James Bond would have his hands full trying to unlock the secrets of this place. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary old factory. But inside, it seems more like a top-secret headquarters. And the secrets it's protecting are chocolate ones.Skip to next paragraph
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At the Merckens chocolate factory in Mansfield, Mass., sweet stuff is serious business. No recipe goes unguarded, and one man holds the key to them all.
His name is O'Korn. Frank O'Korn, and he's director of manufacturing, the mastermind of chocolate operations here. He's got a license to cocoa.
"The chocolate industry is highly competitive," says Mr. O'Korn, dressed unassumingly in a white lab coat. "That's why our recipes and cooking procedures have to be kept secret."
So why have you never seen a Merckens chocolate bar? Well, that's sort of a secret, too.
Though you were unaware of it, you've probably eaten cookies made with Merckens chocolate. Any brand of chocolate-chip cookie sold in supermarkets could contain Merckens chips, O'Korn says.
"I can't tell you which ones," he continues, hesitant lest he reveal something he might regret. "But I can assure you that we make billions of chips a year, and they all have to go somewhere."
O'Korn has to keep his lips sealed because Merckens sells chocolate chips to cookie companies that compete against each other.
Along with the tons of chocolate chips, Merckens also makes giant 10-pound milk- and dark-chocolate bars. Confectioners use the chocolate to coat the fine chocolates sold in fancy boxes.
Trying to stay ahead of the competition
Tucked away in his fourth-floor laboratory, Jerry Huard has a smirk on his face. The product-development technician is pleased: He's cracked some of the chocolate industry's biggest secrets in the nearly 30 years he's worked here. Some he can tell, but others must remain within the walls of the factory. He's free to unlock the simple mysteries of chocolate, but nothing that could give his competition the upper hand.
The quality of new chocolate recipes is tested in Mr. Huard's laboratory. But from time to time he's called upon to whip up a recipe that tastes exactly like a competitor's brand of chocolate. It's his toughest challenge, he says
"If Merckens can make a product that tastes the same but for less money," he says, "we're able to gain a competitive edge."
Huard must know the answer to this chocolate mystery: What's the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate?
Milk chocolate is made from blending at least 10 percent baking (unsweetened) chocolate and 12 percent milk with cocoa butter, sugar, and sometimes other flavors, he says.
Dark chocolate, which contains no milk, is made by blending a minimum of 35 percent unsweetened chocolate with sugar and cocoa butter.
Here's a tougher one: Why don't two brands of milk chocolate taste the same, even though the ingredients are identical?