By Gregory Daurer | Jun 20, 2022
Chocolate bars and drinking chocolate
Wallin's love of chocolate has associations tied to the winter solstice and holidays. When she was young, her grandmother taught her to temper chocolate at that time of year. "We would do it just by the feel of our hands in melting the chocolate," she recalls of those early experiences using store-bought chocolate to make their own confections. "No real equipment other than a thermometer and a marble slab."
It was a seasonal activity Wallin shared with her children, as well. "As my kids got older, I just decided I would do that for the holidays again," says Wallin. "And they loved participating. We would make all the fillings for chocolate and give it away, because we would make so much." Afterwards, her neighbors would ask Wallin if she would be making more, setting the stage for Solstice Chocolate.
Wallin didn't like the flavor of the dark chocolate she was purchasing commercially, so she and her family began researching how they make it on their own. Tricky at the time because there was "just not a lot of equipment" to manufacture it "on a small scale." She recalls how, "We would rig our own equipment to make it work."
After they sourced whatever cacao was available at the time, refined their chocolate-making technique, and finally liked the flavor, the family began selling chocolate bars at farmer's markets. The chocolate soon came to the attention of fledgling distributor A Priori, which said it would be willing to sell Wallin's chocolate if she could make larger batches. A Priori continues to do so, offering Solstice products alongside the other renowned brands in its now-extensive international portfolio and handling about 90 percent of the company's sales.
"We're small, but we do produce a lot of chocolate," says Wallin. Solstice makes bars which get sold in stores, as well as untempered blocks of chocolate for restaurants and chocolatiers to incorporate into their own creations. (Offering a higher-quality product than what she purchased when first making confections, herself.) Drinking chocolate, too. "We've had steady growth," says Wallin. "I haven't pushed to be this massive company. That's never been my goal. I just want to produce a really good chocolate that people appreciate."
Apparently, they do. In its catalog, A Priori calls Solstice's chocolate "world-class." It further states, "Solstice's style is loud and brash: they're the punk rockers of the craft chocolate scene. The flavors in the bars scream of their origins, but with all the harsh edges rounded off, providing vivid contrast to other producers using the same origins."
Wallin spotlights each of those international cacao producers on the packaging of the bars themselves. "People want to know where it's coming from," says Wallin. "They want the whole supply chain brought to their attention."
For instance, the dark chocolate Dak Nong bar is made with cacao from Vietnam and, according to its packaging, displays notes of "prunes, raisins, marzipan" as it melts in the mouth. The Anamalai bar starts with cacao sourced from India, which results in "passion fruit, peanut, tangy raspberry" flavors. And the Kilombero bar is made with cacao from Tanzania, imparting tastes similar to "wine, lemongrass, tart cherries, honeysuckle." The company has not only been awarded a silver award for that latter bar at the 2017 International Chocolate Awards, it also won gold for its Brown Butter White Chocolate bar.
Wallin says the company's name is actually a nod to the production of the cacao which goes into her bars: "Traditionally, the harvest of cacao is done on the solstice, usually the winter solstice."
And winter is a great time to produce chocolate in Utah. "I love when it's really cold," says Wallin. "It makes it much easier to make chocolate during that time of year." The relative lack of humidity in Utah helps as well. As does the state's business climate for smaller enterprises. There's also the "enormous" local support from people in Utah.
Solstice produces its chocolate in a 3,200-square-foot commercial space in Murray. "We do a good job of doing a lot in a small space," says Wallin. She has one roasting machine, with which she employs a lighter roast than many other companies ("I think it brings the flavor out," she says about her roasting choice); a winnowing machine to separate the cacao nibs and shells; six melangers "that do about 90 kilos each" of grinding and mixing; and two tempering machines. The chocolate-making takes place in two completely separate areas: an allergen-free area for dark chocolate, and another for producing white and milk chocolate. No nuts are added to the bars, but a few have cacao nibs coating the outside. "When cacao is really good quality, adding anything else to it really takes away from what the beans have to offer," says Wallin.
"Chocolate is just the best thing ever," she adds. "It's always something I've absolutely loved."
Challenges: "Keeping the small-batch bar consistent while growing and needing larger equipment," says Wallin. "And you don't want to lose that consistency, that good flavor, of small-batch chocolate."
Opportunities: To keep on "trucking along," continuing to enjoy the pursuit of craft chocolate making. "It's got to be fun," says Wallin. "I get to do what I want on the creative end of it. It's all up to me. And I love that."
And she's gotten help and recognition along the way: In 2021, Solstice Chocolate received a Local Supplier Development Grant from the Harmons grocery chain, which allowed the company to purchase specialty packaging for a couple of its more expensive bars.
Needs: "More equipment is always good," says Wallin. "But we get it as we grow and need it." It's gotten to the point where there's so much equipment already at her facility that the company has had to stop giving tours. Still, Wallin says, "It would always be nice to have more equipment, here and there."