E is for El Jardín

Sometimes packaging confuses me…especially when it’s in a foreign language. Is this an “E” bar or a “P” bar?! Well, this is MY project; so, like any good writer, I’ll just “bend the data” to fit my needs 😉 (Hopefully you realize that last sentence is my attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor!)

Legend says that this area of Colombia was entirely a jungle when settlers first arrived in the mid-to-late 1800s. These settlers thought the lush vegetation looked like a garden, hence the Spanish name: “The Garden.” According to Wikipedia, El Jardín was declared a parish in 1871 and declared a town in 1882. From what I’ve read, the buildings and architecture of this town and municipality have remained mostly unchanged in 140 years and one of the main sources of their economy is tourism (there are 40 hotels, whereas other towns only have 10!)

Based on maps I’ve seen online, El Jardín is located in the Northwest part of Colombia, specifically in the Southwest region of the department of Antioquia (I assume that “departments” are like what we call “states” here in the U.S.) I like that the front of the neon-yellow/green packaging shows a dot on the map; however, it doesn’t quite match what I’ve seen, so maybe the Plantation is in a different location than the town?!

Source: Wikipedia

Although you’re not really supposed to, I stuck my nose into the thin, silver inner foil wrapper after slicing open the top. The aroma reminded me of honey, though the bar itself smelled like roasted coffee.

The reddish brown bar (surprisingly light in color for 69%), made up of 15 identically sized rectangles, is emblazoned with 9 stylized cacao pods and oddly spaced lettering for the company name/logo. Try as I might using online translation tools, I was stumped by the term “Cacaofèvier” until I checked in with my French language expert, Estelle Tracy from 37 Chocolates. She mentioned that this was a made up word essentially meaning “bean-to-bar maker.”

Michel Cluizel must have a six-head depositor for their molding machine since there were that many swirls on the back of the bar. Note: I tweaked the color a bit on the photo below to make it “pop” a bit more.

When segmenting tasting morsels, there was a sharp/brittle snap and I could see nooks and crannies (air bubbles) at the breaking point.

The mouthfeel was creamy and the melt was slow and even. Initially, the flavor was nutty and reminded me of a mocha. Then there were some caramel or dairy notes during the melt, ending with some peppery notes at the back of my throat + tongue. On a second tasting, the flavor reminded me of red fruit (berries) with flashes of peanut butter. Overall, the finish is hard to describe! I wouldn’t call it minty or menthol (like the packaging mentions), but I would definitely say it was refreshing.

Michel Cluizel holds a special place in my heart since his bars were my introduction to fine chocolate back in 2006-2007! Time flies! It’s been about 10 years since I’ve tasted his chocolates, so I was thrilled to find a bar that fit in with my Alphabet project. Do you have a favorite Michel Cluizel bar? Leave me a comment below!??

For more information on Michel Cluizel’s extensive product line, please visit their website: https://cluizel.us/

V is for Violet Sky

Any day that I get to sample and photograph new chocolates is a good day! Lately, though, I’ve come to look forward to “blog post” days almost as much as I did Christmas mornings when I was growing up. The process of unwrapping chocolates as if they were small gifts and then savoring them fills me with gleeful anticipation 🙂 I’m not sure which drew me to Violet Sky’s Instagram feed more: the eerie and ethereal photos of bloomed chocolate as it ages or the close-ups of their ever-changing, unique inclusion ingredients/flavor combinations. Either way, I hope to make Hans and Alison Westerink proud with this post!

As a side note, this is one of the few posts that carries over a two day period (normally I photograph, taste & post all within a single day, but other time commitments prevented me from doing so this time). I woke up yesterday (Monday) morning to the sound of distant thunder and rain dripping from the eaves, which meant cloudy skies and less-than-ideal lighting for photos. However, I was undeterred!

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Eagerly removing the 4 colorful bars from wine fridge storage, I decided to sample the two inclusion bars & keep the “plain” Ecuadorian chocolates for a later tasting. Had I captured the view of the sky from the window near my “desk” with time lapse photography during the photo shoot, you would have seen it change from ominous/gloomy clouds, to the sun playing hide-and-seek, to bright rays of light streaming into the room…I took that as an omen of good things to come!

Colombia 77% with Black Currants, Maple, and Cinnamon

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At a quick glance your eye is fooled by the outer wrapping…you think the thick blue paper is textured, but really it’s just printed on one side to look like linen weave! I really like that the featured ingredients are listed on a contrasting colored band as well as the back of the wrapper, though as you’ll soon see, there would be no mistaking this bar if I were to misplace the outer packaging! 😉 Speaking of packaging, my only “quibble” is that I would have liked to open the wrapper without slicing the informational sticker in half…maybe unfolding the top or bottom flap & sliding the foil-wrapped bar from the paper would be more ideal?

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What a surprise awaited me as I unwrapped the bar from the bright royal blue foil! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such plump and round black currants in my life (up until now, I thought that the desiccated currants used in scones were the same fruit, I have since been enlightened to the differences!) I’m guessing that the berries were freeze dried to maintain their shape and vibrant taste.

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The “top” side of the bar (the side with the mold segmentation lines) had a matte mahogany finish with cinnamon flecks adding to both the overall coloring and the aroma of the bar.

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Unfortunately, the bar did not remain intact during transit, but that just made it easier to see the large chunks of maple sugar that were dotted at strategic intervals throughout the bar!

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The earthy/roasted dark chocolate flavor itself was secondary for me since it was difficult to isolate the taste aside from the inclusions. Each bite was an explosion of piquant/tart chewy fruit, sweetened by the gritty crunch of the maple sugar. This is an instance where “precision of language” is tricky because certain words can carry negative connotations; I only want to convey that it was “gritty” in the best possible way!

Brandy Barrel Aged Belize 77% with Red Wine Salt

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In retrospect, any bar that followed would not be as stellar (if you’ll forgive the “celestial” pun!)

From the packaging, the salt inclusion was created by soaking plain sea salt in red wine and then drying it + the cacao was aged in Journeyman Distillery brandy barrels. For a 77% dark chocolate bar, the color is substantially lighter than the previous one, reminding me of a diluted hot cocoa or mocha beverage.

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Removing the bar from the gold foil wrapper, I noticed that a couple of corners and part of the “front” of the bar displayed signs of blooming.

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I blame a recent power outage, after which my wine fridge reset itself to 54 ℉ from my “default” temperature of 65 ℉ before I noticed. I don’t know about you, but there is a magical beauty in the fat bloom: swirls that just appear and could not be exactly re-created even if you tried. Where the surface wasn’t marred by bloom, there was an almost mirror shine.

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The inclusion side looked like a lunar landscape, evenly sprinkled with light purplish-pink salt crystals which were starting to dissolve in the air.

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This bar broke apart with a medium snap and had a woody/tobacco-like aroma on the non-inclusion side. My guess is that the barrel aging process imparts both smell and taste enhancements. The morsel had a smooth mouthfeel, but didn’t really melt easily. Overall, the flavor was a bit bitter and vinegary to me with a tannic, astringent after taste. Perhaps these flavors would appeal more to wine drinkers or should be paired with a brandy and/or some cheese? I see experimentation in my future 🙂

After listening to a recent Well Tempered podcast interviewing Estelle Tracy from 37 Chocolates, I strongly agree that (as consumers) we should celebrate and learn as much as possible about the passionate people who create the chocolates we enjoy. It’s impressive to read that such talent and creativity is coming from 20-somethings + Hans and his wife Alison really only started their bean-to-bar production just about two years ago.

As far as I know, their bars aren’t currently available in Southern California, but hopefully they will be soon so that I can satisfy my “fix” for unique inclusion ingredients aside from just drooling over their Instagram feed. However with Violet Sky’s philosophy of making small-batches and experimental bars, I realize I can’t get too attached to any one flavor…each one is as ephemeral as the company’s name implies.

To learn more and order bars for yourself, check out: http://www.violetskychocolate.com/