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 – Nebraska / Sweet Minou

Last week I was awaiting a delivery from Sweet Minou, Nebraska’s only bean-to-bar chocolate company; so, when a box sporting several Cultiva Coffee Roasting labels arrived, I was a little confused. However, after discovering this informative article from 2015, all the puzzle pieces have fallen into place and things make much more sense to me now! Turns out that when the Cultiva owners opened a new location (called Cultiva Labs), they carved out some space for bean-to-bar chocolate production!

A big thank you to Rebecca Ankenbrand, Sweet Minou’s chocolate maker, for generously sending me an assortment of chocolate bars (and a couple of other goodies you’ll hear about later) for “research purposes” after I contacted her about this “50 states” collaboration project!

Rebecca mentioned to me that Sweet Minou recently rebranded their logo + packaging, so I feel privileged to be among the first to see this round of the artwork and screen printed thick paper wrappers. As you’ll see below, each bar’s sleeve + the informational sticker keeping the fold closed has a different color that seems to tie into a flavor component of the bar. Additionally, the company logo (a cat’s face) is printed in a similar or complementing color. When I first saw the Sweet Minou logo, I assumed that the name was chosen to honor a beloved pet. Maybe my guess wasn’t too far off, since “minou” is the French word for “kitty” and the company name was inspired by Rebecca’s years in France where she taught English and enjoyed tasting many gourmet chocolates.

First up is Bolivia Alto Beni (70% dark chocolate)

This small bar (0.8 ounces) is made from only three ingredients: organic cacao, sugar and cocoa butter. Just removing the 5-rectangle bar from the wax-lined silver foil inner wrapper released a lovely malty and roasted/coffee aroma. While the “top” surface was marred by some air bubbles, chocolate dust and a little scuffing, the vertical and horizontal lines from the mold were crisp and well defined.

Breaking off a tasting morsel, there was a sharp snap and an earthy aroma where the rectangle had been separated from the rest of the bar. During the slow, even melt I tasted light citrus/fruity notes, while “chomping” brought out more vibrant and tangy red fruit notes. Bolivia is my current favorite country of origin and this bar was a fine example, though less earthy in flavor than others I’ve tried.

Next is the Signature Blend + Walnut (70% dark chocolate)

The foil wrapper was bulging out from the paper sleeve, barely able to contain the plentiful inclusions.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the #chocolatetopography comprised of different sized walnut pieces dotted with glistening chunks of amber-colored caramelized sugar that crunched like toffee.

Thankfully most of the inclusions remained intact when turning over the bar to discover that a different mold was used for this larger (1.35 ounce) bar. Despite slight cosmetic imperfections (some ghosting and air bubbles), the “top” surface was mostly glossy and shiny.

Though it was a little difficult to isolate the chocolate from the featured inclusion ingredients, the signature blend was smooth, creamy, not-too-sweet and seemed to have a tang that reminded me of tart cranberries. Don’t judge me too harshly, but there is only a bite or two left of this bar…really, I don’t know what happened! 😉 It was one of those cases where you take a bite, try to pinpoint what you were tasting and then need to repeat the process multiple times since the flavor was a little elusive.

Last of the bars is the Signature Blend + Pistachio (70% dark chocolate)

The colorful purple rose petals and contrasting distinctive green and brown pistachios were sprinkled over the center of the bar. Taking a closer look, the chocolate seemed to change color at the edges of the inclusion ingredients, I suspect this was the oil leeching from the nuts rather than dissolving/deliquescing salt.

Regardless, it was easier to isolate the creamy, smooth chocolate and this time the signature blend was still fruity, but less tangy than the previous bar. To me, the salty nuts added more than the papery rose petals; though when the petals were tasted alone, they were flavorful and aromatic.

But wait…there’s more!!

As an unexpected treat, I also received Mango & Vanilla Bean Cups decorated with a dash of ground turmeric and a few large salt crystals.

My only complaint is that I was unable to remove the dense cup out of the brown paper liner unless I cut the chocolate in half first. The flavorful, creamy, smooth, tropical mango purée flecked with tiny vanilla bean seeds contrasted with the medium-thick chocolate shell (which I assume was made from the same 70% cacao signature blend as the inclusion bars).

Last, but not least, some dark chocolate dipped Chili Mango slices which won Best Dessert Curry at the Lincoln, Nebraska Asian Community & Cultural Center Curry Clash fundraiser event.

The baggie arrived with 4 pieces, but one of them disappeared before the photo session! 😉 There is just the right amount of chocolate to enhance the moist and chewy dried fruit – salty, sweet, savory & lightly spicy. This finger food snack has it all…no wonder it was an award winner!

While Sweet Minou is just starting out, in the two years that Rebecca has been in business, it’s clear that she has a passion for experimenting with different flavor combinations and different bean-to-bar origins. What a thrill to learn that she will be traveling to Haiti later this week for cacao sourcing! I’m grateful that I was able to try so many of her creations & look forward to staying in touch to discover what is next on the horizon!

To learn more and order goodies for yourself, please go to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sweet.minou.chocolate/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

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

50 States Collaboration – Montana / Burnt Fork Bend

Every day is a new adventure and, for me, eating chocolate certainly helps smooth out the rough edges! A huge thank you to Jennifer Wicks, Burnt Fork Bend’s chocolate maker, for generously sending me samples of 2 bars/3 origins for this “50 States” project!

Did you know that ~38 of the 50 United States have bean-to-bar chocolate companies and Montana is one of the states that has only one B2B maker? This article from 2012 provides details on how Jennifer got started and the inspiration behind the company’s name and logo, while this article from 2015 provides a glimpse into her chocolate making process.

While deciding which states I wanted to feature as part of this collaboration project with Lori from Time to Eat Chocolate, I visited Burnt Fork Bend’s website and fell in love with the stories behind the bar names, especially the “Bob Bar”! One of Jennifer’s former co-workers wasn’t fond of her original 72% dark chocolate bar and wasn’t afraid to honestly tell her. So, she developed a recipe that he liked & named the bar after him 🙂

The bars come in two different sizes: the 2 oz. package is the “small” and the 2.5 oz. package is the “large.” Origins change every 8-10 months or so (based on availability) to keep things interesting, as well as to introduce customers to as many different flavor profiles as possible.

The “Bob Bar” is made with just three ingredients, using evaporated cane juice instead of sugar.

The outer packaging is a coated paper “envelope” that can be opened and re-sealed easily.

Inside each of these envelopes, the thick bar is wrapped in a plastic pouch kept closed with a small silver sticker adorned with the company logo: the silhouette of heron standing in an idyllic, flowing creek.

The mold is made up of 12 equal squares which reminds me a bit of a Ritter Sport chocolate bar. As I’m looking at the bar now that I’ve easily removed a row of squares for tasting purposes, the remaining 9 squares makes me think of a chocolate Rubik’s Cube!

First up is the 60% Costa Rica Bob Bar

If I’ve deciphered Jennifer’s batch numbering nomenclature, this bar is from batch number 8, made on December 18, 2016! I noticed air bubbles at the corners of several squares, otherwise the matte finish was mostly free from other imperfections.

[update April 5th: Thanks to Jennifer for reaching out…seems I was close, but not completely accurate in my nomenclature deciphering. Rather than denote the batch number, the first two digits represent an internal reference to the beans’ country of origin + the rest of the numbers are the packaging date.]

There was a roasted coffee aroma on opening the package and a semi soft snap when segmenting tasting morsels. While the square’s size makes it a bit difficult to “melt” on my tongue like you are supposed to, I discovered that “chomping” the piece a couple of times made “melting” much easier! It’s not abrasive like stone ground cacao, but the texture / mouthfeel is not completely smooth since the beans are minimally processed.

This may be my first experience with Costa Rican chocolate, so I’m not sure if coffee notes are inherent in this origin. After the first few bites, the flavor mellowed to a buttery/nutty one with hints of honey or caramel. I can understand why Bob liked this “sweeter side of dark” bar!

Next were the 72% Ecuador and 72% Bolivia Blue Heron Bars

Like the “Bob Bar,” these have only three ingredients – though sugar is used for the sweetener.

Looking at the bars side-by-side, it appears that the Ecuador bar is slightly darker than the Bolivia bar, though both have interesting swirls on the “back” side of the bar! Depending on how I oriented the bar, I could see different abstract artwork that I would have otherwise missed if I wasn’t inquisitive!

The Ecuador bar (batch number 1, made December 29, 2016) had a medium crisp/slightly hollow sounding snap and seemed to have less air bubbles marring the surface of the matte finish. There was an earthy aroma upon opening the package, a fruity/berry flavor on the melt and a creamy/nutty flavor when “chomped.”

The Bolivia bar (batch number 3, made March 23, 2017) smelled less earthy than the Ecuador bar and there was more chocolate “dust” on the top surface. It seemed to have a drier mouthfeel when chomped (which reminded me of marshmallows) and a lightly astringent finish.

If you prefer milk chocolate, don’t worry…they have that too! Be sure to visit their website for more details and to order bars for yourself: http://www.burntforkbend.com/index.html

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

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

50 States Collaboration – Arizona / Stone Grindz Chocolate

Partnering with Time to Eat Chocolate on this collaboration project has provided me with the opportunity to expand my horizons! Since Lori posted about a chocolate maker from her home state yesterday, I thought it would be fun to write about a company that I only recently discovered was near my home state! Honestly, it never occurred to me that there could be a chocolate maker in Scottsdale, Arizona since their summer temperatures are consistently in the triple digits!! It surprised me to discover that there are actually quite a few companies in other parts of Arizona as well (see the bottom of this post for a full list of makers).

As any marketing person will tell you, vibrant packaging sells! When trying to select which Arizona maker to feature, I was captivated by the colorful/eye-catching rustic artwork of the Stone Grindz bars as shown on their website. Seeing that they also carried a Bolivia bar (one of my favorite origins at the moment) “sealed the deal” – now to try to locate it! Luckily their bars are sold by Chocolate Covered San Francisco, so I quickly placed an order and received the bar within two days.

To me, it looks like both a llama and a donkey are depicted on the front of this C1S (coated one side) notched cardboard sleeve since these “beasts of burden” are perfect for transporting supplies in the Bolivian Andes.

Removing the bar from the outer packaging, the clear heat-sealed plastic bag allows you to immediately see the matte finish of the 18-square mold, despite some minor chocolate “dust” marring the overall finish.

Cutting open the plastic wrapper released a deep, rich, chocolatey aroma. Taking a closer look at the bar, I noticed tiny air bubbles at the corners of most of the squares and some slight “ghosting” swirls. I’m always mesmerized by the natural beauty of minor imperfections, if you take time to notice them. FYI, I enhanced the photo below a bit to make it “pop.”

Breaking off a row of squares to make tasting morsels, I noticed that the mold had not been evenly filled since each of the pieces varied in width.

There was a slightly brittle snap to the bar and I detected a nutty aroma at the break. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy – something I didn’t really expect from a name like Stone Grindz. After melting several pieces in my mouth, I noticed a malty aftertaste; however, the overall flavor of this Wild Bolivia bar was mild to me, rather than the distinct earthy flavor profile I have come to expect from other Bolivian beans (Alto Beni, in particular). To my surprise, I tasted mostly green apple rather than the cashew and plum from the tasting notes. Based on my experience, green apple is generally considered to be an “off flavor” in beer, so I’m wondering about the amount of acetic acid produced when fermenting this particular batch of beans which, according to the packaging, grew wild along the Amazon River Basin. [As a side note, I sampled this bar twice with the same results: once in the morning as a “first taste” before having anything to eat & a second time after eating a spicy meal.]

Taste is definitely subjective! Just recently, the Choocolate Journalist published an interesting article about some of the reasons why people taste things differently than others. So, don’t take my word for it…try it for yourself & let me know your thoughts & experiences!!

If you’d like to learn more about the different bars available from Stone Grindz, check out: http://www.stonegrindz.com/

To be sure not to miss any story from this “50 States” project, I recommend that you also follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog!

Other chocolate makers in Arizona:

Brazen Chocolate https://www.newfangledlabs.com/

Chocofin http://www.chocofin.com/

Desert Indulgence http://www.difinechocolates.com/

Lulu’s Chocolate http://www.luluschocolate.com/

Zak’s Chocolate http://zakschocolate.com/

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Arizona 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!

F is for Foie Gras

Last year, after trying a couple of David Briggs’ Xocolatl de David caramel bars, I really wanted to get my hands on his unconventional foie gras bar which had been seen on Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern. Lucky for me, I was able to find one on a recent trip out of town.

Before you turn up your nose at the idea of combining fatty duck liver with chocolate, hear me out! It’s completely understandable that this bar isn’t for everyone; but if you give it a chance, the taste might very much surprise you (in a good way!)

Removing the bar from the cardboard outer packaging and the thin aluminum foil, I noticed some slight scuffing marring the overall near mirror shine of the bar. I had to handle the bar carefully since it was very easy to leave fingerprints everywhere on the room temperature chocolate.

The aroma of the bar is sweet and fruity, making me think of a dessert wine or even plum sauce. Honestly, I was a little surprised that there was a very dull, soft snap to the bar. The first couple of tasting morsels were fairly salty to me and there was even a slight crunch from the fleur de sel.

Letting a section of chocolate melt on my tongue, the mouthfeel was umami, creamy and velvety despite the slightly grainy look to the pieces.

There is an earthy, mushroom-like flavor to the bar, which I assume comes mostly from the unusual inclusion ingredient; though from my experience, Bolivian chocolate tends to inherently have buttery and earthy notes. When I’ve eaten pan seared foie gras in the past, the taste was bit oily to me, so this was a much more pleasant experience!

Based on the other Xocolatl de David bars that I tasted last year, I was expecting this bar to be filled with their “Foietella” spread rather than having the foie gras infused and tempered into the chocolate itself. Based on other online sources (since neither the packaging nor the company website really describes these products in great detail), the trademarked “Foietella” spread is made with cream, Hudson Valley foie gras, 68% cacao from Bolivia, Valhrona natural cocoa powder, fleur de sel, Sherry wine vinegar and local piment d’Espelette for a little heat. Researching things a little further, I learned that Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, New York in the Catskill Mountains is the premier producer of foie gras, Moulard duck and organic chicken in the United States. Their website has several short documentary videos about their production process and how they care for their animals.

On a whim this morning, I added a chunk of chocolate to a piece of freshly toasted Boudin Bakery San Francisco sourdough bread. It melted evenly, but unfortunately the tang of the bread overpowered the chocolate. It was an interesting experiment nonetheless, though I wonder if French bread would have been better.

I’ve also been wanting to try pairing this chocolate with a cheese, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

As a side note, I served a piece of this chocolate to my boyfriend without telling him about the unusual ingredient and he only thought this was a salty and nutty chocolate, so hopefully you will be daring enough to give this chocolate a chance for yourself!

To learn more about their other chocolates, confections and more, please visit: http://www.xocolatldedavid.com/#main

We interrupt the alphabet for something different

Since January 2016, I’ve been using Instagram to document “My Year in Chocolate” and I’ve reached a milestone – 300 posts!! In honor of that achievement (and because I didn’t really do anything for the 100th or 200th post), I decided to share something special that I recently had the opportunity to try….

Heirloom Chocolate Series D7 (Designation 7) – seven tasting tablets from the first ever officially designated heirloom chocolates produced by the C-Spot / chocolate fulfillment by Fruition Chocolate.

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In searching for some chocolates on my behalf, my boyfriend came across the C-Spot website, which is an amazing “one stop shop” if you are looking to answer any questions that you might have related to chocolate. If you like to “geek out” on the science behind chocolate, they have that! If you appreciate well-organized, searchable databases with precise metrics, this is definitely the website for you! I especially like their thorough and in-depth chocolate reviews, the pithy and concise directory of “barsmiths” (aka bean-to-bar chocolate makers) and the fact that they don’t take “experts” or themselves too seriously. I’m sad that I only discovered them now, when I’m almost at the end of my Eating the Chocolate Alphabet adventure. They are bookmarked & will be a great source for “round 2” and beyond!

Mark Xian, the elusive figurehead behind C-Spot was named the Director of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund in 2013. From their website, the HCP is a partnership between the FCIA (Fine Chocolate Industry Association) and the USDA/ARS (United States Department of Agriculture / Agricultural Research Service) “to identify and preserve fine flavor cacao varieties for the conservation of biological diversity and the empowerment of farming communities.” Also from their website: “Heirloom cacao trees and beans are endowed with a combination of historic, cultural, botanical, geographical and most importantly flavor value. They are the foundation of the best tasting chocolate.” As the back of the box explains, “These heirloom varieties are vanishing…their botanical treasures lost forever unless we all act to protect them / saving an endangered species.”

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Inside the box there were seven small bars, each wrapped in a different color metallic foil and numbered on a map & accompanying flavor sheet.

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I was both excited and overwhelmed with the prospect of tasting these chocolates, so I wanted to be methodical about the process. My initial tasting was in the morning, before having anything else to eat and my second tasting was after dinner when my palate had been exposed to sweet/savory/salty/sour. During the second pass, I tasted with more intention…observing snap & texture more carefully, so I’m including that information below. Additionally, I employed Barbie Van Horn’s suggestion to use chopsticks rather than my fingers since I had sliced shallots the night before & didn’t want to introduce any lingering odors to the process.

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Below are photos of each bar (generally the “back” or non-scored side) as well as a cross-section of one or two squares. What a difference several hours can make in terms of noticing nuances in flavor, though some descriptions remained very similar between the first & second try! In some cases, my palate detected the flavors listed in the notes, but often times our descriptions differed. Apologies for the lighting on some photos, I wanted to capture details and that affected the color of the chocolate itself.

Heirloom I – Alto Beni (Bolivia) 68% cacao

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First tasting notes: smells & tastes nutty;  tart flavor

Second tasting notes: smells earthy; reminds me of coffee; smooth texture, sharp snap

Heirloom II – Wild Beni (Bolivia) 72% cacao

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First tasting notes: smells smoky; sweeter in taste + smoother than Heirloom I

Second tasting notes: sharp snap; smells floral; tasted sweet (like caramel or honey) + fruity like apples; smooth texture

Heirloom III – Orecao (Ecuador) 70% cacao

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First tasting notes: felt more brittle when snapped; smells floral/earthy; gritty/grainy texture; nutty taste

Second tasting notes: brittle snap/crumbly; gritty/grainy texture; tasted like marshmallows/spices/fruity

Heirloom IV – Maunawili (Hawaii) 72% cacao

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First tasting notes: more brittle snap; mineral smell; tastes like tea; smoother texture

Second tasting notes: medium snap (sounded “higher pitched” when broken apart); smells roasted/smoky; mineral taste, almost a little salty; mostly smooth texture, but doesn’t melt easily

Heirloom V – Mindo (Ecuador) 77% cacao

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First tasting notes: dull snap (thinnest bar); reddish brown color; smells musty (like wet leaves); tasted buttery, though with a roasted/bitter flavor too; gritty/grainy texture

Second tasting notes: medium snap; smells floral; earthy, reminded me of olives; bitter/astringent/chalky; grainy/gritty – this was my least favorite

Heirloom VI – Terciopelo (Costa Rica) 70% cacao [FYI, “Terciopelo” translates to “velvet” in English] – this had an aqua foil that looks silver in the photos

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First tasting notes: brittle snap; leather smell; smooth texture; intense/concentrated flavor; reminds me of cheese for some reason

Second tasting notes: sharp snap; mostly smooth texture; musty/earthy, like leather taste; lightly astringent – this was my 2nd least favorite

Heirloom VII – Maya Mountain (Belize) 70% cacao

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First tasting notes: soft/smooth; tastes of raisins

Second tasting notes: brittle snap; grainy/“dusty” texture; floral/honey smell; flavor disappears quickly on the melt, like wind blowing it away

I found it difficult to discern a difference in terms of color despite the range of cacao percentages. Heirlooms I and II were similar in color; Heirloom III was a little darker; Heirlooms IV, VI and VII were similar in color and Heirloom V was the darkest. Can you tell a difference?!

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Since there were 6 “squares” in each bar, my boyfriend and I will be jointly tasting these seven chocolates later in the month (me for the third time and him for the first time). Maybe I’ll do a “blind” tasting next time to see if my impressions have changed over time. The box suggests consuming these by January 2017 or keeping them longer as “vintage chocolates” – does anyone know if aging chocolates is a good idea?

There were only 100 sets of these chocolates, ours was number 53. If you have a chance to try this collection, please drop me a line since I’d love to hear your thoughts on these designated heirloom varieties!

In other news…stay tuned later in the week for the continuation of the alphabet series since this is “X” week!

T is for Terroir Chocolate

Variety is the spice of life! When faced with having to choose amongst a large selection of options, my boyfriend prefers the “get one of everything” approach 😉 This endearing “quirk” has been a boon for my Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project. Just as I was planning to make purchases for “T” week, I was informed that this assortment of goodies would be arriving just in time for this post:

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As you can see, each one of the bars is wrapped in a different colored horizontal pinstripe paper sleeve with a crisp white sticker listing a quick description of the bar + the company logo (a lower case “t” inside of a larger “C”). At the bottom of that white sticker is an eye-catching, brightly colored half circle with the bar’s name prominently displayed. In case you’re curious, the back of the sleeve is kept closed with another white sticker that lists the ingredients, as well as the “best by” date and a barcode. It was sweet of them to include a handwritted thank you note!

Tasting and writing about 9 different chocolate bars all in one sitting seemed daunting to me, so I narrowed things down to the 3 bars shown below. However, if you follow me on Instagram, I’ll be posting pictures and reviews of the rest of the bars there.

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Terroir is an all-encompassing term to describe how the various environmental and habitat factors can affect and/or enhance the flavor of a crop. You might be familiar with this word in relation to wine and coffee, but it also very much applies to chocolate! It makes sense that Josh and Kristin Mohagen, owners of Terroir Chocolate in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, would choose “taste of place chocolate” to be their company URL to pay homage to this concept. From their website: “Each of our organic, single-origin dark chocolate bars have unique taste profiles due to the influence of the soil, the climate and the other vegetation grown around the cacao tree throughout its development…”

Wild Bolivia (76% single origin dark chocolate)

Lately I’ve noticed that chocolate bars made from Bolivian cacao beans have resonated with me, so I was particularly excited to try this three-ingredient bar since they received a Bronze in 2016 at the International Chocolate Awards (Americas division – micro batch plain/single origin bar). Removing the silver foil-wrapped bar from the sleeve, I could immediately see indentations made from their distinct mold of 20 “dimples” and a square logo off to one side.

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Upon unwrapping the bar, I was a little disappointed with the chalky appearance and noticed that the finish was marred by tiny air bubbles.

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Breaking off the bottom row of the bar, there was brittle, dry snap to the segments and the squares didn’t really melt easily in the mouth.

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I wish that the flavor was as bold and robust to match the initial earthy and roasted aroma when unwrapping the bar.

Lavender (60% dark milk chocolate)

This bar was made with beans from Finca Elvesia (which upon further research indicates the Dominican Republic as the origin). Unwrapping the bar from the equally indented silver foil wrapper, there was a noticeable difference in the appearance of the bar! This one was shiny and glossy, though there were several small air bubbles on the surface as well.

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The aroma reminded me of dried fruits or olives and the segments melted easily, plus seemed to have a creamy mouthfeel. Using lavender oil is always a bit risky since too much makes it seem like you are eating perfumed soap. However, for a lavender bar, this was at the other end of the spectrum: honestly, I think they used too little lavender oil since that flavor component was very subtle/muted, almost not noticeable until the finish/aftertaste. To me, the taste was like a not-too-sweet caramel, with a slight tang from the whole milk powder.

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Salty Nibber (60% dark milk chocolate cocoa nibs & salt)

Even before unwrapping the bar, I could tell that this one was an inclusion bar and would have a different appearance than the other two. Interestingly, the thin foil was not as indented as the other two prior bars!

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What a pleasant surprise to discover that this bar was made with beans from Alto Beni… my favorite chocolate region in Bolivia! The non-inclusion side had a slight matte finish rather than being highly glossy.

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The same small air bubble imperfections appeared on this bar as well. When tasting the chocolate square with the inclusion side down on my tongue, the immediate flavor note for me was sea salt, followed by roasted crunchy nibs. When melting the segment with the non-inclusion side down on my tongue, I could better appreciate the buttery texture of the chocolate itself before the salt kicked in.

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While the packaging doesn’t mention it, their website says that their slow roasted cacao nibs are stone ground for several days. Overall, I was surprised by how smooth these bars were since none of the ones that I tasted so far have exhibited the gritty texture that I generally associate with stone ground cacao (like Taza or Olive & Sinclair).

As a side note observation, their distinct mold made for a very visually appealing and photogenic bar, but my camera had problems focusing on so many “dots” all at once…so it was funny to watch the “auto focus” function in process. Next tasting, I’ll try the scorpion pepper flavor…I hear that is SPICY!! :0

Unless you live in a state where Terroir has retail locations (Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota), be sure to check out their website to place an order since they are offering free shipping within the continental US for orders over $40: http://tasteofplacechocolate.com/