Bonus Z – Zereshk

Where do I even begin to tell this story? Another round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is coming to an end, so I have mixed feelings. I’m super proud that I was able to accomplish my mission of finding a unique inclusion ingredient for each letter of the alphabet, but it’s safe to say that this “challenge” has added some grey hairs to both my head and my boyfriend’s head! ?

Remember all of his advance planning and preparation for the “X” bar?! Well, he STILL wanted to try tempering chocolate with his sous vide machine, so unbeknownst to me, he researched Z ingredients and discovered zereshk (the Persian word for barberries)! The perfect tie-in to celebrate World Chocolate Day today!

The tiny, plump, moist, jewel-like reddish-brown berries look like a cross between a dried currant and a seedless pomegranate aril.

For scale, I’ve “posed” some zereshk berries next to a U.S. penny!

These berries are a great source of vitamin C and boy are they TART! Imagine mouth-puckering tart when eaten out of hand. According to Wikipedia, Iran is the top producer of zereshk in the world. Next time I visit a Persian restaurant, you can be sure that I’ll be ordering the zereshk polo (a rice dish where the chicken has been cooked in barberry juice) to taste these berries in a different form!

Anyway, back to the story…

The step-by-step instructions and explanation of the chocolate tempering process in “layman’s terms” from this Serious Eats article by J. Kenji López-Alt, led us to believe that tempering with a sous vide circulator would be relatively easy and painless…ooh, famous last words!

A couple of weeks ago, we had some time on the weekend and tested out the process following the instructions carefully. Perhaps we (and by “we” I mean “I”) were a little over-confident. We piped the melted chocolate into the mold, placed the mold in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then unmolded it only to discover that the chocolate WAS NOT TEMPERED ?After a little research online, we discovered that the temperature ranges quoted in the article did NOT match the melting/crystallization/working information for this particular Valhrona product. WAAH! At least we didn’t waste any of the inclusion ingredients and still had plenty of chocolate for further testing. I have no photographic evidence of this chocolate failure…my ego was too “wounded”!

As “Z” week loomed, one evening during the 4th of July long weekend, we decided to employ our “lessons learned” (I have a page worth of notes and ideas of what we could do differently) from the first attempt and give tempering another shot.

So, we measured out 3 ounces of feves from the Valhrona Guanaja 70% bag that was purchased from Caputo’s in Salt Lake City, UT.

Used a vacuum sealer to remove all the air from the baggie.

Waited for the water to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit and dropped the baggie into the pot.

The chocolate melted fairly quickly.

Then we added lots of ice to the pot to bring the temperature down to about 81-82 degrees Fahrenheit. We allowed the chocolate to enjoy its “bubble bath” at this temperature for a while and massaged the baggie at regular intervals to promote crystal formation (this is a step we neglected to perform the first time around). After about 10 minutes, we raised the temperature up to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, still massaging the baggie at regular intervals. We thoroughly wiped down the baggie to ensure that NO water droplets were clinging to the folds. Cutting a small corner from the baggie, we piped some melted chocolate onto the back of a spoon as well as a piece of parchment paper. The spoon went into the fridge for about 3 minutes and the parchment paper remained at room temperature. When we touched the shiny chocolate with a fingertip, the chocolate ended up there, indicating that our tempering was not successful. We re-sealed the baggie and repeated the process at least 3 more times, varying the temperatures a degree or two in either direction, but still NO luck!

Have I mentioned that I have no patience, but my engineer boyfriend is tenacious and enjoys problem-solving?! So, as a last ditch effort (I was ready to quit at this point), he decided to use the “seeding method” (meaning that we took some small pieces of well-tempered chocolate and added it to the melted chocolate). Minutes’ worth of massaging and checking the temperature with an infra-red thermometer, we decided to test it one last time with the spoon and parchment paper sampling method. These were the slowest three minutes of my life…but in the end, SUCCESS!! We had tempered chocolate!

Now to pipe it into the waiting mold and add the zereshk. I have a new respect for those chocolate makers and chocolatiers who make inclusion bars look so photogenic. I tried my best, but still ended up with clumps in certain places 🙁

The mold was placed carefully onto a level shelf in the refrigerator and again we waited; this time for 10 minutes! An eternity, I tell you! TA DA…shiny chocolate with some ghosting and a few cosmetic blemishes due to imperfections in the polycarbonate mold! But no air bubbles…yippee!

The “back” on the other hand is full of lacy squiggles around the berries. I’m a chocolate blogger, not a chocolatier, remember 😉 Or maybe, that gives the bar “character”…yeah, I think I’ll stick with that theory!

We’re calling this bar Zereshk’ed Development (sorry, the “Arrested Development” play on words sounded better in my head!)

Since we had a second bag of chocolate (my BF meant to buy a different type and ended up getting the same Valhrona, though I suspect it comes from a different batch), we decided to make another bar. I’d like to say that we were vastly more successful now that we had some experience under our belts, but really the only way we were able to get tempered chocolate was by using the seeding method…AGAIN!

We are calling this bar “Zereshk Make a Deal” (since I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of adding salt as an inclusion & settled on hickory wood smoked sea salt as an acceptable option). After tasting our creation, I think the smoky flavor notes even out the harsh tartness of the berries.

For whatever reason, this one exhibited much more “ghosting” after unmolding the bar. We probably could have left it in the fridge for a little longer. Did I mention that I’m impatient?!

And though it’s hard to tell from the photo, we channeled our inner Zorro and piped the chocolate into the mold with various stylized Zs to see how it would turn out under the inclusions.

Now for the tasting notes for the “Zereshk Make a Deal” bar. There was a super sharp snap while segmenting tasting morsels. Personally, I think that the bar was a little too thick.

During the creamy, slow/even melt, there were bursts of smoky salt punctuated by chewy berries. Maybe it’s just me; but, the chocolate itself didn’t have any distinguishing flavor notes. I much preferred to “chomp” the chocolate so that the salt and berries mingled together to bring out salty, sweet, tangy and almost juicy sensations.

The “Zereshk’ed Development” bar was a bit plain in comparison. This one also had a sharp snap, but I noticed that more tiny flecks of chocolate went flying while segmenting this bar. This base chocolate had a nutty and caramel-like taste. Biting into the zereshk berries during the slow, even melt reminded me of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Of the two bars, I think I prefer the salty one.

Overall, this was an exciting way to end this round of the alphabet. From here on, I’ll leave chocolate making to the professionals! I’ll be taking a short break during the summer months (it’s HOT HOT HOT here in Southern California…predicted to be 100-101 degrees this weekend). Don’t worry, I’ll still post about chocolates here & on my Instagram feed in the meantime, but just not in alphabetical order.

Current plan for “Round 3” is ORIGINS (countries, estates, farms, etc.) Think Algeria to Zimbabwe. Please leave a comment or send me an email with any suggestions!

HAPPY WORLD CHOCOLATE DAY, hope it’s a delicious one!

Z is for Za’atar

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already reached the letter “Z”! In some ways, it seems like these last 26 weeks went by in the blink of an eye and in other ways it seems like an eternity since I posted “A is for Amaranth.” But wait, this post isn’t the end of the alphabet…I still have one more surprise “trick up my sleeve,” so stay tuned for that bar’s reveal soon!

At the end of last year, as I was putting together a list of inclusion ingredients that I wanted to feature for each letter of the alphabet, za’atar was the FIRST thing that came to mind (well, I did briefly consider zebra milk, but that was just to get an eye roll ? from my friends, though if a bar like that DOES exist, please let me know ASAP!) Feeling inspired in early February, I sent an email to two chocolate-industry people I felt were the most likely to work with an unusual flavor combination such as this. Lucky for me, Hans Westerink from Violet Sky Chocolate wrote back within a few days with this response:

It is interesting that you mention za’atar, that is on my list of experimental bars to work on. I even have the sumac ready and waiting!

Pinch me, I must be dreaming! Hans sent me his ideas on the spice blend and even asked for my opinion on how best to incorporate them with the chocolate. That gesture made me feel important & part of the “creative process” – though, as the expert, he would no doubt develop an ideal “formula” without my input! As the months went by, I still reached out to fellow chocolate lovers across the country to determine if there were any other za’atar bars out there (just as a precaution), but the closest source was Tel Aviv, Israel ? In mid-June, I sent a quick email to Hans to confirm that he was still willing to make a couple of bars for me. I am so grateful that he was able to quickly create the bars and that we had the time to wait until there was a short break in the Southern California heatwave to ship them about a week later. These bars exceeded my expectations! Hans is truly a master when it comes to layering flavors such that the photogenic #chocolatetopography tastes as good as it looks!

In case you’re not familiar, za’atar is a spice mixture that typically includes: sesame seeds, dried herbs, sumac and some salt. If you’ve ever eaten a Lebanese flatbread (manakish) or Armenian lahmajoun, chances are you’ve tasted this uniquely Middle Eastern flavor!

Since this was an experiment, Violet Sky didn’t make an outer label, but still wrapped the bar in their distinctive collection of shiny metallic foil. Hans, how did you know that purple is one of my favorite colors?! 🙂

Just unwrapping the bar released an aroma that transported me back to a Middle Eastern feast with olive oil dripping from my fingers as I took bite after bite of chewy, soft, still-warm dough crusted with spices. ?

Just look at the generous amount of dried thyme, toasted white sesame seeds, reddish-brown sumac and fat jewel-like salt crystals that seem to all but hide the 77% Belize dark chocolate!

I took dozens of close-up shots since I was just mesmerized by how photogenic the bar looked from every angle!

The inclusions remained mostly well-adhered to the chocolate while I “posed” the bar for photos or flipped it over to see the simple 28-rectangle “front” of the bar.

When ingredients did fall off during the photo shoot, it allowed me to taste them in isolation from each other. I really liked the nutty crunch from the sesame seeds, the earthy/woody notes from the thyme and how quickly the salt would melt on my tongue.

It was easy to segment the bar into tasting pieces.

With the inclusion side down on my tongue, all the ingredients seemed to mingle like a kaleidoscope image. Before reaching the chocolate base, dislodged sesame seeds and tiny thyme leaves danced on my tongue and then there was a citrusy “zing” when encountering a scattering of sumac. These pleasant flavors lingered on the roof of my mouth and I could then continue to munch contemplatively on the crunchy sesame seeds.

Originally, I thought that putting a morsel with the non-inclusion side down on my tongue would be the equivalent of “delayed gratification;” but, instead, the thyme became the focus, especially since the fresh herb had been infused into the base chocolate. By melting the chocolate first on my tongue, I could concentrate on the creamy, smooth, slow even melt punctuated by the vibrantly citrusy sumac which reminded me of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

As much as I like to “chomp” chocolate, I don’t recommend that method for this bar. Munch, munch and then the piece is gone without having enough time to notice the distinct flavor layering. Though, maybe it’s cumulative?! After my palate was acclimated to the flavors, chomping on two rectangles simultaneously still resulted in the same intensely sunny combination of flavors.

While Violet Sky has a website http://www.violetskychocolate.com/, I recommend instead that you check out their Instagram feed for all the seasonal flavors they have…seemingly never the same thing twice!

Don’t forget that I have one final “Z” post planned for later this week! You won’t want to miss that!

Y is for Yacon Root

OK…is it just me, or have you noticed that as I near the end of the alphabet, it’s getting harder and harder to find viable inclusion ingredients that start with my featured letter?! ?

For “Y” I could have potentially found yams, yeast, yogurt, yuca or yuzu…but I chose yacón root instead!

According to Wikipedia, yacón is an Andean tuberous root composed mostly of water that is a close botanical relative of Jerusalem artichokes or sunflowers. While the root can be red, orange, yellow or even purple, it seems like most pictures online remind me of a slender yam with cream-colored flesh reminiscent of jicama. Upon reading things further, Ecuadorians refer to yacón as “jicama” (wow, talk about confusing!) Speaking of names, it’s also called a “Peruvian ground apple” which makes sense since the French call potatoes pomme de terre (literally translated as earth or ground apples). Yacón is known to have a flavor that is slightly sweet & resinous with floral undertones. I was fascinated to discover that until the early 2000s, yacón wasn’t widely available outside of its native growing areas and that companies have since developed new products like syrup and tea from this root due to its extremely low glycemic index (1 on a scale of 0 to 100), making it popular among people watching their sugar intake (like diabetics or those on a diet).

After all that, I was really curious about how this bar would taste!

Raaka 79% Dominican Republic sweetened with Yacón Root

Raaka leaves their cacao beans unroasted (aka “virgin”) to allow the flavors to come through. For this bar, they are using Dominican Republic beans from the Öko Caribe Cooperative.

I love the simplicity of the micro fine point black ink lines on thick white paper. I see bamboo through mini blinds or plantation shutters. Though, I wonder if the front packaging is really an autostereogram (also called a “magic eye” picture) that needs to be viewed from a distance (or by squinting) for the image to finally emerge.

Removing the rectangular bar from the wax-lined silver foil that was folded with the outer paper like a hiyoku (inner kimono layer), you immediately see abstract art embossed into the chocolate (despite the jagged edge splitting the bar into two pieces; a transit-caused “casualty”).

There was a sharp brittle snap when segmenting pieces and the “breaking point” looked a little dry.

The tasting morsel melted slowly in my mouth (and with a bit of effort), yielding a chalky, powdery, not smooth mouthfeel and a mouth-puckering bitter flavor. There was a starchy, filmy residue that clung to my tongue, teeth and palate long after the piece was gone from my mouth. When “chomped” the chocolate tasted fruity…maybe this was the Dominican Republic terroir coming through?

Overall, this bar was extremely photogenic, but sadly the “acquired” taste of the unrefined sweetener did not win me over. I like earthy bars, but this one was a little too astringent for my taste. Maybe it was the unroasted beans? Maybe it was the 79% cacao content? Maybe I just need to find the right “pairing.” Have you tried this bar? Let me know what you think!

For more information on Raaka, please see their website: https://www.raakachocolate.com/

50 States Collaboration – New Mexico / Chokola Bean to Bar

It’s hard to believe that after almost 5 months, the “50 states” collaboration project is complete. It was such a thrill and an honor to have been asked by Lori (of Time to Eat Chocolate) to help feature the 37 (out of 50) United States that have a bean-to-bar maker. As you might imagine, it was difficult to choose just one or two makers from each state and I’m sure there have been new additions since we started this project, so who knows what the future might bring!

Just wanted to thank Sophia Rea from Projet Chocolat for making aware of the only bean-to-bar maker in her home state of New Mexico.

Back in May, I reached out to Chokolá to inquire about bar availability and learned that they were currently aging one of their favorite origins: Madagascar. As you can imagine, I was anxious to get my hands on the bar before the weather got too warm here in the Southwest since chocolate transit during the summer months can be very tricky! Once the bars were available last week, makers Debi Vincent and Javier (Javi) Abad shipped me a couple of bars only to have them arrive badly bloomed 🙁 NOTE: Southern California was experiencing a triple digit heatwave that lasted more than 10 days ?️?. Luckily, a family member was visiting close by my home yesterday, so I was able to get a pristine replacement bar in the nick of time to feature here as the final entry of the “50 states” project!

In case you’re curious about how the bloomed chocolate bar looked, below is a side-by-side comparison…what a difference, right?!

70% Ambaja Madagascar

Anyway, as soon as I returned home from last night’s chocolate drop off, I hurriedly set up an impromptu photo shoot area under artificial light in an air conditioned room so that I could take some initial photos…I didn’t want to risk putting the bar in my wine fridge overnight before taking pictures! Apologies in advance for the grainy images since I still haven’t perfected using incandescent light.

As you can see, there was a beautiful reddish-brown mahogany color and an almost mirror-shine to the chocolate bar, despite some air bubbles around the lacy design of the company logo in the middle panel of the narrow rectangular bar.

There was a soft snap, which released a fruity aroma. Putting a tasting morsel in my mouth, there was an immediate bright, vibrant, tart berry flavor. The mouthfeel was smooth, creamy and almost fudge-y during the slow, even melt.

This morning, I decided to take some additional photos with the morning light that I prefer!

What a relief to discover that the bar was still shiny! There was still a mellow/dull snap to the bar, I blame the low-to-mid 80s temperature at just 9:30 in the morning. Finally I could take better pictures of all the nooks and crannies that emerge when segmenting the bar.

And the lunar-landscape looking “back” of the bar!

The raspberry tang (which hits at the back-of-the-throat), creamy mouthfeel and long lasting finish were still just as distinctive today as they were yesterday ?

If you’re like me, I’m sure you’re fascinated by the eye-catching packaging artwork. This mixed media collage & acrylic painting by Erin Currier depicts her modern interpretation of Philomena, Patron Saint of Infants, Babies and Youth. Several of the outer packaging panels provide more information on Erin’s background, plus a brief bio.

The center panel, directly under the gold-foil wrapped bar, highlights what makes Chokolá special:

While it doesn’t say so on the packaging, their website provides a little more information on the origin of the cacao beans:

The estate on the plantation is powered by solar energy, and contributes actively to the surrounding community by providing land, building schools, and making medicine more accessible to the local population. 

The packaging artwork for their other bars is equally stunning and there are several flavors that I’d love to try once the weather cools off. Check out their website for more details: http://www.chokolabeantobar.com/

Thanks for following along on this adventure of discovery! If you’ve missed any of the prior “50 states” stories, be sure to check out the Time to Eat Chocolate blog and for the states that I covered, you can view those posts by clicking on this link.

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in New Mexico, please leave a comment or send an email…we like to keep our resource lists as up-to-date as possible!

X is for Xoconostle

Every chocolate has a story! I just hope to do adequate justice to its narration since this one touched not only my heart, but also my soul ❤️

You know the phrase “it takes a village”? Well, this bar would not have come into being without the inspiration, ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, talent, care and support of so many people!

Late last year, as I was finishing “round 1” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I wracked my brain for another unique alphabetical adventure. During the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle in November, I decided that A through Z inclusions would be perfect…though I couldn’t figure out what to do about “X” since I didn’t want to feature xylitol or xanthan gum and after tasting XO sauce (a spicy seafood paste originating from Hong Kong) I knew that would NOT work with chocolate AT ALL!

When I posted “A is for Amaranth” on January 4th, I added a plea to my Instagram followers for suggestions on how to handle that elusive letter. Fellow chocolate lover, Janice, promptly responded xoconostle; but heck if I knew what that was?! After a quick Google search, I discovered that this was a cactus fruit, smaller than a prickly pear; but the chances of finding that in chocolate were slim to none!

Fast forward a month later to Map Chocolate’s Indiegogo campaign. One of the perks was to design “the Map of your dreams”! Unbeknownst to me, though I had my suspicions, my boyfriend anonymously purchased that option in the hopes of partnering with Mackenzie Rivers to create a custom chocolate bar on my behalf! In the week that followed, my BF started researching foods that started with the letter “X” and found a company online that sold dried xoconostle – but they were currently out of stock. When the Indiegogo campaign was nearing the end and it was looking like Map would not reach their $25K fixed goal, my “I’m an engineer and problem-solver” BF decided that HE would obtain all the ingredients needed to home-craft a chocolate on the sly. He purchased a polycarbonate mold, a bag of Rancho Gordo xoconostle (as soon as it came back in stock) and some Valhrona couverture chocolate, which he would temper with a sous vide machine. At some point, he just could no longer keep the secret to himself. As we munched on a couple of rings of dried xoconostle together (imagine a cross between jerky and a tart “Sour Patch Kids” candy!), he recounted his endearing scheme and revealed the perfect bar name! It was then that it dawned on us…how would two neophytes like us possibly utilize and sweeten this shriveled fruit AND come up with a decent looking chocolate bar?!

Lucky for us, Mackenzie generously offered some of the Indiegogo perks even though the campaign had not been successful and I LEAPT at the chance that had previously eluded my grasp! My only request was that this bar include xoconostle and I left the rest of the details up to Mackenzie. If you heard squeals of joy in late May, know that was when these magical bars were delivered to me and they exceeded even my wildest dreams. Thanks for indulging me to endure this long story to finally see:

X MARKS THE SPOT

As you can see, there was care and attention to detail every step of the way: from the strips of map forming an X on the envelope, to the cacti paper wrapping the bars and even the inner liner note (which makes reference to a brief chance encounter that we unknowingly shared while both visiting a chocolate shop in Portland one afternoon):

Even though Map’s mold is super unique and distinctive, it’s all about the inclusions for me…so I’ll only be showing you the “back” side of the bar! However, if you head to my Instagram account, you’ll see a quick “unwrapping” video which highlights both the front and the back!

Just look at how the rehydrated translucent xoconostle glistens and the chili lime shimmers in the light! Chocolate topography at its finest! <swoon>

The aroma was fruity and jam-like with citrus and pepper undertones. Tasting the xoconostle on its own reminded me of a lightly sweet, crisp Asian pear or strawberry rhubarb. Upon handling the square bar to segment it into tasting morsels, my fingertips became stained with bright red chili dust and I certainly couldn’t let any of that go to waste! It was just like licking the rim of a tequila shot, followed by a short-lived, back-of-the-throat burn from the spice.

Now I could concentrate on the inclusion that was nestled within the 65% Dominican Republic Reserva Zorzal chocolate which was not completely smooth on the tongue, but not gritty either. It’s hard to articulate the sensation of teeth meeting the panela glazed peanuts which had just the right amount of “give” to add texture and a mellow crunch.

Leading up to the delivery of the bars, there were a couple of posts on Map’s Instagram account that probably made sense only to me:

Like a proud new parent, I took dozens upon dozens of photos of this photogenic bar and despaired over which ones to include in this post! After actively blogging for a little more than a year now, it’s getting harder and harder to find chocolates that other bloggers haven’t already written about! I think it’s safe to say that this is truly a one-of-a-kind bar and that no one else has ever tasted anything like it. While I might be biased, I think this was a delicious combination of ingredients and I can only hope (please, please, please) that Mackenzie considers adding this bar to her seasonal repertoire 🙂

And with that exhortation, I certainly DID!

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU to everyone who made this bar possible!!! xoxo

For more information on Map Chocolate, please see her website: http://www.mapchocolate.com/

W is for Wasabi

You are about to eavesdrop on a conversation I had with myself recently!

ME: OK, what inclusion are we going to feature for “W” week?

ME2: We always blog about the most unusual ingredient possible…duh, wasabi!

ME: But, I don’t even like wasabi…I avoid it when eating sushi, remember?
(said in a whining tone)

ME2: Well, we couldn’t find wattleseed locally, so it has to be wasabi!

Dear readers, appreciate that I’m sacrificing my taste buds just for you 😉

*****

Maybe I’m imagining things, but isn’t wasabi a trendy ingredient in chocolate these days?! At least I *think* I recall seeing it in several bars over the years & was fairly certain that it was easily obtainable. However, a couple of weeks ago, when I started looking in earnest, all I could find were chocolatiers that were no longer making their wasabi bars :0

Eeks! Now, what?!

After a little digging, I discovered online that Cost Plus World Market was still selling wasabi bars…but they were in limited supply and deeply discounted, which is usually a precursor to being discontinued from inventory soon. After visiting one store and being unable to locate the bar, I thought I had missed my “window of opportunity.” My boyfriend is not as easily deterred, so when he found the bars at a store near him, he picked up the three remaining bars they had in stock. I truly appreciate his enthusiasm, but I don’t NEED 3 bars…so if anyone out there wants one of my extra bars, PLEASE let me know & I’ll gladly ship it to you 🙂

According to the packaging, this dark chocolate Ginger Wasabi with Mediterranean Sea Salt bar is from “the exotic collection of sea salted chocolate.” Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a snob and put “exotic” intentionally in quotation marks for tongue-in-cheek humor. While I’m certain that this bar might be someone’s favorite, it’s definitely not mine. Please don’t take away my craft chocolate fan club card based on this post! 😉

Removing the silver foil wrapped bar from the portfolio/wallet-like outer cardboard packaging, I was surprised to see the “back” of the bar facing me. Ignoring chocolate dust that had accumulated during transit, I noticed 10 squares with an interesting “drip” pattern near the outer edges.

While the matte finish front sported only 8 logo-emblazoned squares!

Straight out of wine fridge storage, there was no detectable aroma to the chocolate. However, as it came up to room temperature, a pungent peppery and ginger oil scent wafted from the bar. Surprisingly, since it’s not included as an ingredient, I also detected a lime or citrus smell?!

Speaking of ingredients, this bar has: Chinese ginger powder, wasabi powder, ground habanero chile pepper and ginger essential oil. The particular Mediterranean sea salt had been harvested from the Southern tip of Italy & was known for its mild flavor and bright white crystals.

There was a sharp snap when segmenting tasting morsels and it took some effort to get the chocolate to melt in my mouth, revealing a mostly smooth mouthfeel. There was an immediate back-of-the-throat burn that I associate with chili peppers, but there wasn’t the sinus-clearing sensation that wasabi is known for. Chomping the chocolate provided me the opportunity to experience crunchy salt crystals while feeling the cumulative, gradually-building, but long lasting, “heat.”

Overall this chocolate was not as potent as I had feared and I’ll probably use it for hot chocolate beverage experiments in the future.

I know, I know…my descriptions aren’t really “selling” the bar for you…but, don’t let that deter you from jumping on this once-in-a-lifetime deal of taking the extra bars off my hands 😉

Now where can I locate that wattleseed chocolate bar that I *really* wanted to try?! 😉

V is for Voatsiperifery Pepper

Story time! Here is yet another example of me being a “magnet” for unusual inclusion ingredients! 🙂

During a recent trip to Portland, Oregon the weekend before Memorial Day, we visited The Meadow in the historic Nob Hill District since I’d seen pictures online of their “wall of chocolate.” Imagine a shop with row after row of neatly organized shelving that almost reaches the ceiling, where sales associates climb a ladder to retrieve the chocolate bar(s) from the highest perches…if there was ever a chocolate “library,” it would be this place with 400+ bars to choose from!

When the employee on duty that afternoon asked me if I was looking for anything in particular, I mentioned that my heart was set on finding a bar with violets, but I’d be willing to settle for something else that started with “V” except for vanilla. She pondered, she climbed the ladder, she examined several bars…there was rose, but no violet. 🙁 As she attended to other customers, I slowly perused the shelves to see if there were other bars that I couldn’t live without. After a few moments, I was gleefully exclaiming, “I found my V, I found my V!” I’m sure everyone else in the store thought I was nuts; but my boyfriend and The Meadows’ employee were both genuinely very happy for me. Mind you, I still don’t know the proper way to pronounce this “V” inclusion ingredient. I found a site with 80+ versions, which doesn’t help narrow things down at all!

So, thanks to serendipity, I’m thrilled to feature this 72% Nicaraguan dark chocolate bar with Voatsiperifery Pepper which is a collaboration between Portland-based Pitch Dark Chocolate and the Bitterman Salt Company.

Later on, I learned that Mark Bitterman (of the Bitterman Salt Co.) founded The Meadow in 2006. This seems like the perfect quote to encapsulate this culinary collaboration:

“Salt and pepper, the powerhouses of flavor amplification, bring new life to chocolate’s eternal mystery. Combining the most beautiful salt and the most tantalizing peppers within the molten smithy of a bean to bar chocolate is the flavor sensation chocolate has been waiting for, and nobody knows it like Bitterman.”

It’s interesting that beans from Nicaragua were combined with a rare Madagascar pepper. The back of the packaging explains how voatsiperifery looks and tastes like. In case you’re curious, here is a link to see for yourself. The Meadows’ website explains “The name voatsiperifery is derived from the Malagasy words voa, meaning ‘the fruits,’ and tsiperifery, meaning pepper vine” and that the fruits are harvested just once a year making them relatively rare, even in native Madagascar.

Easily sliding the 12-rectangle bar from the uniquely shaped, stark white, textured thick paper outer holder and the black inner wrapper, you can immediate see that the “back” was generously sprinkled with the featured inclusion ingredient (surprisingly for a collaboration with a salt company, there is no salt listed for this bar!) The aroma reminded me of freshly cracked black pepper and I believe that there was a stem or two making an appearance. Notice an odd squiggle? Well, here are two close-up shots:

Segmenting the rectangles from each other produced a dull snap, while splitting a rectangle in half produced a sharp snap, sending little fragments flying everywhere. I noticed air bubbles at the break point.

I tried both melting a morsel on my tongue and then “chomping” on a piece. By melting, the peppery flavor was muted/delayed and there was a thick, not completely smooth mouthfeel. I personally preferred the “chomping” method since that allowed me to experience the crunch from the pepper, which also made the roof of my mouth and tongue prickle for minutes afterwards. The chocolate itself seemed a little dry/chalky and there was an astringent finish. I hope to find a jar of this pepper someday so that I can experiment with soups and stews in my own home kitchen.

Brian Flick, the “one man show” behind Pitch Dark, has been working with chocolate for more than half of his life, starting at age 14 by making confections for events and weddings. At age 21, he lived with a tribal group of cacao farmers in rural Fiji for 3 months to conduct field work for his thesis. Founding Pitch Dark in 2014 in his late 20s, his focus is on fine cacao sourced from single farms to isolate the unique flavors of the beans. This article from 2014 explains that Brian utilizes two separate pieces of equipment whereas many makers use just one for the conching/refining process: first he uses a stone grinder to pre-refine beans, then a separate roll refiner & finally a dedicated conching machine to control particle size.

To learn more about Pitch Dark and their various chocolate bars, check out: http://www.pitchdarkchocolate.com/

And if you ever figure out how to pronounce this multi-syllable, tongue twister of a pepper…PLEASE let me know! 😉

50 States Collaboration – Massachusetts / Goodnow Farms Chocolate

Maybe I’m developing a “knack” for reaching out at the perfect time? Maybe “fate” is intervening to guide my path? Either way, these moments of serendipity, when things fall into place, make me the happiest 🙂

Just last week, after months of waiting for a CSC (community supported chocolate) subscription allocation to arrive, I decided that particular Massachusetts maker, who shall remain nameless, really didn’t need additional hype since there were lesser-known makers in that state deserving of recognition. Late at night, looking at the Goodnow Farms website under “Retailer Locations,” I saw California listed as “Coming Soon” – this was a good omen! So, I sent an email asking if there might be an update and wouldn’t you know it, the very next day I received an email from Tom Rogan (co-owner of Goodnow Farms Chocolate) advising that, later that afternoon, a delivery of chocolate bars was scheduled to arrive to a shop near me!! The two bars I’ll be featuring below had only been in the shop’s inventory for 2 days by the time I visited, so it’s no wonder that the employees there weren’t familiar with them yet!

The gold foil stamped & embossed thick, textured paper sleeves of each bar feature watercolor landscape paintings of idyllic country life, which I assume reflect Tom & Monica Rogan’s 225-year old farm where the small batch chocolates are made. A quick search on the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce website revealed that Goodnow was the last name of one of the first settlers of that town from back in the late 1600s. I also discovered that there is a Goodnow Farm Historic District in Princeton, Massachusetts…but I’m not sure if the two are related since the two towns are about 30 miles away from each other.

70% Asochivite Guatemala with Maple Sugar

The unique name caught my eye as I was selecting which of their 4 bars to sample. In case you’re curious too, “The remote Guatemalan village of San Juan Chivite is perched on the side of a mountain, reachable only by foot. Part of the journey requires crossing a long, narrow wooden and steel cable footbridge across which all harvested cacao is carried by hand.” / “The Q’eqchi Maya farmers of Chivite, Guatemala harvest cacao from the wild trees surrounding their village.” What a journey for these beans! :0

The gold foil-wrapped bar slides easily from the paper sleeve and reveals an envelope-like fold kept closed with a small round sticker.

[As a side note, whoever thought to use an informational sticker is a GENIUS! I struggled to refold the foil as neatly as it arrived to return the bar to its appropriate sleeve. Without that sticker, I wouldn’t be able to tell which flavor was which for future tastings…thanks packaging designer!]

Simply peeling back the origami-like folds, there was an immediate aroma that reminded me of freshly toasted raisin bread spread thickly with sweet butter. I also really liked that the custom logo mold was the first thing you see upon opening the package.

The bar had a near flawless matte finish, though I did encounter some errant flakes that looked like “fuzz” sticking to the “top” surface. Thanks to Tom for explaining the cause of that phenomenon:

…[this] is actually tiny chocolate shavings caused by the bars being handled prior to being opened. The reason these shavings happen is that the chocolate contracts a bit as it cools in the molds, and it ‘sticks’ to the sides of the mold slightly, leaving a bit of a ridge on the edges. This ridge is what ends up flaking off a bit when the bar is handled in the wrapper. 

Upon turning the bar over, I noticed 8 squares with concentric rings. I’m intrigued and would love to see a video of their molds being filled since the still photo online from Step 6 of “Our Process” (Tempering and Molding) only showed chocolate being pumped out from one spout?!

Update from Tom on June 6th: “…the 8 squares on the back of the bar are formed by the depositing head we use on our tempering machine. The head is custom made for each of our different size molds, and it allows the mold to be filled more evenly. It attaches to the single spout that you see in the pictures in the ‘Our Process’ section. The depositing heads are a pain to deal with but they allow the chocolate to fill the molds more quickly and the result is a better looking bar.

Segmenting the bar into tasting bites, there was a soft snap; the chocolate had some elasticity and bent a little before breaking apart. I assume that this was due to the maple sugar used as sweetener. From the packaging and website: the maple sugar is sourced locally from family-owned and operated Severance Maple in Northfield, MA. Milt Severance and his family tap the trees surrounding their sugar house and do every step of the process themselves to produce granulated maple sugar (chocolate makers can’t use maple syrup since moisture and chocolate don’t mix!)

There was a refreshing + short-lived tingly sensation at the tip of my tongue during the smooth, creamy, even melt. A fruity, yogurt tang hit me at the back of my throat and the finish reminded me of roasted coffee.

Limited Edition 77% Nicalizo Nicaragua

According to the packaging, Nicalizo is the first Nicaraguan bean awarded Heirloom Cacao status (last year I tried samples from the “D7 Series”) – the Nicalizo beans are the 8th out of 13 varieties to earn this designation.

Again there was a sticker holding the gold foil folds closed, this one shows a “scarecrow” in a garden, in addition to the flavor’s name.

The toasted bread aroma was more subtle upon opening the inner wrapper; though I also encountered lightly earthy/woody scents. Tiny “fuzz” particles appeared on the top surface of this bar too, marring the otherwise pristine finish (you might have to zoom in to see below). As you would expect from wispy, thin chocolate shavings, they disappear as soon as you touch them lightly with your finger or tongue.

The same 8 squares appear on the back; I’ve adjusted the camera’s color settings to make them “pop” (the photo next to it was “undoctored”):

This bar had a sharp snap as well as a smooth, creamy, even melt which brought out nutty, grain-like, and wood flavor notes and ended with a lightly astringent, grape wine finish.

Goodnow Farms Chocolate is a relatively new company, established in 2015. This article provides interesting details about how Tom & Monica got started in creating single-origin, 3 ingredient, bean-to-bar chocolates and their continued efforts to improve the lives of the farmers at origin. One thing that especially caught my attention is that they press their own cocoa butter from the same beans as are used in the chocolate bars!

Please check out their website to see their full line of bars: https://goodnowfarms.com/

We’re nearing the end of this “50 States” project, so remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the last few stops!

Other chocolate makers in Massachusetts:

Chequessett Chocolate

Equal Exchange

Rogue Chocolatier

Somerville Chocolate

Taza Chocolate

Vivra Chocolate

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Massachusetts that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!

U is for Uyuni Salt

Rather than experience Mardi Gras in chaotic Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), one of my adventurous friends decided instead to travel to Bolivia for their version of carnaval. While on a side trip, she posted awe-inspiring pictures to Facebook of this 4,000 square mile desert-like salt flat in the Andes of Southwest Bolivia that is transformed into the world’s largest mirror during the rainy season! It’s hard to tell where the sky meets the earth.

Why do I mention all this? Well, up until now I had struggled to find a “U” inclusion ingredient and, as luck would have it, this particular salt flat is called Salar de Uyuni! The word uyuni comes from the Andean Aymara language (which is spoken by about a million people in Bolivia and Peru) and means “enclosure” (like a pen in which you would keep animals). I was thrilled to discover that two of the bars from the El Ceibo assortment she brought back just happened to include this uyuni salt!

Apologies in advance for the quality/clarity of the photos, California “May Gray” (and upcoming “June Gloom”) wreaks havoc since natural/filtered sunshine is so much better than LED or halogen lighting!  

Andean Royal Quinoa & Uyuni Salt (75%)

Just opening the heat-sealed metallic pouch, I could immediately see the generous amount of puffed quinoa inclusions bursting out from the “back” of the bar despite some chocolate dust and scuffing that marred the, otherwise, shiny finish on the front of the bar.

There was a sharp snap and the bar smelled fruity, which was unexpected since other Bolivian chocolates I’ve tried had a different aroma. Taking a bite, I anticipated a crisp crunch; however, these tiny orbs were chewy and a bit stale (the “best by” date had elapsed even before I received this bar).

Overall, the slow/even melt resulted in fruity notes rather than the earthy taste that is common for this origin. Surprisingly, the bar was not salty; so either there wasn’t much added to the bar or it was simply enhancing the flavor in a behind-the-scenes “supporting role.”

Cocoa Nibs & Uyuni Salt (77%)  

This mini bar had some ghosting and cosmetic blemishes, but had otherwise traveled well. Segmenting the rectangles into tasting morsels with a sharp snap, there was a roasted aroma at the breaking point. The malty/fruity, slow/even melt was punctuated by crunchy, slightly bitter cacao nibs and the occasional burst of the uyuni salt. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to isolate the salt crystals in my mouth.

According to an article by food-critic Mimi Sheraton, uyuni is said to have an intense deep-sea salty flavor with a slight flush of bitterness. To me, the chocolate with the visible salt crystal tasted sweet rather than briny…wonder if that’s because of the interaction with the other ingredients?!

Once again, I’m so very grateful to friends who think of me on their foreign trips. Who would have thought that a travel souvenir could be so helpful to my Eating the Chocolate Alphabet adventure!

To learn more about the chocolate assortment that these bars came from, check out: http://www.elceibochocolate.com/

50 States Collaboration – Nevada / Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions

Even though these chocolates have been in my stash since mid-April, I’ve been dragging my feet on tasting & posting them, partly because of the quantity (6 milk & 5 dark) and partly because I wasn’t sure how to execute my vision of a large tic-tac-toe game to pay tribute to the Xs that appear on each of the bite-sized morsels (maybe it’s just me, but the logo looks like a stylized, sideways hashtag). With the dwindling number of states “assigned” to me for this collaboration project, I could no longer procrastinate! So, apologies in advance since this set-up doesn’t really match my mental picture 🙁

When I discovered that an Instagram friend was visiting Las Vegas, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to request that he visit Nevada’s only bean-to-bar maker and purchase some chocolates on my behalf to save on warm weather shipping charges. Rather than choosing from the different countries of origin (or type of chocolate), he opted for one of each flavor that was available (NOTE: at that time, Venezuela was only available in milk chocolate in this 0.25 oz. “taster” size).

One of the things that I noticed about the mini heat-sealed pouches was that the milk chocolate ones (which were all 47% cacao content) had a “drippy” design while the dark chocolate ones (which varied in cacao percentage from 70-74%) had a solid rectangular color block. Also, the “forward slash” of each X matched the color coded wrapper.

Personally, I would have liked more information imprinted onto these wrappers, since it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned that the dark chocolates were made with just two ingredients: cocoa beans and palm sugar while the milk chocolates were made with five ingredients: cocoa beans, palm sugar, milk powder, ground vanilla beans and cocoa butter.

Overall, it seemed that the milk chocolate “traveled” better since there was less chocolate dust marring the surface vs. the dark chocolate. However, the milk chocolate all smelled very similar to each other: an industrial plastic-like aroma that reminded me of mass-produced candy rather than the bean-to-bar craft chocolates shown on their website. Speaking of which, this “tasting” size doesn’t appear on their website and all the bars available online are packaged in cardboard boxes, so maybe these issues have since been resolved.

If you haven’t noticed already, these small chocolates are all six-sided (hexagonal)…a visual representation of the company name, get it?! 😉 From what I’ve seen online, the mold for their full-size chocolate bars form a “honeycomb” shape composed of multiple hexagons.

In each case, I tried the milk chocolate first and then the corresponding dark chocolate (if there was one). I also tasted the dark chocolates in ascending order of cacao percentage. Below is a summary of my thoughts. Too bad I didn’t find this online “tasting menu” with descriptions of the flavor notes BEFORE my own sampling. Wonder why the Dominican Republic origin isn’t part of the online tasting menu!

Venezuela (Ocumare)

Some cosmetic defects, medium snap, grassy smell, creamy, reminded me of a milkshake, even melt, lightly grainy/almost “sticky” mouthfeel

Peru (Marañón Pure Nacional)

Milk: Minimal dust, soft snap, taste reminded me of a powdered hot cocoa mix, creamy yet sticky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Some dust, sharp snap, slow to melt, bitter in comparison to the milk, roasted/earthy/fruity flavor, thick/not smooth mouthfeel

Tanzania (Kokoa Kamili)

Milk: Air bubbles & dust marring surface, medium snap, smelled like fresh baked brownies, yogurt-like tang, thick milky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Lots of dust, dry/brittle snap, initially tasted like a hard cheese that changed to fruity/berry-like, astringent/chalky aftertaste

Dominican Republic (Oko Caribe)

Milk: Shinier/less dust than others, though still had air bubbles on the surface, sharp snap, dry appearance, tasted like a caramel or powdered hot cocoa mix, not smooth mouthfeel, back-of-the-throat acidity

Dark (71%): Also shinier/less dust than others, sharp snap, dry/chalky, tasted fruity/citrusy, astringent aftertaste on tongue

Ecuador (Camino Verde)

Milk: Shinier, less dust, some scuffing & air bubbles, brittle/crumbly snap sending shards flying everywhere, very sweet, caramel taste

Dark (73%): Minimal cosmetic defects, sharp snap, smelled fruity like plums, lightly roasted/nutty flavor [THIS WAS MY FAVORITE]

Madagascar (Sambirano Valley)

Milk: Dust, ghosting & air bubbles marring surface, dull snap, dry/chalky appearance but tasted creamy, too sweet & lightly “sticky” mouthfeel

Dark (74%): lots of air bubbles, smelled fruity (like ripe berries), tasted like burnt toast or lightly vegetal, chalky mouthfeel

Next time I visit the Las Vegas, I plan on taking a factory tour and re-sampling these small-batch, single origin bars to determine if the taste and smell were transit related. Besides, based on the side panel of their shopping bag, it looks like there is PLENTY to do, see & eat! 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions, check out their website: http://www.hexxchocolate.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project…we’re almost reaching the end!

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Nevada, please leave a comment or send an email…we like to keep our resource lists as up-to-date as possible!