L is for Loma Quita Espuela

Originally I was going to avoid inclusion bars this round (unless absolutely necessary) since “Round 2” was dedicated to them. However, once I saw this bar as part of Chocswap 2.0 with Lilla from Little Beetle Chocolates, I knew I couldn’t find a better (or more unique sounding) “L” origin!

The highest elevation within the city of San Francisco de Macorís in the North Region of the Dominican Republic is at Loma Quita Espuela. In case you’re curious about the name, here is what I found on Wikipedia:

“This name allegedly comes from the time when the Spaniards were exploring the island, since the hill was too steep to ride their horses, they had to dismount and remove their spurs and undertake the ascent on foot.”

It certainly sounds like an amazing place to experience nature, based on what I’ve seen from this website!

Now for the chocolate itself: Kilian & Close 52% D.R. with Périgord walnuts

Love the simplicity of this sturdy cardboard packaging with interlocking folds that remind me of a modified “dovetail joint” or “tongue and groove” assembly. There is a single triangular notched tab keeping the box closed and the plastic-wrapped bar tightly nestled within. In retrospect, the bar might have been too secure since the inner wrapper clung to the chocolate in places, leaving several shiny spots.

Honestly, I was NOT expecting there to be several candied walnut halves adhered to the back of the bar, though I should have guessed there might be visible inclusions when the package felt thick in my hand.

As if to alleviate my conscience (about only using non-inclusion, single origin bars for this round of the Alphabet), there were several spots sans walnuts so that I could taste the chocolate on its own!! 💕

The bar segmented easily with a sharp snap and there were hardly any air bubbles at the breaking point.

Handling the tasting morsels with my fingers, I noticed that the chocolate had an ultra-smooth, plastic-like texture to the touch. Perhaps this explains why it was difficult to melt on the tongue? Switching to chewing, creamy, nutty, caramel notes emerged. The flavor remained consistent throughout the tasting, until I got to a piece with the candied walnuts. Chomping on a walnut, there were earthy and lightly bitter notes relegating the slow roasted Dominican Republic cocoa beans to “second fiddle.”

Speaking of the walnuts, these come from Périgord (the old name for the former province in southwestern France) which, as of September 30, 2016, has a new name: Nouvelle-Aquitaine. In 2002, these walnuts were awarded PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status even though they have been in the area since the Middle Ages!

Since Lilla purchased this bar in Germany during her summer road trip, the label is entirely in German.

It wasn’t until AFTER my tasting that I decided to translate the ingredient list. I was surprised to see coconut blossom sugar as the first ingredient and that there was also coconut milk powder at the end of the list! The flavor notes all make much more sense now! Not sure why I didn’t originally make the connection that there would be an alternate milk to retain its vegan certification! 😲

I’m slowly learning to embrace serendipity since not knowing all the information in advance allows you to taste without prejudice and pre-conceptions. 🙂 This was certainly a delicious journey of discovery!

To learn more about Kilian & Close, please visit their website: http://www.kilian-close.com/en.htm

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” 😉

50 States Collaboration – New York / Fruition Chocolate

Usually Lori (from Time to Eat Chocolate) and I trade off featuring different states and chocolate makers in our respective blogs, but this week we are both featuring “The Big Apple.” It wasn’t until this project that I discovered that New York is second to California in terms of the number of bean-to-bar makers! In case you’re wondering…Oregon and Texas tie for 3rd with ten B2B makers in each of those states, while California has a whopping 36 and New York has 12!

Back in 2014, Fruition hired the All Good NYC creative team to revamp their packaging and I wish I knew if there was a term (mathematical or otherwise) to describe the kaleidoscopic / repeating stylized flower petal pattern that features prominently on these thick, notched closure cardboard boxes. I don’t know about you, but the stark contrast between these two Fruition bars makes me think of “Ebony and Ivory”…

Viewing the outer packaging at a certain angle, with the right lighting really makes the pearlized stamping and embossing sparkle and shine, such that this design is both distinctive and eye-catching.

Brown Butter Milk Chocolate (43% Dominican Republic cacao)

Removing the bar from the sealed clear plastic sleeve, you’ll notice the symmetrical motif is repeated, but this time with a single tilted “F” within a square inside of a circle near the top. Some chocolate dust along the left side of the bar and a few air bubbles mar the overall matte finish.

As you would expect from a brown butter bar, caramel is the primary aroma. Straight out of wine fridge storage, there is a crisp snap when segmenting morsels and a semi-crisp snap at room temperature (granted it’s in the high 60s/low 70s here at the moment). If only I had taken Physics, I might understand what causes the random “shear” pattern when breaking off pieces for tasting.

The mouthfeel is thick and dense during the slow and even melt. Overall, this not-too-sweet bar is smooth, creamy and milky; which makes sense since locally churned Ronnybrook Farm Dairy browned butter was used in this interpretation of a classic milk chocolate bar. The caramel flavor is intensified when chomped rather than melted, leaving a pleasant lingering toasted nut aftertaste at the finish.

Hudson Valley Bourbon Dark Milk (61% Dominican Republic cacao)

Over the years, this bar has won several awards; however, the sticker here (from Batch no. 3 packaging) only reflects the World Silver from the 2015 International Chocolate Awards. (According to their website, they won World Silver again in 2016!) Since I’m familiar with bourbon barrel aged beers, I was especially intrigued to find out how “oaky” the results would be in this dark milk chocolate bar since the roasted Dominican Republic nibs were aged with Tuthilltown Spirits bourbon barrel staves.

Similar to the last bar, this one had some chocolate dust and air bubble cosmetic defects as well.

There was a sharp snap and a woody aroma when segmenting pieces of this bar. As I’ve come to expect from Fruition bars, there was a slow even melt and a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Initially, I tasted caramel, though different than the last bar; but a second tasting produced a woody fruit flavor which I’m guessing comes from the bourbon barrel aging process. Thankfully the oak notes were muted.

Side-by-side, you can see the differences in the chocolate brown color between a milk and dark milk.

Which one would you select if you had the choice?!

To learn more about chocolate maker Bryan Graham and the extensive Fruition product line, visit: https://www.tastefruition.com/

Be sure to also follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog so you don’t miss next week’s stop in the “50 States” project!

Other chocolate makers in New York:

Antidote Chocolate

Bronx Grrl Chocolate

Cacao Prieto

Dalloway Chocolate

Dark Forest Chocolate Makers

Fine & Raw Chocolate

Madécasse

Mast Brothers

Raaka Virgin Chocolate

Raw Chocolate Love

Sol Cacao

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

Bonus G – Goat Milk

So far I’ve tried camel milk and donkey milk, so when fellow blogger and chocophile Estelle Tracy from 37 Chocolates suggested a cross-country swap, I jumped at the opportunity to try a goat milk bar from Philly’s own Chocolate Alchemist!

I had heard that Robert Campbell (aka the “Chocolate Alchemist”) uses hand-stitched wrappers made from re-usable Nepalese lokta paper, so I took the time to carefully unstitch one side of the packaging…

only to later realize that I merely needed to lift the round sticker from the back of the packaging to release the foil wrapped bar from the envelope enclosure…DOH! Face palm! :0

The bar had broken in half during transit to California, but that made it easier for me to compare “back” and “front” at the same time:

The “back” looks a little mottled, full of swirls and tiny dots; while the “front” is shinier despite a slightly grainy/flecked appearance with some “ghosting” marring the finish.

Segmenting the rectangles to create tasting morsels, there is a soft/dull snap and the pieces are a little crumbly. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the amount of nooks and crannies at the break, since that’s the texture you get when cacao beans are minimally processed.

Robert strongly believes in creating blends instead of single origins, using only all-natural, unrefined sweeteners and eschewing the “standard” 70% bar; so this 65% bar is a blend of Dominican and Peruvian beans, sweetened with local maple sugar.

There is a musty, earthy aroma to the bar; but I was completely unprepared for the intense sour, tangy goat cheese flavor. This was sharp, almost like a blue or Roquefort cheese or a yogurt on the edge of going past the expiration date! Honestly, a little goes a long way & this is not a bar that I would recommend eating all in one sitting!

As you might know, if you follow the Chocolate Alchemist on Instagram, he is fiercely outspoken and un-apologetically direct when speaking his mind about subjects near and dear to his heart. While I’ve not had the opportunity to meet him, based on what I’ve seen of his interactions with others online, he is very generous and supportive of his friends and family. Where other chocolate makers might try to tone down or tame the “wild” flavors of cacao to be more universally palatable or accessible to everyone, he unabashedly embraces the brash tastes for what they are.

Melting a piece on my tongue (yes, I was “brave” enough to do so), I felt the abrasiveness from tiny errant pieces of cacao nibs; though, overall, it wasn’t as grainy or gritty as some stone ground chocolate bars that I’ve tried in the past.

Is this chocolate for everyone?! No…but I think that’s OK. If everything was homogeneous, then how could you appreciate or realize when something stands out as being different or unique?

You’ll also enjoy reading Estelle’s article from Edible Philly where she dedicates several paragraphs to describe Chocolate Alchemist chocolate bars, as well as Robert himself…you’ll need to scroll down toward the bottom of that article for the section called “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in Philadelphia.” Make sure you don’t miss the lead-in photo at the top of the webpage since it shows what a block of un-tempered, aged goat maple chocolate looks like when it is dappled with fat “bloom.”

In the spirit of blending, I just sampled a piece of the goat milk bar with last week’s foie gras bar and discovered it’s a surprisingly well-balanced combination! Dare to be different & stay curious! ;-p

For more information about the Chocolate Alchemist and to order his products online, check out: https://www.chocolatephilly.com/

How I Counted Down the Days Until Christmas

Remember those “what I did on my summer vacation” back-to-school essays when you were a kid? This is just like that, only different 😉

A couple of posts back (wow, has it really been more than a month already?!), I mentioned that I had purchased a Zotter mini hand-scooped bar advent calendar. Here is a shot of the pristine, just opened box.

In case you weren’t following my daily Instagram “story” posts, below is a recap of all 24 flavors that helped me count down the days until Christmas! Just a disclaimer (lest you think I was a little piggy for most of the month), each day I only ate half of the 20g bar so that my boyfriend could enjoy the other half on the weekends! [Feel sorry for him, he *had* to eat 5 or more half bars in a day, whereas I could space them out!]

But before I get to the chocolates, I wanted to share a couple of things that I learned on this project:

  • Cutting the bars with a knife seemed to “smoosh” the layers together and leave odd serration marks, so at some point I started breaking the bars by hand for a more “rustic” look.
  • Winter daylight is fleeting (if the sun appears at all), so if I wasn’t able to take a picture during the morning to early afternoon, photos under artificial light didn’t turn out as well.
  • More people liked when I described the bars “by voice” as part of a video instead of simply taking a photo & writing the ingredients as a caption. I can’t say that I’m a fan of the Insta-stories format, personally I think it’s a good thing the “episodes” disappear after 24 hours!
  • A couple of times I was so obsessed with crafting the perfect 15-second sound bite that I forgot to also keep an actual photo of the chocolate 🙁
  • In many cases, the advent calendar’s outer cardboard sleeve described the bars differently than the individually numbered, decorated paper wrapper.
  • Photographing the bar WITH the wrapper that had the date on it makes it SO much easier to later match up photos to handwritten tasting notes!

December 1 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with hazelnut nougat and brittles

Since this was the first bar from the advent calendar, I had some learning to do! You’ll notice that I photographed it without the date wrapper and cut it with a plain edge knife. Fortunately I took the photo with natural sunlight, so I had that going for me!

I appreciate that Zotter provides exact percentages for most of the major ingredient components. For instance, this one is listed as: hazelnut nougat (29%) and brittles (22%). According to the paper label, the brittle was made with almonds. This bar was called “Thousand Layer Nougat” on the box and the website describes it as having two different layers of nougat (one almond & another hazelnut) with brittle layers in between. Honestly, I’m not certain that there were 3 distinct layers. Overall, it was crunchy, creamy and had a nice nut flavor. Two unusual ingredients that were used, but that I didn’t taste, were cardamom and star anise.

December 2 – Noble Bitter Chocolate filled with whisky cream (55%)

Note to self, if something is called “Scotch Whisky” on the outer packaging, then it’s probably boozy & might not be the best thing to taste first thing in the morning! Especially given the ratio of thin chocolate couverture to creamy filling.

As a side note, in order keep the mini bars looking as photogenic as possible, I tended to flip them over & cut from the bottom to the top (rather than from the top to the bottom). I found it difficult to cut this particular bar with a knife, but I did notice that there were interesting amoeba-like shapes on the bottom. Sadly, no photographic evidence remains of the odd shapes, but I’m glad that I remembered to take (and keep) another photo of the shapes on the 12th bar! The above photo is an example of what happened to the bars when using a serrated knife; however, it took me a few more days to decide to cut them by hand.

December 3 – White Chocolate filled with almond hazelnut brittle

For a white chocolate, this was fairly beige in color (probably due to the cinnamon) and the couverture’s color wasn’t visually different from the filling. Even though this was cut with a knife, it wasn’t as glaringly obvious that I had done so. The bar’s wrapper lists the percentages as almond (14%) and hazelnut (5%), while the outer packaging listed it as almond hazelnut brittle (12%) – not sure which one to believe. The crunch reminded me of granola rather than brittle. Overall, this was very buttery and a little too sweet for my taste.

December 4 – Coconut Milk Couverture with raspberry coconut filling (60%)

You’ll see that this bar was cut with both a serrated knife and a plain edge knife for comparison purposes. I’m not sure why I was expecting the coconut milk couverture to be white-ish in color since I’ve had coconut milk chocolates before that looked quite brown. The filling was tart, yet sweet + I liked the tropical touch from the coconut flakes. Honestly, I wouldn’t have guessed coconut milk if it had been a blind taste test. Looking at the ingredient list right now, I’m surprised to see dried blueberries listed?!

December 5 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with white chocolate ganache (54%) & caramelised blue poppyseed (6%)

This was one of my favorites from the whole collection! Finally I “wised up” and cut this bar by hand. Overall, it had a creamy mouthfeel + it was nutty & crunchy due to the caramelized seeds. The ganache had a slightly yogurt-like tang. I’m definitely going to buy a full-sized bar of this soon!

December 6 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with orange cream (50%)

Sorry that the photo is slightly blurry, but I think it’s the ONLY photo I have of this bar! While the filling color isn’t visually distinct from the outer couverture, the creamy, mousse-like ganache was slightly boozy due to the blood orange brandy.

December 7 – Mountain Milk Chocolate with apple, honey and cinnamon filling

This one was my second favorite of the bunch. According to the ingredient list, this bar contained dried apples (14%), apple juice (8%), honey (3%), hazelnuts, apple brandy (2%), cranberries and cinnamon (0.4%). The moist layer of filling was like eating a chocolate covered apple pie. I couldn’t taste the alcohol. Sorry about the serration marks 🙁 – this one was a little gooey, so I had to use a knife in this instance!

December 8 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with nuts

This one was called “Nut Delight” on the outer packaging sleeve since it contains hazelnuts (18%), almonds (5%) & cashews (5%). Again, this one had cardamom & anise seeds even though I didn’t taste them. Creamy and hazelnut was the stand-out flavor for me.

December 9 – Noble Bitter Chocolate with plum brandy (55%)

The chocolate “shell” on this bar cracked easily when I tried to break off a chunk, so that the filling came away from the couverture rather than staying together as a cohesive unit like the other bars. The ganache was creamy/mousse-like, but not too boozy.

December 10 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled butter caramel cream (45%)

When I broke this apart, the caramel was stretchy (as shown below):

This time it was useful to cut the bar with a knife to reveal all the layers!

You can see the top layer was a chewy caramel and the next (thicker) layer was buttery and creamy as well as crunchy due to the caramel crisps (brittle) and almonds. One unusual ingredient was rose petals, though I didn’t taste them.

December 11 – Noble Bitter Chocolate filled with chocolate-red wine ganache (55%) and raisins (2%)

Also called “Red Wine Rush.” This one was creamy and tasted of red wine; however, I would not have guessed that there were raisins included. The alcohol used was Olivin Red Wine and Olivin pomace brandy. Just now, I discovered that “pomace” is a liquor distilled from the discarded seeds, stems and skins of grapes that were pressed for juice or oil. This type of brandy will make another appearance later in the calendar.

December 12 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with chocolate cream (55%)

While this one was visually boring, I finally remembered to capture a photo of the amoeba-like underside that I mentioned on the December 2nd bar. The ganache was creamy & mousse-like, though I could swear that alcohol was added even though it wasn’t listed as an ingredient. Just now I discovered some ingredients that I certainly didn’t taste: honey, caramel powder, almonds, cinnamon, rose petals & lemon powder.

December 13 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with almond and hazelnut nougat (55%)

As I mentioned earlier, some days I was so focused on perfecting my Insta-story that I forgot to retain a picture of my half of the bar before I ate it, so I ended up taking a screen shot showing the day’s caption.

Days later, before giving the other half to my boyfriend, I snapped a picture where you can again see evidence of serrated knife marks.

This one was called “Nougat Variation” on the back of the packaging. There seemed to be two layers to this bar: a slightly powdery layer of crunchy nut nougat with bits of brittle and a creamy mousse layer. Honestly, I can’t tell which was almonds (12%) and which was hazelnuts (11%), though I suspect that the almond one was the darker layer. This one also had cinnamon, rose petals and lemon powder, although I don’t remember tasting them.

December 14 – Smart Bitter Chocolate filled with coffee cream (60%)

This one was called Zotter Espresso “so dark” on the packaging. If you look closely at the morsel in the foreground (at the red arrow), it almost seems like there is a little face. I say he’s making a grimace since I’m not a fan of coffee flavors. The ganache was fluffy and the coffee was STRONG! Needless to say, my boyfriend received three-quarters of this bar instead of the usual half! I’m not sure what makes a “smart” bitter instead of a “noble” bitter – hopefully someone reading this can tell me!

December 15 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with marzipan and amaretto

I really enjoyed the moist marzipan layer & didn’t taste any alcohol in this bar. Possibly this was due to the ratios: marzipan (23%) made with almonds and bitter almond oil vs. 3% of Amaretto. This had some ginger powder, which I didn’t taste. If you look closely at the thick top chocolate couverture toward the middle of the morsel in the foreground, I swear there is another tiny face…this one with a happy smile!

December 16 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with wild berries (9%) and vanilla (0.3%)

Even though it was many days ago that I posted this bar on Insta-stories, I still remember struggling to recite ALL the ingredients within the allotted 15 seconds! Visually it looked a lot like day number 4, but this one had so many berries that none of the flavors really stood out. It had strawberries, blueberries, dried raspberries, currant concentrate & cranberry concentrate. Additionally there were almonds, rose petals, lemon powder & cinnamon, though I didn’t taste those.

December 17 – White Chocolate filled with dark chocolate ganache (55%)

This one was called “Black and White” on the outer packaging. I’m generally not a fan of white chocolate, so the white to dark ratio was just perfect. Also, the couverture had more of a beige tinge, so I’m thinking that either the vanilla or the cinnamon added to the coloring. Cane sugar brandy must be mild, since the creamy mousse filling had only a slight hint of alcohol. Re-reading the ingredient list right now, I’m surprised to see Bird’s Eye chili listed!

December 18 – Mountain Milk Chocolate with hazelnut filling (55%)

If you look at the top portion of the bar in this photo (above the 18), it almost looks like there are two separate layers: a thin moist layer at the top with more coarsely ground nuts and a larger smoother and drier layer at the bottom. I wonder if the Muscat Ottonel wine contributed to the top layer’s taste and appearance. I am surprised to again see several un-tasted spices listed: cinnamon, star anise, cardamom & cloves.

December 19 – Noble Bitter Chocolate filled with mango ganache (42%) and maces (0.1%)

Here you can again see, side-by-side, what a hand broken piece looks like vs. a knife cut piece. The moist ganache certainly had a tropical fruit taste due to the dried mangos and mango puree, I’m glad that the mace was not overpowering. Some surprising ingredients (since I didn’t taste them) were: skimmed milk yoghurt powder, cashews, caramel powder, almonds, lemon juice concentrate, cinnamon & rose petals. I wonder if the turmeric added to the orange color of the ganache.

December 20 – White Caramel Chocolate filled with almond nougat (54%) and caramel crisps (6%)

Despite my not liking white chocolate, this one was another favorite. The nougat filling had the texture of a Nestle Butterfinger bar, but was much less sweet. The couverture tasted a bit like butterscotch and, again, I didn’t taste the cinnamon, rose petals or lemon powder. Maybe it’s just me, but there seemed to be an ultra thin layer between the couverture and the filling, I wonder if that was caramel!

December 21 – Noble Bitter Chocolate with Marc de Champagne (6%) filling

Marc de Champagne is a brandy made from byproducts of the winemaking process, using discarded seeds & skins (similar to the bar on day 11). The couverture was a little crumbly, but the ganache was sweet like raisins and there was a slight “bite” from the alcohol. Wish the star anise & cinnamon were more vibrant in this bar.

December 22 – Mountain Milk Chocolate with Marzipan (25%) and pistachios (7%)

Another favorite! The pistachio layer was moist, nutty & chewy, while the marzipan was light & fluffy. It said it contained alcohol (cherry brandy), but I hardly tasted it. I also didn’t taste the anise, rose petals, cinnamon or lemon powder — seems that many bars contained these same spices.

December 23 – Coffee Couverture filled with cognac cream (55%)

This was another one with a crumbly couverture and odd shapes at the bottom of the bar. While this contained coffee, it was actually more boozy than coffee flavored since ground coffee beans and coffee powder only accounted for 1.1% of the ingredients.

December 24 – Noble Bitter Chocolate with spiced filling

Last, but not least, was what could be considered a gingerbread filling made with rye flour, lemon peel, orange peel, eggs, honey, hazelnuts, walnuts, cinnamon, pimento, nutmeg, marzipan, coconut crisps, cardamom, star anise and almonds. The ingredient list was a mouthful to recite on Insta-stories, so much so that I had to post it in two “installments.” Overall, it was like having a chewy, moist fruit cake in a chocolate shell with just a hint of alcohol.

This was my very first advent calendar & based on the enjoyable experience I’m sure it will be a tradition to maintain in years to come, whether from this chocolate company or others. Let me know in the comments if there are any calendars I should try next year!

On another note, it’s hard to believe that the year is almost over. Thanks to all who have been following me on this adventure. I hope that you will stick around for the blog’s “round 2” that will be starting in early January!

Best wishes for a Happy & Healthy New Year! See you soon in 2017! 🙂

Z is for Zotter Chocolate

Honestly, I’m not sure how or why I began following the Russian Zotter Biochocolate Instagram account. Before Instagram introduced the “translate” button, I certainly couldn’t understand their Cyrillic posts, but I was always mesmerized by their mouthwatering chocolate photos. It was only recently that I discovered the U.S. (Cape Coral, Florida) version on Instagram and continue to follow both accounts to this day. In case you’re curious, there are even more Zotter accounts that I could follow: Austria, Brazil, Hawaii and Poland…each one with unique content!

According to their website: “Our bean to bar chocolate, created in-house, is spread and rolled out very thinly on 15 meter tracks while at the same time, assorted fine fillings and ganaches are prepared using over 400 organic ingredients. As soon as the chocolate has cooled down, it is topped with the filling. Before the next layer is applied, it has to rest. Depending on the recipe, this process will be repeated several times. Lastly, a thin chocolate coating is spread on top and then, this gigantic piece of chocolate is cut into our classic 70g Zotter bars.” Can you imagine a chocolate bar measuring almost 50 feet long?! Next time I visit Austria, I would LOVE to visit their factory for a tour!

As you might have guessed, based on my love of unusual inclusion ingredients, the chocolates that captured most of my attention were the “hand-scooped” (filled) bars! Frequently I see delicious close-up photos of the multi-layered bars and have lost count of all the ones I wanted to add to my wish list. Visiting their website recently didn’t make the choices any easier…if money were no object, I would have happily ordered one of each (from weird to classic, there are 300-400 to choose from)! 🙂

Alas, I narrowed down my selections to these three unique bars:

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Pumpkin Seeds with Marzipan

Aside from the bars themselves, it’s hard not to be captivated by the colorful wrappers with art by Andreas H. Gratze, as well as the eye catching embossed gold foil used for the company name.

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In addition to the wrapper being printed on environmentally friendly paper with environmentally friendly colors, I like being able to easily slip the wrapped bar from the outer sleeve. Minimal adhesive was used to keep the sleeve closed, so that you could easily unfold the wrapper to read what was printed on the inside and then re-close the wrapper, as needed.

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Opening the lightly waxed shiny gold foil inner wrapper, I noticed some discolored patches, which I assume come from pumpkin seed oil that may have seeped out during storage. Matching the outside of the wrapper, the company name was lightly embossed into the chocolate on a diagonal at evenly spaced intervals across the entire back side of the bar.

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This 60% dark milk chocolate is filled with marzipan and pumpkin seed nougat (24%), which is a Styrian classic. Slicing a thin rectangle from the bar, you easily see the distinct layers: chocolate sandwiching equal rows of thick pumpkin seed nougat & moist marzipan studded with almonds.

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It was fascinating to learn that Styrian pumpkins produce hull-less (“naked”) seeds, meaning that the bright green seeds don’t need to be “shelled” like the standard pepitas that I’m familiar with. The black fleck at the top left of this close-up is part of a caramelized pumpkin seed.

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The flavors were well-balanced, with no one ingredient overshadowing the other. There was the nutty sweetness of the marzipan and the earthiness of the pumpkin seeds. One ingredient that surprised me was apple brandy, though this seems to gives the bar a touch of holiday warmth. Until now, I never realized that there could be severe anaphylactic reactions to celery, so it’s a good thing that Zotter includes that their bars might have traces of the vegetable as part of their allergy warnings on the back of each label, given that they use many uncommon and unexpected flavor combinations in their hand-scooped bars.

Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat

Surprisingly, this wrapper was written mostly in German rather than English, so I had to refer to the online description. This vegan bar uses a soy couverture and is filled with goji berries and sesame nougat (25%).

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Cutting into the bar, you can see the stripes of each layer: soy/cocoa mass couverture (flavored with coriander, vanilla, star anise and cinnamon), homemade sesame nougat, a green tea ganache and a generous handful of dried whole goji berries. Goji berries have been nicknamed “happy berries” because of the sense of well-being they are said to induce.

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The soy couverture had a dull whitish sheen that retained fingerprints very easily, but produced a moderate snap when broken apart. The taste of the slightly dry and dense white sesame nougat reminded me of halva without the associated grittiness. While I’m not typically a fan of green tea, the earthiness was somewhat offset by the chewy sweet goji berries.

Typically Austria

This bar is described online as Mountain Milk Chocolate (40%) filled with caramelized grey poppy cream (32%), homemade walnut nougat (28%) and a thin layer of cinnamon.

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Unwrapping the bar, the aroma reminded me of an Almond Joy candy bar even though there is no coconut in Zotter’s bar. I was also intrigued by the tank tread pattern on the back of the bar, which makes sense based on the company’s description of their bar production process mentioned earlier. Since the ingredients are all part of the brown color wheel family, the straight/even layers are harder to distinguish from each other.

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There was a mild snap when segmenting this bar into tasting morsels. Overall, the piece was buttery and nutty, but there was also a sour “tang” that reminded me of yogurt or sheep’s milk.

Unfortunately, this was my least favorite of the bunch, but the tiny, crunchy, caramelized poppy seeds started to win me over at the end.

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One of the things that I want to learn more about (and potentially experiment with) is the “Mi-Xing bar,” an online tool that allows customers to choose from 99 different ingredients to create their very own favorite chocolate. Just imagine the endless possibilities!

As an added bonus, Zotter sent a tiny plain chocolate bar with my order. The wrapper provide me with a 20% discount coupon code for a future purchase, which I promptly used to order an advent calendar filled with mini hand-scooped bars. In December, I’ll be counting down the days until Christmas with 24 new-to-me flavors…I can’t wait for it to arrive 🙂

To learn more and order your own unique assortment, check out: https://www.zotterusa.com/

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/

Bonus “P” bar – Pump Street Bakery

What does your ideal breakfast look like? Mine is a warm piece of fresh bread with unsalted butter + a milky, rich sipping hot chocolate! Seems that I just found that winning combination in a chocolate bar made in England!!

Family-run Pump Street Bakery might best be known for their delicious breads and pastries that are made with minimal machinery use; but in 2013, they decided to take their obsessive attention to detail and start producing small batches of single origin chocolate bars in their shop between baking loaves of bread. Here is the link to a recent article about what happens when a baker decides to start making chocolate.

Their bean-to-bar production process has been tailored to achieve unique flavor profiles depending on the carefully sourced and selected single-origin beans which are imported from different farms around the world. These beans are roasted in their bread oven, then the ground nibs are conched (refined) for up to five days and the chocolate is matured for a month before being tempered.

Below, is the second in their “Bakery Series” of chocolate bars:

Rye Crumb, Milk & Sea Salt (60%) – made with Ecuadorian beans from the Hacienda Limon farm

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As you can see, there is minimal packaging involved…just a flat, re-sealable, foil lined zip lock Kraft paper pouch with a lot number sticker keeping the pouch closed and nothing else. Upon opening the pouch, I stuck my nose into the bag’s opening and immediately thought of fresh-baked pumpernickel bread! That aroma shouldn’t be a surprise since this bar is made with dried 100% rye loaf bread which was ground into fine bread crumbs and added to the chocolate with a pinch of sea salt.

Unfortunately, this small 16-rectangle bar was broken in half during transit, but that just made it easier to start tasting!

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As a quick side note, this was the single most cooperative bar, so far, in terms of “posing” for photographs!

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There was a medium snap to the bar, but I was surprised that mini chocolate “crumbs” went flying everywhere while segmenting the rectangles for tasting. Though many suggest “melting” chocolate in your mouth for a tasting, I challenge you not to “chomp” this bar! Each bite is a crunchy delight. It was like eating a freshly toasted slice of bread that had been lightly buttered. For me, the creamy smooth dark milk chocolate was secondary to the texture and flavor of the rye bread crumbs.

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Originally I was concerned when I noticed that this bar was about 2 months past the “best by” date, but it didn’t seem to adversely affect the taste at all…I can only imagine what it would be like “fresh”! It’s no wonder that this bar won Gold in 2015 at the Academy of Chocolate in London for the Best Flavoured Milk Chocolate Bar category.

Looks like I’ll soon need to visit some of the shops that carry their bars locally so that I can try more from their “Bakery Series”: the sourdough bar which started it all + their Honduras Bread & Butter bar which won multiple awards at the 2016 Academy of Chocolate.

To learn more about this multi-talented bakery & café, as well as see their full line-up of bars, check out: http://www.pumpstreetbakery.com/

The “N” bar that wasn’t…

Let me begin by saying that this hasn’t been the first time that I’ve been fooled by packaging (and it probably won’t be the last time either)!

When I started putting together the “lineup” for the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I wanted to feature both new-to-me bars as well as chocolates with unusual ingredients. This particular 62% Tanzanian dark milk chocolate Porcini bar made in Lithuania seemed to fit those requirements perfectly, so I was super enthusiastic when I found & purchased the bar in anticipation of “N” week!

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However, imagine my dismay right around the letter “G” (early July), when I discovered that this was actually a “C” bar! Darn those European chocolate makers with confusing company names! (Naive vs. Chocolate Naive…really, I don’t think I’m entirely to blame!)

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Since I still really wanted to feature this bar, I’m hoping you’ll indulge me in a little diversion from the proper alphabetical order!

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There is an elegant simplicity to the cream colored box with minimalist taupe lettering. In a flat lay, the logo of a penny farthing (or is it a unicycle?) riding gentleman can “read” as black, but shift your perspective just a little bit & you’ll be rewarded with the shiny copper foil stamping. This philosophy can also apply to life in general! Nothing is exactly as you first see it, you’ll often be surprised when making subtle changes in your point of view.

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Even before removing the bar from the pouch, I could tell that the bar was not completely flat in the middle – this is due to the delicate 3D logo.

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Upon cutting open the sealed Mylar pouch, the distinct musty/earthy aroma of mushrooms was intense. Perhaps this is the right time for me to confess that I’m NOT fond of mushrooms (although, maybe it’s raw mushrooms that I dislike since a Vosges Reishi Mushroom & Walnut bar is among my favorites).

Carefully removing the chocolate bar onto a plate for further photographs, I took the opportunity to stick my nose fully into the empty pouch – almost like a wine or whiskey connoisseur would do before enjoying a poured glass. This transported me back to what it must be like to forage for mushrooms in a lush, damp forest! Did you know that mushroom hunting is Lithuania’s second favorite sport, after basketball?! The packaging says that “Each September, mushroom-hungry folks return to their super-secret spots where all the best ones grow.”

With as much mushroom as I was smelling, I was expecting the bar itself to be flecked and/or gritty due to the freeze dried porcini mushrooms, but that was not the case!

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The bar was creamy and velvety smooth. There was definitely the umami mushroom taste – which was better when “melted” rather than “chomped” (this bar just might provide me with enough inspiration to acquire the patience needed to “melt” a piece of chocolate in order to better savor all the nuances).

Like many other chocolate makers, Chocolate Naive has a fascinating and inspiring backstory. Check out this link to a 2012 interview: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/interviews/artisans/chocolate-naive-a-qa-with-domantas-uzpalis/

I leave you with this quote from the back of the packaging: “Chocolate is like my own life – both bitter and sweet. It has been a constant companion that has seen me grow from a carefree youth to a quixotic adult. Chocolate is as luxuriant as my most vivid dream and as humble as my simple reality.”

For more information about other delectable chocolate options, visit: http://chocolatenaive.com/