Logan • Utah State University has completed a culinary triple threat.
For more than a century, the school has been producing ice cream and cheese, using the milk from its own herd of cows.
Next week, it will open the Aggie Chocolate Factory — the only artisan chocolate-making facility at a university in the West.
“Maybe this will be the beginning of another 100-year-old tradition,” said USU professor Silvana Martini, who teaches the school’s chocolate course, which this semester has attracted 130 students.
After several weeks in the classroom learning the history, chemistry and politics of chocolate, students in Martini’s general education class will break into small groups of 10 to 15 to work in the factory, where they participate in every step of the chocolate-concocting process — from roasting and grinding beans to tempering and molding bars.
This week, before student labs start, area residents got a sneak peek at the facility. Hundreds lined up to see how chocolate was made and to get a taste of the single-origin chocolates that will be the factory’s specialty.
Next summer, the factory — in the restaurant area of the Aggie Blue Square complex just west of Maverik Stadium — will begin offering classes and short courses to entrepreneurs who may want to launch their own chocolate businesses.
It’s similar to USU’s Western Dairy Center, which provides classes and short courses for those who want to learn the art of making cheese. Utah companies that have benefited from the center’s expertise and recipes include Gold Creek Farms in Woodland, Heber Valley Artisan Cheese in Midway and Beehive Cheese Co. in Uintah.
Utah already is home to seven bean-to-bar chocolate makers, an inordinate number for the state’s midsize population and enough of a quirk that in 2016 Saveur magazine called the Wasatch Front the “country’s epicenter of chocolate innovation.”
The Beehive State is mirroring a growing national trend in which producers make chocolate using the “bean-to-bar” process. That means they ship cacao beans from some of the world’s best growing regions — think Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela — then roast, grind and infuse their own flavors into the mostly dark-chocolate bars, leaving out the refined sugars, artificial ingredients and preservatives found in drugstore brands.
Martini hopes existing chocolate makers and candy producers in Utah and around the West will use USU’s facility to experiment with new chocolate equipment and flavors.
The artisan bars coming out of the Aggie Chocolate Factory will typically be dark chocolate — around 70 percent cacao — and will be made using beans from sustainable farms that receive fair-trade prices for their products, said Steve Shelton, the factory manager who worked for many years in the USU Creamery.
Buying these “ethically sourced cacao beans from small farms or co-ops” helps workers in these developing countries earn a living wage, he said. "It can change their lives.”
Eventually, Shelton said, the factory will produce the chocolate that is used in Aggie Ice Cream. Large bars of processed and aged chocolate will be sold to candy makers, he said, and a new Chocolate Café will sell chocolate confections, pastries and chocolate drinks.
There also will be a line of high-end, dark-chocolate bars named Thistle and Rose, a reference to lyrics in USU’s fight song, “The Scotsman.”
Show me the Scotsman who doesn’t love the thistle. Show me the Englishman who doesn’t love the rose. Show me the true-blooded Aggie from Utah who doesn’t love the spot where the sagebrush grows!
With its own campus factory, Logan soon may be singing a new verse: “Show me the Aggie who doesn’t crave the chocolate.”