H is for Hacienda Azul

Little did I know when I started the Ecole Chocolat online Mastering Chocolate Flavor Program that I would learn so much about cacao genetics!

From the book Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate: “…all cacaos, but especially fine flavor cacaos, are susceptible to disease” like frosty pod rot or witches’ broom. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, these pathogens can devastate crops, but also tend to behave and spread differently depending on the type of tree that is grown in each country. For years, scientists have been “…studying the interaction between the pathogen and the trees to get a better understanding of what actually constitutes and causes the disease, to help that management and see if there’s anything that can be done genetically to alleviate or moderate disease interaction in the future.” That’s where Dr. Wilbert Phillips-Mora (an expert on cacao diseases and breeding) from Costa Rica’s C.A.T.I.E. (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza – which translates to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) comes in. He believes that a solution can be found by “creating a blend at the genetic level, no different from what a chocolate maker does in manufacturing to get the flavor profile they want: combine traits of production, disease resistance, and quality through breeding and produce a kind of polyclone.” This article from the New York Times states that “after an 11-year trial, a hybrid called C.A.T.I.E.-R6 experienced a 5% frosty pod rot infection rate, compared to 75% infection for a control variety.” That certainly sounds promising!!

Since I was looking for an “H” bar, I reached out to Greg D’Alesandre at Dandelion Chocolate to get my hands on their 2-ingredient Hacienda Azul bar which is made from a mix of all six C.A.T.I.E. hybrids.

How can you resist being mesmerized by the gold silk screened repeating pattern that adorns the thick, handmade cream-colored outer wrapper? My only quibble is that it was difficult to unwrap the bar without tearing the paper underneath the adhesive keeping the folds closed. However, things have improved since my blog post from last year; it’s now easier to remove the two informational stickers without marring the paper’s design!

Removing the deep, dark brown bar from the thick gold foil inner wrapper, you see a near flawless matte finish to the 18 perfectly segmentable adjoined rectangles that are each etched with 5 wavy lines.

There is a roasted and earthy/herbal aroma to the bar, which transforms into a caramel-like smell once a piece is broken in half with a resounding and satisfyingly sharp snap. Looking at the break point, the chocolate is close textured, though I did find a few tiny air bubbles for visual interest.

Another fascinating element to the bar was the ripple pattern on the back. Maybe when I visit San Francisco next month, I can attend a factory tour to watch how the molds are filled?!

Popping a piece in my mouth, the chocolate melted more slowly than I expected. When aided by a couple of quick chews first, then there was a juicy mouthfeel with tart/tangy fruit flavor notes. What surprised me is that I encountered a tingly sensation on the tip of my tongue and palate during the melt and for a while after the chocolate was gone from my mouth. There was a slight chalky, astringent feeling on my tongue at the finish.

From the wrapper, “These beans come from Hacienda Azul, a single estate near Turrialba, Costa Rica. Ryan [who is responsible for the roast profile] loves the dynamic range of flavors that are possible in these beans at different toasting temperatures.” It’s not clear to me how the hybrid beans impacted the flavor or if what I tasted was mainly due to the roasting and/or conching process at Dandelion. To investigate that further, my next challenge will be to source some of the dried fermented beans and use Greg’s protocol for tasting them. Regardless, it’s an exciting time to be involved in craft chocolate based on all the new discoveries that are being made (and will continue to be made) on a biodiversity and genetic level.

Have you tried this bar? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!

To learn more about Dandelion Chocolate and see their extensive range of chocolates, please visit: https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/

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!

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.

img_5291

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.”

img_5297img_5293

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

img_5294img_5302

img_5299img_5300

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.

img_5340

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

img_5304img_5307

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

img_5308img_5310

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

img_5312img_5315

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

img_5316img_5320

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

img_5326img_5328

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

img_5332img_5334

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

img_5335img_5337

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?!

img_5357

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!