Notes from the Cucina

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What You Should Know About The Chocolate Maker (CM)

The attritor, or stirred ball mill, has been used in industrial particle size applications for decades. The concept is rather simple. It involves introducing a mass to a vessel filled with grinding media, and then stirring or tumbling the media and mass, causing the mass particle to be reduced in size by being crushed between the surfaces of the grinding media. The simplest form of grinding media is round balls made of high chrome steel. These balls are extremely hard – and relatively inexpensive – since they are produced by the billions for ball bearing applications.
One advantage of using stirred balls mills for small scale chocolate production is that they require little set-up and skill to operate. Also, high chrome balls are quite magnetic. By incorporating a strong magnet in the flow stream of the mass after processing (a standard feature on the Chocolate Maker discharge system) the operator can inspect the magnet as desired to check for any abnormal wear. This is suggested practice for any ball mill or Universal refiner/conch that uses beater blades against a stationary surface. Since the stone used in roll mills is not magnetic, the only practical method to inspect for particles of stone in the finished product would be by screening and inspecting the oversize material.
There has been some discussion of a metallic taste in chocolate refined in ball mills. This could be possible in machines not specifically designed for chocolate production. Industrial ball mills tend to be large, with a length to diameter ratio of greater than two. So, for instance, a ball mill with a 12” diameter is often 2-4 feet long. When operated vertically, the material on the bottom is subjected to much higher pressures than the material at the top of the machine. Speed of the agitator is also critical. If operated too fast, the grinding media can be centrifugally forced to the outer perimeter without any tumbling effect, causing abnormal metal-on-metal wear against the vessel wall.
The entire line of Cacao Cucina® chocolate processing equipment has been designed from the ground up specifically for bean to bar chocolate production. Our CM series of ball mill refiner/conches are designed to have shallow ball bed depths (less than one diameter of the vessel), ample clearances of agitator arms, internal recycling screw to pump product from the bottom of the vessel to the top during refining to insure even size reduction, and plenty of exposure to a temperature controlled air stream. Our variable speed agitators are engineered to operate at optimal speeds. We also include a temperature controlled water jacket that will heat or cool the vessel as necessary to maintain a constant temperature.
One final point about our Chocolate Makers is the ability to thoroughly clean and sanitize the machines in the event of a contamination issue, or change-over from a unique recipe (or mistake!). The vessel and agitator are stainless steel. The grinding media can easily be discharged from the vessel, and the agitator can be removed as well.
Visit our Chocolate Maker page to learn more.