Inside the Stam chocolate factory, pools of raspberry filling glisten poppy red and chocolate rabbits stand nearly 2 feet high. It’s almost as if they’re guarding the secrets of Stam chocolate recipes.
Making chocolate is an art, one that the Stam family has been perfecting over the past 100 years come September.
Ton Stam, 52, and Erik Stam, 32, were born into this legacy of chocolate-making in the same room above the same chocolate shop in Diemen, on the eastern edge of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Now Ton is the president of Chocolaterie Stam and Erik, his nephew, is the master chocolatier.
Ton is the grandson of the founder, Jacobus Stam, who first turned his Amsterdam bakery into a chocolate shop in 1913. Since then the company has split, with three divisions in Europe and one right here in Des Moines. There are also several stores around the Midwest.
The confections filling the shelves of the Ingersoll Avenue and Valley West Mall stores begin abroad, where the couverture, or chocolate stock, is made in Belgium. The same family has been making couverture for the Stam family since about 1920, ensuring consistency among the Stam shops, which are owned by Ton and his relatives in Europe.
“It’s identical if you buy it in Amsterdam, if you buy it in Utrecht (in the Netherlands), if you buy it in Des Moines,” Ton Stam said.
The couverture arrives at the Des Moines production facility, or atelier (French for artists’ studio) in boxes containing five slabs of chocolate, each weighing 11 pounds. That’s when the artistry begins.
It’s first heated in melting tanks and then tempered, the process of heating and cooling the chocolate according to the consistency and appearance desired. Depending on the chocolate being created, a manual or automatic tempering machine is used. The manual machine tempers the sugar-free chocolate and the accent chocolate painted into the molds filled to make the chocolate rabbits.
If the chocolate is tempered incorrectly it lacks snap and can fail to harden. The chocolate can also bloom like a flower, but it’s not as pretty. Then the cocoa rises to the surface, giving the chocolate a gray sheen.
“Chocolate can go out of temper or out of crystallization, and then you can’t use it anymore,” Ton Stam said.
The automatic tempering machine, used for the bonbon shells, has a cooling cylinder to bring the chocolate to the different temperatures required by the process.
The business motto is a European standard: Keep chocolate simple. No foreign fat is allowed, meaning all the fat in the chocolate comes from the actual cocoa bean itself.
As of October 2011, nearly all of the products Chocolaterie Stam sells in Des Moines — save a few specialty items like true Dutch licorice — are made at 2901 Bell Ave., the company’s atelier.
Erik Stam oversees the process to craft the truffles, bonbons and bars. For bonbons, the chocolate is first poured into a mold. Depending on the filling that will be added, it may be heated in a kettle. Then a separate bottom is placed, and a final coat of chocolate seals the pieces together.
With warm weather fast approaching, the crew at Chocolaterie Stam is hard at work on daffodil lollipops and rabbits. The rabbits are made with three types of chocolates and are painted by hand, as are the lollipops.
Painting the chocolates by hand reflects the joy the Stam family takes in creating the confections, Ton Stam said.
Erik Stam said he feels similar pride in his work at Chocolaterie Stam: “That piece of history just makes it so much more special to me.”
Des Moines: 2814 Ingersoll Ave.
Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon- 5 p.m. Sunday
Valley West Mall: 1551 Valley West Drive, Suite 260, West Des Moines
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, may vary to accommodate mall hours Info: 515-457-8464
Ames: 230 Main St.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday 1-5 p.m. Sunday