem."
In keeping with that authentic spirit, Videri not only produces a purely organic product, but it does so using fair-trade ingredients. Its beans are imported from cacao plantations throughout Central and South America. The only ingredients listed on most Videri chocolates are organic cocoa, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter and organic milk powder.
In the world of chocolate, it doesn't get more pure than 90 percent dark—a bar that has no cocoa butter. Even Videri's least-dark chocolate is still considered dark—and is aptly named the dark milk chocolate—made with 50 percent nib.
The nib is central to chocolate making. The byproduct of the roasting process is the husks, or shells, of the cocoa beans. The winnower cracks open the roasted bean and removes the husks to reveal the nib, the part of the bean that becomes the chocolate. (Sometimes the husks wind up as garden mulch, or as extra flavor in a batch of artisan brewed beer—think chocolate stout.)
Chris Heavener manages Videri and, with the Rattos, helped launch the factory. Heavener notes that the chocolate, however dark, is not at all bitter because he doesn't over-roast the beans.
Videri produces its standard line of chocolate bars, which now includes one made with sea salt and another with pink peppercorns, but the holidays have inspired a peppermint chocolate bar as well. The truffles include orange and raspberry ganaches, as well as honey caramel and coffee. And like all good things edible, the offerings change with the seasons.
Visiting hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, and signs explain the chocolate-making process during the free, self-guided tour. After you've worked up an appetite learning about the difference between cocoa and cacao, or have been mesmerized by the winnower as it separates husk from nib, you can refuel by savoring a cup of sipping chocolate, or munch on some of the artisan confections.
Videri chocolates are available throughout the Triangle and online. For the diehard chocolate lover, you can subscribe for a full or half-year and receive four bars by mail each month.