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!

Bonus W – Water Buffalo Milk

For a couple of weeks running, I’ve posted some “fun food Friday” posts on Instagram. After skipping a week, I’m back with a bonus post since how could I resist tasting TWO different buffalo milk chocolate bars from the UK, especially after tasting camel milk, donkey milk and goat milk earlier in the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project?!

I’m sure you’re thinking, wait a minute…shouldn’t this be featured under “B” for “Buffalo”?

Since Damson’s website mentioned Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire as the source of their buffalo milk, I did a little research on their website to confirm that when you hear “buffalo” related to milk or cheese, the animal in question is really the WATER BUFFALO, not the American Bison (which is commonly referred to simply as buffalo)! In the wild, water buffalo can be found in swampy, wet areas which is how they got their name. Did you know that water buffalo are quieter and easier to milk than most cows?! I didn’t either until I started reading up on them!

Anyway, back to the chocolate!

Thanks to fellow chocolate blogger Victoria Cooksey for sending me this Damson 55% Buffalo Milk bar!

When I saw the Cocoa Runners logo on the front of the package, I was equally intrigued and confused. Turns out that before Dom Ramsey started Damson in early 2015, he was a founding member of Cocoa Runners (a company that curates bean-to-bar chocolate subscription boxes in the UK, among other things). You can read more about Dom through this link.

Tearing open the re-sealable, foil-lined, brown Kraft paper pouch, I could immediately smell dried fruit, like raisins or currants. The small bar adorned with images of cacao leaves and pods had a matte finish despite the visible air bubbles. The surface of the bar felt smooth and lightly oily to the touch which reminded me of the sensation of rubbing rose petals between my fingers or the supple skin of a ripe plum.

There was a medium snap when segmenting tasting morsels and I was fascinated to see the delineation of smooth and porous surfaces at the juncture of the “puzzle pieces” that form the mold.

The small piece didn’t seem dense in weight and I found it easy to bite through the piece, like a thick piece of fudge.

During the slow and even melt, there was a milky/creamy mouthfeel and a lightly grassy (yet also fruity), caramel taste. In my opinion, this animal milk is mild in comparison to goat and camel, but less mild than donkey. Unfortunately, no country of origin was listed for the chocolate, so I’m not sure if this was a blend or a single origin. If someone knows more about batch 297, please let me know!

When I had arranged a chocswap with Lilla from Little Beetle Chocolates, I had no idea what to expect, so I was thrilled to receive this Rare & Vintage Hotel Chocolat 65% Buffalo Milk bar!

Not sure if the 3D mold design has changed recently, but my bar with accordion-like folds doesn’t look exactly like the photo on the company website! Check it out for yourself & let me know what you think!

Despite the chocolate dust and damage sustained in transit from the UK, the bar was free from air bubbles and had a glossy shine when viewed at just the correct angle!

This would be my first time tasting chocolate made with Saint Lucian beans, so I didn’t know what to expect (note: Saint Lucia is an island country in the Eastern Caribbean).

There was a brittle snap to the bar and the aroma reminded me of olives, while the flavor was earthy with what I can only describe as minerality, like smoked salt. Not surprisingly, the bar itself had the same tactile characteristics (like stroking a soft rose petal) as the previous buffalo milk bar. While there was a smooth mouthfeel, this chocolate felt denser and was more difficult to melt in my mouth (not as creamy as the Damson bar, I wonder if this is because Damson uses “whole buffalo milk powder” vs. Hotel Chocolat’s “dried buffalo milk”). However, I noticed that the Hotel Chocolat tasting morsel seemed to disintegrate more quickly when “chomped.” The overall flavor of the Hotel Chocolat bar was more “gamey” (intense) than Damson’s buffalo milk bar, even though I’m guessing that the same buffalo milk source was used…how many biodynamic and organic buffalo milk farms are there in Britain?!

For more information on either of these companies, please see their respective websites:

https://damsonchocolate.com/

http://www.hotelchocolat.com/uk

As this project is nearing the end of the alphabet, I’m still holding out hope for a zebra milk chocolate bar! Maybe I should have renamed this series “Eating the Chocolate Zoo” 😉

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/

O is for Orchid

Until yesterday when I started researching things a little further, I thought orchid was a fairly exotic flavor. I’ve since discovered that vanilla is a type of orchid, so now my “bubble” has been burst a little :'(

Regardless, today I’m featuring this Orchid and Orange Blossom 72% dark chocolate limited edition fusion bar from UK’s Artisan du Chocolat since flowers embody Spring! This flavor combination was especially created for the Chelsea Flower Show Gala in 2010 & has been popular ever since.

Even the bar code has a floral theme!

Unwrapping the 15 rectangle bar from the clear plastic pouch, I could immediately smell the aroma that I associate with orange blossom water. The bar had an overall matte finish that was marred slightly by some chocolate dust and air bubbles.

After taking several close-up photos, I noticed that some of the recessed rectangular panels had a plain, textured finish while others appeared to have a series of ever smaller concentric rectangles, almost like a maze configuration, though the pattern was not consistent from rectangle to rectangle. Hopefully the below photos have captured the phenomenon…

Each time I’ve tried to segment a row of three rectangles into equally sized tasting morsels, the middle rectangle breaks off more easily and not at the dividing “score line” between the rectangles, such that it is impossible to get equally sized pieces (this has happened three times so far, leading me to think that this isn’t an isolated aberration).

From the packaging, the base chocolate (a blend of bitter Venezuelan Criollo and slightly acidic Mexican Trinitario cocoa beans) is flavored with distillates of exotic flowers from the town of Grasse in the Alpine region of France. Artisan du Chocolat is not entirely bean-to-bar since it sounds like they receive ground cacao that is then conched and refined in-house at their atelier in Kent. Though neither the packaging nor the website says so, I’m assuming that steam distillation was used to create the natural orchid and orange blossom extracts. Based on what I’ve read of the process, as plant tissue breaks down in water that is heated to the boiling point, steam pulls out the released essential oils + water vapor, which are then condensed and cooled into an extract.

Melting a piece in my mouth, I tasted bitter, green (unripe) flavors and a peppery, tongue prickling sensation. The mouthfeel was smooth during the slow and even melt, but then I was left with a mouth puckering finish. Surprisingly, these flavors are less intense when the bar is chomped. Since I happened to have orange blossom water in my kitchen pantry from the last time I made baklava, I tasted some on its own for comparison purposes. This liquid was more perfumy and floral, but without any of the other sensations, causing me to wonder if the orchid extract or the chocolate itself contributed to the astringent aftertaste. Sounds like I’ll have to taste orchid on its own sometime for “scientific research” 😉

Visit the Artisan du Chocolat website to discover their extensive product line for yourself: http://www.artisanduchocolat.com/

L is for Lavender

Looking back, there are so many different “L” inclusions in chocolate: lemongrass, licorice, lilac, lilikoi and lucuma – for example. So, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have chosen lavender since that flavor and aroma is generally overpowering and overwhelming. I’m not sure exactly why I settled on lavender, though it was easy to find two bars for “compare and contrast” purposes. Bear with me on this post…

First off is Cowgirl Chocolates Mild Dark Chocolate Lavender (55%) made in Idaho. Love the silhouette of the cowgirl mounted on her horse.

Cowgirl Chocolates color coordinates their wrappers with the flavor of the chocolate bar. They use a yellow for their Lemonade White Chocolate, a rust color for their spicy dark orange espresso and, of course, a light purple for the lavender bar I’m about to taste.

Try as I might, I wasn’t able to slip this small bar out easily since the silver foil was attached to the inside of the paper sleeve.

Once I managed to unwrap the bar, I was fascinated by the unique way the foil had been folded, though I’m reminded of my failed origami attempts!

Each of the 6 small rectangles is imprinted with the word “Dream” in cursive, as well as a star and sliver of crescent moon, unfortunately the matte finish surface exhibited some signs of “transit wear.”

There is a sharp snap when segmenting pieces and looking at the cross section, I knew that I would have a silky smooth mouthfeel while melting a morsel on my tongue.

As a rule, I don’t like to post negative comments about chocolates, but this bar has a very strong floral perfume that reminded me of bath soap. I experienced an almost “cooling sensation” while tasting this bar, which I suspect comes from the lavender oil that was used.

While this chocolate sadly wasn’t appealing to me, there are several other mild and spicy chocolate bars available, as well as chipotle or habanero caramels. Visit their website for more details: https://www.cowgirlchocolates.com/

Next up is Dolfin Lavande fine (60% dark chocolate with lavender) made in Belgium. Love that the label has descriptions in 4 languages.

Like Cowgirl, they chose a light purple paper wrapper; though in this case, there is an illustration of a small bouquet of lavender flowers on the front.

There are two unique features of their outer packaging. The first thing you’ll notice is that the informational paper wrapper (portrait/vertical on the first panel and landscape/horizontal on all the remaining panels) is completely encased in plastic. The second is that the packaging opens like a tri-fold wallet or tobacco pouch.

Inside, the chocolate bar is wrapped tightly in a crimp sealed plastic wrapper adorned with small illustrations that, I assume, depict their other flavors (see if you can spot cinnamon, tea, star anise, mint, ginger and so much more!)

Cutting open the packaging with scissors, I could already smell a more subtle, delicate and natural aroma. Amidst the swirls on the back of the bar, I could see the bumpy outlines of the small lavender flowers (1% of the overall ingredients) that generously dotted the matte finish surface.

The bar is comprised of 6 long rectangles, each etched with symmetrical lines that radiated away from a small square at the center of the rectangle. Despite the tightly fitting inner packaging, there was still some scuffing and chocolate dust marring the surface.

There is a sharp, yet slightly crumbly snap to the bar. Clearly, the mouthfeel would not be smooth due to the lavender flower inclusion.

As you rub a tasting morsel against your tongue, you feel little pieces of the tubular bud (calyx) come away from the chocolate, like separating chaff from seeds, which then adds a crunch to each bite.

Here is a close up of two ridged lavender buds; I’m surprised that they still retain such a deep purple hue and that they look a little like fennel seeds.

There is definitely an herbal and floral taste to the chocolate, though it seems to be less pronounced when chomped rather than melted. Initially, the flavor was quite intense and overwhelmed the chocolate itself; though after several tastings I started to enjoy it and pictured myself walking through a lush field in Provence, France 😉

To discover Dolfin’s extensive product line, check out their website: http://www.dolfin.be/en/

Did you know that lavender is part of the mint family of flowering plants?! It’s said that inhaling the scent of lavender has calming and soothing effects. So, whenever I feel stressed in the future, all I need to do is sniff this chocolate…though, of course, I’ll be tempted to nibble at it too! 🙂

G is for Gold

Yes, I’m still eating Christmas chocolates at the end of February…don’t judge me 😉 What you may not realize is that this has been the most highly anticipated bar (so far) during “round 2” of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet! Also, based on the unique inclusion ingredients, I could have potentially used it for not one, but three different letters: F, G or M! The story about how I came to acquire this bar (spoiler alert: I actually had 4 bars in my possession at one time!) is long, convoluted and funny…but, I won’t bore you with the details here. However, if you find me in person + are curious, ask me about it! 🙂

As you may have guessed…this is a Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh bar by Rococo Chocolates. This holiday favorite was first created by founder Chantal Coady in 1996 & Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it!

While the “Three Wise Men” are not named in the New Testament, other traditions have given them names, different ages, countries of origin and attributed special significance to each of their gifts.

This particular package art depicts the “Three Kings” as being from the same age group, but below is a compilation of information I found:

  • Caspar (or sometimes listed as Gaspar) was said to be the king of modern-day Turkey. He represented an “older” man in his 60s and his gift was gold. Gold was (and still is) a valuable possession, but this item is also thought to embody kingship on earth and virtue.
  • Melchior represented a “middle aged” man (in his 40s) and gave frankincense from his native Arabia. This aromatic resin has been used in perfume and incense and is considered a symbol of deity & prayer.
  • Balthazar (a “young” man, aged 20) was said to come from modern-day South Yemen (though other traditions list his country of origin as Ethiopia or other parts of Africa). His gift was myrrh, which has often been used as an anointing or embalming oil and is a symbol of death or suffering.

Until this project, I never really thought about frankincense and myrrh, so I was surprised to learn that they are both obtained from the sap of trees and that Somalia is the biggest exporter of frankincense. While it might have been interesting for Rococo to have used these ingredients in their solid state, their chocolate was actually infused with trace amounts of oil that were obtained by steam distillation of the dry resins. Frankincense is said to be woody in flavor, while myrrh (a natural gum that is waxy and coagulates quickly) is considered bitter & spicy by Chinese medicine.

Upon opening the cardboard packaging, I noticed that the bar was wrapped in festive thick gold foil.

However, after unwrapping the bar from the foil, I noticed that the chocolate had sustained some damage in transit: it was broken in 2 pieces & some of the edible 22 carat gold leaf had become detached from one of the rectangles.

Since I had a bar in “reserve,” I decided to open that one as well…only to discover that the inner packaging was the same patterned white & blue one that I had seen on the Earl Grey Tea bar from a couple of weeks ago.

As I alluded to earlier, 3 bars were brought back directly from England after the Christmas holidays + I acquired another bar at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco on Christmas Eve day. Turns out that the UK version had the gold foil inner wrapper + more gold leaf decorations while the US version had the “standard” inner packaging, less gold leaf & more chocolate “dust” + scuffing marring the surface (as well as a minor crack along the entire length of the bar where the first “C” of Rococo was imprinted on each of the rectangles).

For tasting purposes, I chose to stick with the UK bar despite the less-than-pristine appearance of the cracked bar (in case you were curious, BOTH bars tasted the same!)

Gold is a malleable and pliable chemical element, so “gold leaf” is created by hammering pieces of gold into thin sheets. It is odorless and tasteless, but it adds a certain “bling” to the chocolate…don’t you agree?!

Here is a close up of the gold leaf:

Overall, the chocolate smells and tastes primarily of citrusy orange oil. There was a sharp snap to the bar, though I also noticed an air bubble along the breaking point.

Melting a piece, I noticed that the texture was not completely smooth, but the morsel melted evenly. During the melt, I experienced a prickly, tingling sensation on my tongue that was vaguely effervescent. This reminded me of prior experiences with tasting pine resin and it left some astringency behind.

This was definitely a fun and unique Christmas-inspired bar & I’d love to get the Chocolarder version next year for comparison purposes!!

To learn more about Rococo Chocolates and their range of artisan bars, check out: https://www.rococochocolates.com/

E is for Earl Grey Tea

While in college and shortly after graduation, my ideal weekend would include a “high tea” outing with friends. For years, it was a hobby (and almost an obsession) of mine to visit every tea shop in Southern California…sadly, I didn’t succeed in my quest, but I had a delicious time trying! 😉 In the beginning, I wasn’t very familiar with different types of teas, so I relied on the recommendation of others. Not surprisingly, Earl Grey tea was generally what people would suggest to me (did you know it’s second only to English Breakfast as the world’s best-selling blend of tea?) While no one really knows why this flavor of tea was named after the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, Viscount Howick) who was best known for abolishing slavery in the British Empire and was one of the leading British statesmen of the late 18th Century and 19th Century, there are several myths and legends surrounding the origin.

Sitting there chatting with friends and daintily nibbling on finger sandwiches, I always felt so “posh” drinking my Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that bergamot oil gives Earl Grey its distinctive flavor and aroma. The bergamot orange, grown primarily in the Calabrian region of Italy, is probably a hybrid of a sweet lime and a bitter orange. The fruit is the size of an orange, with the color of a lemon, is less sour than a lemon, but more bitter than a grapefruit. The rind from 100 bergamot oranges (both ripe and unripe) yields about 3 ounces of the fragrant essential oil.

But enough about that and on to the CHOCOLATE!

The graphics used on the box remind me of a Moorish palace floor. According to a Wall Street Journal article from 2011, planted behind the Belgravia Rococo shop, there is a Moroccan garden that has geometrical-design tiles which inspired the packaging.

Opening the box, I enjoyed reading about the history behind the company and the source of the cocoa that was used. One feature that I especially liked (and hope that other chocolate companies adopt) is that there are 4 small tabs at each corner that help keep the wrapped chocolate bar securely in place, preventing it from sliding around in the box.

Cutting open the top of the foil lined inner packaging, the citrus aroma immediately transported me back to my favorite afternoon tea outings. There is a rich dark color and matte finish to the bar which has seven narrow rectangles imprinted with the company name in block letters.

Segmenting one of the rectangles from the rest of the bar produced a dull snap, while breaking the rectangle in half produced a medium snap (possibly due to the air bubbles in the chocolate, see below for a photo). As I’m wont to do, I usually munch the first piece of any chocolate bar I try. This rewarded me with a satisfying crunch from the ground Earl Grey tea (3% of the ingredients) that was mixed into the chocolate itself – you can see black flecks of the tea throughout the chocolate.

There is a slow, even melt to the morsel and of course the mouthfeel is not smooth due to the tea. I was curious to see what a partially melted piece might look like…so here it is:

When a friend traveled to England to visit family for the holidays, I specifically requested that he bring back a different Rococo chocolate bar, which you will hear about in just a few weeks! Serendipity must have led him to also bring back this Earl Grey bar that I didn’t realize that I *needed* – such an unexpected pleasure to stroll down memory lane 🙂

It’s no wonder that founder Chantal Coady received the very first OBE (Order of the British Empire) for “services to chocolate making” as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June 2014.

To learn more about Rococo Chocolates and their range of artisan bars, check out: https://www.rococochocolates.com/

D is for Donkey Milk

After tasting camel milk chocolate last week, I was expecting this week’s bar to be funky and gamey. I was in for a surprise!

Honestly, I have never really thought about donkey’s milk before aside from hearing that that Cleopatra used to bathe in it daily as part of her beauty regimen and that Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister also used the milk for skincare (as it was thought to remove wrinkles and make the skin whiter). However, did you know that donkey’s milk is the closest to human milk in nutritional value and is often used as a substitute around the world for infants to build their immune systems? Hippocrates, the “father” of medicine, was the first to write about the benefits in ancient Greece and would prescribe it to cure various ailments. According to the packaging, donkey’s milk is rich in lactose, but poor in whey protein.

Speaking of the packaging for this bar, it is nearly identical to last week’s bar, aside from the name of the product: Cioccolato al latte d’asina.

The classic Domori white, maroon and gold are used on the exterior with the interior foil repeating the color scheme and company logo design.

This particular bar wasn’t available locally, so I had to order it from Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli in Utah. Somewhere along the way, the thin bar became segmented in half and this might have caused some of the chocolate “dust” that slightly marred the overall surface of the square bar.

My initial sniffs of the chocolate resulted in an aroma I couldn’t really articulate. My scribbled notes say: salty? / smells like a grain or leaves or an herb. Later in the day, I read a review describing the scent as chamomile flowers and that sounds about right.

Perhaps due to the width of the bar, breaking one of the two mini squares in half resulted in a brittle snap. The flavor reminded me of hazelnuts and was sweet with notes of honey, caramel or butter. I found that the morsel melted evenly, though not too quickly, on the tongue. Overall, the mouthfeel wasn’t entirely smooth and felt a little abrasive after a couple of tastings. I noticed a lightly grassy, but not unpleasant, aftertaste that lingered briefly. For 22.5% donkey milk, this was a very mild and palatable chocolate, but perhaps that was also due to the intrinsic characteristics of the criollo cacao that was used.

Sources say that a lactating donkey typically produces less than 2 liters of milk per day (whereas a cow can produce 30-40 liters per day), so you can imagine that the market for this type of milk is small. I’m not sure where Domori sources their milk, but I’ve read that there is a donkey farm in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and that country was the first to put this milk on the market.

So, if you are ready for a taste adventure, but a little apprehensive about eating a non-cow’s milk chocolate, this might be the way to go!

To find out more about Domori, please check out: http://www.domori.com/en/

C is for Camel Milk

Forgive me, but I just couldn’t resist the pun of featuring camel milk chocolate bars on a “hump day”! 🙂

In the past I’ve tried sheep’s milk and goat’s milk chocolate bars, so when I saw a picture of Domori’s camel milk bar on Instagram, I knew I had to add that to my tasting repertoire! Luckily, I was able to find a bar at a local shop, but honestly I was a little hesitant to try it right away! Then, by chance a few months later, I read an article in the AAA Westways magazine about an upcoming opportunity to feed apples to camels during an open house day at a dairy farm in Ramona, CA, which also happened to sell chocolate bars from Dubai maker Al Nassma.

After interacting with these endearingly sweet animals and acquiring a couple of flavored bars, now I had the incentive to wait for “round 2” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project to feature this exotic “inclusion” ingredient.

Until researching the brand, I didn’t know that Al Nassma became the world’s first producer of camel milk chocolate in 2008, hoping to be the “Godiva of the Middle East” (making reference to the well-known Belgian chocolatier). At first, Al Nassma’s products were only available in Dubai; but, when they expanded their sales internationally in 2009, Chocolate Covered San Francisco was one of the only places in the United States that sold their chocolates. I’m not sure if the production process has changed since 2009, but articles from that year mentioned that freeze-dried camel milk was being airlifted from the Dubai Camelicious Farm to their Austrian chocolate maker partner (Manner AG) so that chocolate mass could be produced and shipped back to their Dubai facility where additional ingredients were mixed in before the bars were molded and packaged.

Speaking of the packaging, each of the Al Nassma bars depicts a camel standing on a sand dune with the sun in the background as well as a visual hint of the additional ingredients flavoring the bar. The brown and red earth tones blend nicely with spot embossing and the gold leaf accents.

First up is the “Arabia” bar. Though the packaging doesn’t specifically describe the “spice blend,” the graphic on the front appears to include green cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.

For this particular bar, the gold foil inner wrapper was folded with the outer paper wrapper such that you couldn’t slip the bar out easily.

This gave me the opportunity to fully remove the bar and admire the inside of the paper wrapper which sported offset rows of the company logo: the silhouette of a camel standing under a single palm tree.

The bar is quite dense and thick, so segmenting the pieces took a little effort, resulting in a woody snap. The image embossed into 5 of the bar’s rectangles calls to mind a wind swept desert floor. According to the company’s website, “al nassma” refers to a seasonal cooling breeze which provides respite to the people of the desert.

You can see tiny black flecks throughout the bar, which makes me think that black pepper might have been used as one of the spices. Overall, the aroma reminded me of sweet cream or butter caramel. The morsel melted slowly on the tongue and produced a thick, not smooth, almost waxy mouthfeel. Despite there being 21% camel milk in this bar, I couldn’t tell that this was made with an unusual milk product. Disappointingly, this bar lacked depth of flavor and was a little too sweet for my taste. Of the three, this was my least favorite.

Next was the “Macadamia-Orange” bar, which slipped out nicely from the outer sleeve. Similar to the inside of the paper wrapper, the gold foil has rows upon rows of embossed camel logos.

Here is a close up of the gold foil:

Removing the thick bar from the packaging, you could already see the inclusion ingredients bursting out from the back of the bar.

While it was equally difficult to segment, this bar had an enticing orange oil aroma which reminded me of marmalade.

With a brittle snap, you could immediately see medium sized chunks of macadamia nuts and candied orange zest. This bar was not as sweet as the Arabia bar and was also slow on the melt, though it was more creamy than waxy. Again, despite 19% camel milk, I could not tell that this was made with an exotic milk. It is the most palatable of the three bars that I tried. With this bar you can brag about eating camel milk chocolate without it tasting that way!

Last, but not least, is a limited edition Cacao Criollo 45% bar (with 22% camel milk) – cioccolato al latte di dromedaria

I’m not sure where Italian bean-to-bar chocolate maker Domori sources their camel milk since this bar is no longer listed on their website and the packaging doesn’t list the origin.

Domori’s elegantly simple square box has gold embossed accents on all six surfaces and textured thick cardboard. The gold and maroon color theme extends even to the sealed pouch inside the box.

Inside the pouch is a thin bar made up of 4 easily segmentable squares that produced a sharp snap.

Upon opening the packaging, I could immediately smell a grassy, tangy (almost sour milk) aroma. This chocolate is silky smooth, creamy, lightly salty with a touch of caramel sweetness…but it tastes like it smells and there is no mistaking that this is not cow’s milk! This one also has a thicker mouthfeel on the melt, but it was not waxy like the Al Nassma bars.

Special note: During my initial taste yesterday, I sampled the bars in reverse order than how I listed them above: I started with the most intensely “camel” flavored bar and progressed to the least flavored one. So, this morning, I went through a “second pass” (re-tasting all three bars) in the order listed in this post, while palate cleansing between bars with stale corn tortilla chips. In case you were curious, my first impressions didn’t change the second time around.

On a whim, just now I decided to taste this bar side-by-side with the Mast Brothers’ goat and sheep milk bars. If it helps, I’d say that camel tastes more like sheep than it does goat. I have to confess that this wasn’t the first time for me trying the Domori camel milk bar. My first time was as part of Chocolate Noise’s underground chocolate salon in Seattle after the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November. Here is a link to Megan’s post describing the tasting (scroll down toward the end of the article for the camel bar): http://www.chocolatenoise.com/chocolate-today/#/notes-from-the-underground-chocolate-salon-4/

Stay tuned next week when I try Domori’s donkey milk bar for “D” week! I’ve heard that the FDA classified milk to include reindeer, moose, llama and even buffalo…wonder if I can find any of those for this project?! :0

For more information on the chocolates I tried, check out:

Al Nassma http://www.al-nassma.com/

Domori http://www.domori.com/en/

Bonus A – Anzac Crunch

From the moment I saw the packaging on Instagram, I knew I *had* to have “The Great War” bar from Wellington Chocolate Factory! The flavor didn’t matter to me since the hand-painted illustration of the soldier eating a chocolate bar from his ration pack while hunkered down in the trenches with his buddy and some animal friends had captured my heart.

Thanks to Josh Rubin from Chocexchange in Canada for being the intermediary between New Zealand and Southern California to make my dream a reality! [Originally I was going to feature this bar during “round 1” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet blog during “W” week, which would have coincided closely with Canadian Remembrance day in November; however, fate intervened so that I could instead showcase it as a bonus “A” bar for “round 2” of the blog!]

The top surface of the outer paper wrapper must somehow be lightly coated because the informational label & Cuisine Artisan Award Winner sticker were easily removed to reveal a ~200mm x ~250mm image.

Each time I look at the artwork by Auckland-based Misery (aka Tanja Jade), I see some new detail that I had previously overlooked: the mountain in the distance that is crying, the birds wearing tiny helmets dodging cannon fire to carry ration packs to the soldiers on the front lines, the serene faces in the poppies. Despite the folds and creases, this will soon be framed and displayed proudly in my home!

On the 25th of April each year, Anzac Day commemorates the anniversary of the 1915 landing at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, where thousands of Australian and New Zealander soldiers fought and died during World War I. In case you’re unfamiliar, Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Like Veterans’ Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada, Anzac Day honors past and present AUS & NZ servicemen and women from all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Though some believe that Anzac biscuits were sent to the soldiers on the front lines in Europe, the truth is that Anzac cakes were sold at the “homefront” to raise money for the war effort. Anzac biscuits are traditionally made with rolled oats, flour, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda, boiling water and (optionally) desiccated coconut. The “Anzac crunch” used for this bar was inspired by those ingredients, with some modern-day updates.

The “back” of the bar is completely covered in crispy, crunchy, toasted rolled oats and coconut chips that it’s easy to forget that there is a smooth and creamy 52% coconut milk chocolate hiding underneath.

This bar, made from a house blend of Criollo and Trinitario beans, is as delicious as it is photogenic. Modernizing the traditional recipe, coconut flour and coconut sugar were used (though raw sugar and golden syrup still added to the sweetness of the bar). There is an unusual, almost sour, tang to the chocolate itself. I assume this is from the golden syrup since I just now tasted coconut flour and coconut sugar from my kitchen pantry and the flavor note does not seem to originate from those ingredients. Upon research, I discovered that golden syrup is an acidic sugar solution that adds a smoky warmth. I was also fascinated to learn that golden syrup was used as a “binder” (getting ingredients to stick together) when there was a shortage of eggs during wartime.

Honestly, it was impossible not to “chomp” this bar and quickly has become one of my new favorites. As I sit here with only a few morsels left, a trip to New Zealand to get more in person (and avoid winter) seems like a perfectly reasonable solution! 😉

From the label: A portion of the profit from this bar of chocolate will be donated to the Great War Exhibition to assist with making the compelling history of the First World War available to all.

To learn more about their entire line of organic ethically traded bean-to-bar chocolates, check out: http://www.wcf.co.nz/