Y is for Yacon Root

OK…is it just me, or have you noticed that as I near the end of the alphabet, it’s getting harder and harder to find viable inclusion ingredients that start with my featured letter?! ?

For “Y” I could have potentially found yams, yeast, yogurt, yuca or yuzu…but I chose yacón root instead!

According to Wikipedia, yacón is an Andean tuberous root composed mostly of water that is a close botanical relative of Jerusalem artichokes or sunflowers. While the root can be red, orange, yellow or even purple, it seems like most pictures online remind me of a slender yam with cream-colored flesh reminiscent of jicama. Upon reading things further, Ecuadorians refer to yacón as “jicama” (wow, talk about confusing!) Speaking of names, it’s also called a “Peruvian ground apple” which makes sense since the French call potatoes pomme de terre (literally translated as earth or ground apples). Yacón is known to have a flavor that is slightly sweet & resinous with floral undertones. I was fascinated to discover that until the early 2000s, yacón wasn’t widely available outside of its native growing areas and that companies have since developed new products like syrup and tea from this root due to its extremely low glycemic index (1 on a scale of 0 to 100), making it popular among people watching their sugar intake (like diabetics or those on a diet).

After all that, I was really curious about how this bar would taste!

Raaka 79% Dominican Republic sweetened with Yacón Root

Raaka leaves their cacao beans unroasted (aka “virgin”) to allow the flavors to come through. For this bar, they are using Dominican Republic beans from the Öko Caribe Cooperative.

I love the simplicity of the micro fine point black ink lines on thick white paper. I see bamboo through mini blinds or plantation shutters. Though, I wonder if the front packaging is really an autostereogram (also called a “magic eye” picture) that needs to be viewed from a distance (or by squinting) for the image to finally emerge.

Removing the rectangular bar from the wax-lined silver foil that was folded with the outer paper like a hiyoku (inner kimono layer), you immediately see abstract art embossed into the chocolate (despite the jagged edge splitting the bar into two pieces; a transit-caused “casualty”).

There was a sharp brittle snap when segmenting pieces and the “breaking point” looked a little dry.

The tasting morsel melted slowly in my mouth (and with a bit of effort), yielding a chalky, powdery, not smooth mouthfeel and a mouth-puckering bitter flavor. There was a starchy, filmy residue that clung to my tongue, teeth and palate long after the piece was gone from my mouth. When “chomped” the chocolate tasted fruity…maybe this was the Dominican Republic terroir coming through?

Overall, this bar was extremely photogenic, but sadly the “acquired” taste of the unrefined sweetener did not win me over. I like earthy bars, but this one was a little too astringent for my taste. Maybe it was the unroasted beans? Maybe it was the 79% cacao content? Maybe I just need to find the right “pairing.” Have you tried this bar? Let me know what you think!

For more information on Raaka, please see their website: https://www.raakachocolate.com/

X is for Xoconostle

Every chocolate has a story! I just hope to do adequate justice to its narration since this one touched not only my heart, but also my soul ❤️

You know the phrase “it takes a village”? Well, this bar would not have come into being without the inspiration, ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, talent, care and support of so many people!

Late last year, as I was finishing “round 1” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I wracked my brain for another unique alphabetical adventure. During the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle in November, I decided that A through Z inclusions would be perfect…though I couldn’t figure out what to do about “X” since I didn’t want to feature xylitol or xanthan gum and after tasting XO sauce (a spicy seafood paste originating from Hong Kong) I knew that would NOT work with chocolate AT ALL!

When I posted “A is for Amaranth” on January 4th, I added a plea to my Instagram followers for suggestions on how to handle that elusive letter. Fellow chocolate lover, Janice, promptly responded xoconostle; but heck if I knew what that was?! After a quick Google search, I discovered that this was a cactus fruit, smaller than a prickly pear; but the chances of finding that in chocolate were slim to none!

Fast forward a month later to Map Chocolate’s Indiegogo campaign. One of the perks was to design “the Map of your dreams”! Unbeknownst to me, though I had my suspicions, my boyfriend anonymously purchased that option in the hopes of partnering with Mackenzie Rivers to create a custom chocolate bar on my behalf! In the week that followed, my BF started researching foods that started with the letter “X” and found a company online that sold dried xoconostle – but they were currently out of stock. When the Indiegogo campaign was nearing the end and it was looking like Map would not reach their $25K fixed goal, my “I’m an engineer and problem-solver” BF decided that HE would obtain all the ingredients needed to home-craft a chocolate on the sly. He purchased a polycarbonate mold, a bag of Rancho Gordo xoconostle (as soon as it came back in stock) and some Valhrona couverture chocolate, which he would temper with a sous vide machine. At some point, he just could no longer keep the secret to himself. As we munched on a couple of rings of dried xoconostle together (imagine a cross between jerky and a tart “Sour Patch Kids” candy!), he recounted his endearing scheme and revealed the perfect bar name! It was then that it dawned on us…how would two neophytes like us possibly utilize and sweeten this shriveled fruit AND come up with a decent looking chocolate bar?!

Lucky for us, Mackenzie generously offered some of the Indiegogo perks even though the campaign had not been successful and I LEAPT at the chance that had previously eluded my grasp! My only request was that this bar include xoconostle and I left the rest of the details up to Mackenzie. If you heard squeals of joy in late May, know that was when these magical bars were delivered to me and they exceeded even my wildest dreams. Thanks for indulging me to endure this long story to finally see:

X MARKS THE SPOT

As you can see, there was care and attention to detail every step of the way: from the strips of map forming an X on the envelope, to the cacti paper wrapping the bars and even the inner liner note (which makes reference to a brief chance encounter that we unknowingly shared while both visiting a chocolate shop in Portland one afternoon):

Even though Map’s mold is super unique and distinctive, it’s all about the inclusions for me…so I’ll only be showing you the “back” side of the bar! However, if you head to my Instagram account, you’ll see a quick “unwrapping” video which highlights both the front and the back!

Just look at how the rehydrated translucent xoconostle glistens and the chili lime shimmers in the light! Chocolate topography at its finest! <swoon>

The aroma was fruity and jam-like with citrus and pepper undertones. Tasting the xoconostle on its own reminded me of a lightly sweet, crisp Asian pear or strawberry rhubarb. Upon handling the square bar to segment it into tasting morsels, my fingertips became stained with bright red chili dust and I certainly couldn’t let any of that go to waste! It was just like licking the rim of a tequila shot, followed by a short-lived, back-of-the-throat burn from the spice.

Now I could concentrate on the inclusion that was nestled within the 65% Dominican Republic Reserva Zorzal chocolate which was not completely smooth on the tongue, but not gritty either. It’s hard to articulate the sensation of teeth meeting the panela glazed peanuts which had just the right amount of “give” to add texture and a mellow crunch.

Leading up to the delivery of the bars, there were a couple of posts on Map’s Instagram account that probably made sense only to me:

Like a proud new parent, I took dozens upon dozens of photos of this photogenic bar and despaired over which ones to include in this post! After actively blogging for a little more than a year now, it’s getting harder and harder to find chocolates that other bloggers haven’t already written about! I think it’s safe to say that this is truly a one-of-a-kind bar and that no one else has ever tasted anything like it. While I might be biased, I think this was a delicious combination of ingredients and I can only hope (please, please, please) that Mackenzie considers adding this bar to her seasonal repertoire 🙂

And with that exhortation, I certainly DID!

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU to everyone who made this bar possible!!! xoxo

For more information on Map Chocolate, please see her website: http://www.mapchocolate.com/

50 States Collaboration – Nevada / Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions

Even though these chocolates have been in my stash since mid-April, I’ve been dragging my feet on tasting & posting them, partly because of the quantity (6 milk & 5 dark) and partly because I wasn’t sure how to execute my vision of a large tic-tac-toe game to pay tribute to the Xs that appear on each of the bite-sized morsels (maybe it’s just me, but the logo looks like a stylized, sideways hashtag). With the dwindling number of states “assigned” to me for this collaboration project, I could no longer procrastinate! So, apologies in advance since this set-up doesn’t really match my mental picture 🙁

When I discovered that an Instagram friend was visiting Las Vegas, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to request that he visit Nevada’s only bean-to-bar maker and purchase some chocolates on my behalf to save on warm weather shipping charges. Rather than choosing from the different countries of origin (or type of chocolate), he opted for one of each flavor that was available (NOTE: at that time, Venezuela was only available in milk chocolate in this 0.25 oz. “taster” size).

One of the things that I noticed about the mini heat-sealed pouches was that the milk chocolate ones (which were all 47% cacao content) had a “drippy” design while the dark chocolate ones (which varied in cacao percentage from 70-74%) had a solid rectangular color block. Also, the “forward slash” of each X matched the color coded wrapper.

Personally, I would have liked more information imprinted onto these wrappers, since it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned that the dark chocolates were made with just two ingredients: cocoa beans and palm sugar while the milk chocolates were made with five ingredients: cocoa beans, palm sugar, milk powder, ground vanilla beans and cocoa butter.

Overall, it seemed that the milk chocolate “traveled” better since there was less chocolate dust marring the surface vs. the dark chocolate. However, the milk chocolate all smelled very similar to each other: an industrial plastic-like aroma that reminded me of mass-produced candy rather than the bean-to-bar craft chocolates shown on their website. Speaking of which, this “tasting” size doesn’t appear on their website and all the bars available online are packaged in cardboard boxes, so maybe these issues have since been resolved.

If you haven’t noticed already, these small chocolates are all six-sided (hexagonal)…a visual representation of the company name, get it?! 😉 From what I’ve seen online, the mold for their full-size chocolate bars form a “honeycomb” shape composed of multiple hexagons.

In each case, I tried the milk chocolate first and then the corresponding dark chocolate (if there was one). I also tasted the dark chocolates in ascending order of cacao percentage. Below is a summary of my thoughts. Too bad I didn’t find this online “tasting menu” with descriptions of the flavor notes BEFORE my own sampling. Wonder why the Dominican Republic origin isn’t part of the online tasting menu!

Venezuela (Ocumare)

Some cosmetic defects, medium snap, grassy smell, creamy, reminded me of a milkshake, even melt, lightly grainy/almost “sticky” mouthfeel

Peru (Marañón Pure Nacional)

Milk: Minimal dust, soft snap, taste reminded me of a powdered hot cocoa mix, creamy yet sticky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Some dust, sharp snap, slow to melt, bitter in comparison to the milk, roasted/earthy/fruity flavor, thick/not smooth mouthfeel

Tanzania (Kokoa Kamili)

Milk: Air bubbles & dust marring surface, medium snap, smelled like fresh baked brownies, yogurt-like tang, thick milky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Lots of dust, dry/brittle snap, initially tasted like a hard cheese that changed to fruity/berry-like, astringent/chalky aftertaste

Dominican Republic (Oko Caribe)

Milk: Shinier/less dust than others, though still had air bubbles on the surface, sharp snap, dry appearance, tasted like a caramel or powdered hot cocoa mix, not smooth mouthfeel, back-of-the-throat acidity

Dark (71%): Also shinier/less dust than others, sharp snap, dry/chalky, tasted fruity/citrusy, astringent aftertaste on tongue

Ecuador (Camino Verde)

Milk: Shinier, less dust, some scuffing & air bubbles, brittle/crumbly snap sending shards flying everywhere, very sweet, caramel taste

Dark (73%): Minimal cosmetic defects, sharp snap, smelled fruity like plums, lightly roasted/nutty flavor [THIS WAS MY FAVORITE]

Madagascar (Sambirano Valley)

Milk: Dust, ghosting & air bubbles marring surface, dull snap, dry/chalky appearance but tasted creamy, too sweet & lightly “sticky” mouthfeel

Dark (74%): lots of air bubbles, smelled fruity (like ripe berries), tasted like burnt toast or lightly vegetal, chalky mouthfeel

Next time I visit the Las Vegas, I plan on taking a factory tour and re-sampling these small-batch, single origin bars to determine if the taste and smell were transit related. Besides, based on the side panel of their shopping bag, it looks like there is PLENTY to do, see & eat! 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions, check out their website: http://www.hexxchocolate.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project…we’re almost reaching the end!

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

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!

50 States Collaboration – Washington DC / Harper Macaw & Chocotenango

The cross-country chocolate swap and collaboration project continues! Sometimes you can get complacent about things that are familiar to you; so, from the start, Lori & I thought it would be fun for each of us to review chocolates from the other’s hometown to get a “fresh perspective” on them. She reviewed three chocolate makers from the Southern California area yesterday, so today I’m writing about two chocolate makers from the Washington, D.C. area.

Harper Macaw Chocolate Makers has been on my “wish list” for a while now, so I’m very grateful to Lori for choosing these 3 bars from the Rainforest Origin series for me. Check out this link from their website to learn more about the Brazilian cacao sources and conservation efforts to turn chocolate into a force for tropical reforestation.

Each of the thick white cardboard boxes is decorated with a brightly colored kaleidoscope imagery featuring a different endangered animal. Additionally, there are thin gold foil stamped & embossed lines accenting the box and these are repeated again on the chocolate bars themselves. One of my favorite gold accents is the company logo, which looks to be a stylized face of a macaw parrot, with plumage framing its beak and eyes.

Each of these chocolate bars was made with just three ingredients: cocoa beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter. Instead of utilizing the perforated “tear strip” on the back panel of the box, I decided to keep the packaging intact by easily lifting the flap from the double stick tape, which could then be used to “re-seal” the envelope-like closure.

Though not pictured, each bar was wrapped in a crimped heat sealed, metallic plastic pouch. Additionally, each bar of chocolate had a dull matte finish with varying degrees of chocolate “dust” marring the surface. I’m surprised that none of the boxes had any tasting notes listed, though the company website does mention the flavor notes there. I didn’t consult the website until just now, so we’ll see how “close” I was able to get during my “unbiased” tastings 😉

First up is the 74% Atlantic Forest / Single Estate Vale do Juliana bar, featuring a Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey.

Removing the bar from the inner packaging, the aroma reminded me of dark roasted coffee.

There was a brittle, dry snap to the bar which revealed some air bubbles and a few unusual white flecks at one section of the tasting morsel (see the upper left corner of the photo below):

Initially, the piece tasted like mocha and then evolved into an earthy flavor during the smooth and even, slow melt. This did not have a creamy mouthfeel and was lightly astringent on the finish. According to the website, the tasting notes are listed as: Toffee, licorice, peppercorn… This one’s a bit of a mystery

Next up is the 77% Amazon Rainforest / Single Estate Tomé Açu bar, featuring poison dart frogs.

This bar had a grassy, hay-like aroma which then transitioned to a dark roasted smell once it had a chance to “breathe” a bit. I’m always fascinated by the “shear pattern” upon creating a tasting morsel.

However, subsequent pieces looked completely different / no “shear”!

This one was the darkest in color and had a sharp snap with an earthy, herbal, almost black licorice flavor. The mouthfeel was more “juicy” than the last bar and also had a smooth, slow, even melt. The website’s tasting notes describe the bar as: Earthy with dried fruit such as raisins

You can also read about Lori’s impressions about this bar here.

Originally I was only going to try two of the three Harper Macaw bars that Lori had sent me, but I just couldn’t resist trying all of them!

Next up is the 75% Atlantic Forest / Single Estate M. Libânio, featuring Agrias claudina butterflies.

Sadly, this bar had the most chocolate “dust” marring the surface.

The aroma reminded me of dried figs and had a brittle, almost hollow sounding snap.

Surprisingly, there were sour, tangy notes to the chocolate and a chalky astringent aftertaste despite the smooth and even, slow melt. The website lists the flavor as: Malt, tart cherries, white fruit

Here is a photo of all three bars side-by-side to show the differences in colors even through the cacao used only varied by a few percentage points. Some of my descriptions were close to the tasting notes, but I still have a long way to go in perfecting my palate!

To learn more about Harper Macaw and see even more colorful packaging, including their political collection, visit their website: https://harpermacaw.com/

But wait, there’s more…I also had the opportunity to taste a bar from Chocotenango! Lori just recently wrote about this company, so check out her blog post to learn more about how they got started.

Cardamom is one of my favorite flavors, so I was thrilled when Lori was able to obtain this 73% Dominican Republic dark chocolate Arabian Nights bar on my behalf!

The royal blue foil doesn’t really go with the cream and green colored outer packaging, but I was fascinated by the way they wrapped the bar on the diagonal, which reminds me of the Japanese Furoshiki technique.

The twelve rectangle bar with a matte finish sustained some damage in transit, possibly because the bar is much more narrow than the outer cardboard sleeve packaging. There was a sharp snap and a creamy, smooth mouthfeel with the occasional crunch from a citrusy cardamom seed.

Overall, I loved the strong green cardamom flavor and aroma! It will be hard not to eat this entire bar within the next few days. To learn more about Chocotenango and see their other flavors, please check out their website: https://www.chocotenango.com/

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

Other chocolate makers in Washington, D.C.:

Undone Chocolate

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Washington, D.C. 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!

H is for Hemp Seeds

Are you trying to eat healthy and include “super foods” in your diet? Well, here is a chocolate bar that includes three different super foods: goji berries, cacao nibs and hemp seeds (since it’s “H” week on Eating the Chocolate Alphabet)!

Don’t worry, I won’t go into the health benefits or discuss super foods here since you can conduct your own research on the topic. I just want to introduce you to one of the most photogenic chocolate bars that I’ve seen in a while (and I’ve seen quite a few as part of this inclusion project)!

I don’t know about you, but my eye is immediately drawn to the lightly shriveled elongated reddish orange goji berries and the generous sprinkling of tiny white and greenish hemp seeds. The cracked cacao nibs almost blend into the 72% Dominican Republic dark chocolate base that you might forget they are there until you take that first crunchy bite!

But, let’s start from the beginning of the tasting process! If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I like using an “EAT” approach: E for exterior (which refers to the packaging), A for aroma and appearance and T for taste 🙂

Chequessett Chocolate is the third bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Massachusetts (Taza was the first & Rogue was the second). Self-taught co-founders, Katherine Reed and Josiah Mayo, handcraft their minimally processed chocolate bars in small batches in a workshop on Cape Cod, at a shop location that once stood abandoned for two years, but now thrives as a café, production room and office. From what I’ve seen on their website, each of the small button and string tie dark blue envelopes sport a distinctive map motif with silver lines and numbers.

After reading that Josiah had 20+ years’ experience working in commercial fishing, I figured that these were topographical maps of some sort, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out the “proper” term to describe them. After several fruitless Google image searches, I finally broke down and called Chequessett to get the information “from the source.” Thanks for confirming my hunch that these were bathymetric maps that show the shape, size and distribution of underwater features as well as the terrain and contours of the ocean floor.

Removing the foil wrapped bar from the outer packaging & peeling back the folds, the inclusion side of the bar “greeted” me with a nutty, roasted aroma. I was almost afraid to turn the bar over for fear of dropping ingredients everywhere, but amazingly everything stayed pretty well-adhered to the 20-rectangle chocolate bar (I’d love to learn the technique that was used to achieve this)!

The “top” side of the bar was a reddish brown color and only had some slight scuffing from the transit to Southern California (I had purchased this bar after Thanksgiving last year to take advantage of their free shipping “Black Friday” deal & also indulged myself in an order of caramel cashew turtles with Wellfleet sea salt…which were DELICIOUS, by the way! Still kicking myself for not buying more than one container!)

When segmenting rectangles from the main bar, there was a soft snap since the chewy, lightly sweet goji berries would hang on to their spot tenaciously and then tear to reveal the tiny seeds hidden inside.

The shelled hemp seeds (sometimes called hemp “hearts”) are softer and nutty, though I’m not sure why some have a greenish tinge to them. With all this texture to the bar, it was pretty much impossible for me to “melt” a piece in my mouth…I made several valiant attempts to do so, but always succumbed to “chomping” after 15-20 seconds 😉 I wanted to isolate the chocolate by itself, so I tried slicing off the raised “hump” from the top side of several rectangles. Even though it was very messy to do so (wish I knew a better way of doing this), now I could taste the citrusy notes of the evaporated cane juice sweetened chocolate.

It will come as no surprise that this bar is almost gone now, so I’ll leave you with this one parting photo:

You can bet that the Blueberry Ginger or Cranberry bars will be next on my wish list!! Or maybe the Farrago confection, though the Mexican hot chocolate mix is calling to me too 🙂

To learn more about Chequessett Chocolate & their Cape Cod products, please visit: http://www.chequessettchocolate.com/

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/

50 States Collaboration – Colorado / Cultura Craft Chocolate

My 5th grade choir learned the lyrics to the song “Fifty Nifty United States” and to this day I can still recite the states in alphabetical order…at least until where the soloists took over! Though, now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t decide if remembering 35 out of 50 states (70%) decades later is a point of pride or a quirk that I shouldn’t admit to?! Regardless, I’m thrilled to be asked to collaborate with Lori from Time to Eat Chocolate on this project to feature bean-to-bar makers from as many states as have them. We’ll be trading off sharing stories and featuring 1 to 2 makers per state, so be sure to also follow her blog so that you won’t miss a thing! 🙂

In fact, Lori started off the project yesterday by featuring a state near her: Maryland – here is a link to her post: https://timetoeatchocolate.com/2017/02/05/spagnvola/

The state I selected is close to me both geographically and alphabetically: Colorado

Cultura Craft Chocolate (established 2016) is the collaboration of two experienced chocolate makers: Damaris Ronkanen (formerly of Dead Dog Chocolate) and Matthew Armstrong (formerly of Mutari Chocolate). From their website: “Their shared values of always being curious, never compromising, pushing boundaries, and having fun are reflected in every aspect of Cultura – from the name, to the packaging and the origins they source their beans from, to how they make their chocolate and share their story.” This new brand is a tribute to the events that led them to chocolate.

Around Halloween last year, the colorful and decorative sugar skull designs featured prominently on the packaging caught my eye on Instagram; so when I discovered that they would be at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, I knew I had to visit their booth and try them for myself.

While Cultura also sells larger (1.75 oz.) single origin, two ingredient bars, I was drawn to their mini bars (0.8 oz.) that either highlight a single origin (with varying percentages of cacao) or are made with inclusion ingredients. A fellow blogger recently posted about the trend of mini bars, so check out this article for more details.

First up was the 70% Haiti (“PISA” 2015 harvest). By the way, “PISA” stands for Produits Des Iles SA, a new cacao processor and exporter in Northern Haiti.

After unwrapping this single origin, two ingredient mini chocolate from the black foil, I noticed some “ghosting” marring the top surface of the bar. I believe this type of “blemish” appears when there are problems removing the chocolate from the mold.

Segmenting a tasting morsel, there was a brittle snap and the chocolate appeared a little dry with some air bubbles along the edge of the break.

Since I had noticed a fruity, sweet, raisin-like aroma upon opening the foil, I was surprised by the initial bitter and roasted flavor that I encountered. The chocolate melted evenly on my tongue, but was not completely smooth in texture and left an astringent feel to my mouth. This cacao is said to taste like fig, tart cherry and lightly roasted nuts + the tasting notes on the box mentions biscuit, raisin and malt, unfortunately none of those came across strongly to me and instead I tasted red berry.

Next was the 70% Mexican Spice (made with Dominican Republic Oko Caribe 2015 beans)

Peeling back the black inner foil wrapping, I could immediately smell pepper, though I wouldn’t have known they were guajillo chiles, a staple in Mexican cuisine, that impart a pleasant back-of-the-throat heat (personally a “4” on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of heat intensity). What you see is a generous (though uneven) sprinkling of toasted almonds.

The almonds looked a little dry/powdery, so that when segmenting the bar, the almonds tended to fly everywhere and there was a woody/dull snap (possibly due to some air bubbles in the bar).

Overall, the slow and even melt of this Ceylon cinnamon and chile infused dark chocolate reminded me of a hearty, savory mole dish or a “warming from the inside out” Mexican hot chocolate beverage. The inherent sweetness of the chocolate itself helped to tone down the peppery heat.

Last, but not least, the 70% Peppermint-Nibs (also made with Dominican Republic Oko Caribe 2015)

There was a light (not overpowering) and refreshing aroma of peppermint oil upon opening the packaging and a generous sprinkling of cacao nibs. One of the things that surprised me was seeing bits of cacao husk near one corner of the bar.

While I had heard that tea could be made from the papery shells, I had usually avoided tasting them before. This errant piece of husk was pleasantly nutty and crunchy, so I’ll definitely have to investigate this chocolate making by-product more in the future!

Another thing that caught my eye was a slightly purple nib (see top left in the foreground of this photo), since the rest of the nibs were dark or light brown in color.

Overall, this bar had a sharper snap, a smoother melt and a creamier mouthfeel than the other two bars. Also, it seemed easier for me to appreciate the chocolate itself aside from the inclusion ingredients than the previous bar, as I was able to get hints of citrus that is inherent in beans from the Dominican Republic. While peppermint makes me think of winter and Christmas, this bar is sure to be a perennial favorite.

To learn more about Cultura and their different bars, check out their website: http://www.culturachocolate.com/

Also, remember to follow Lori’s “Time to Eat Chocolate” blog to read about future installments of our joint 50 States project!

Other chocolate makers in Colorado:

Beehive Chocolates

Dar Chocolate

Fortuna Chocolate

Nuance Chocolate

WKND Chocolate

While not bean-to-bar, Nova Chocolate is a craft chocolate company.

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

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/

H is for Hummingbird Chocolate Maker

When I was first telling friends about the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I was a little appalled when they asked: “You’re not going to feature Hershey’s for ‘H,’ are you?” That was the perfect opportunity to explain that my goal was to try chocolates that were new to me + I wanted to focus on non-mass produced chocolates (besides, my tastes evolved beyond Hershey’s YEARS ago!)

Since hummingbirds are one of my favorite birds to watch as they hover at a feeder, just the company name and the simplicity of the packaging design drew me to Hummingbird Chocolate Maker. But, then, I discovered that their chocolates were only available in New York or in Canada! Thanks Josh Rubin from Chocexchange for being my hero and expertly shipping the bar to California!

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This particular bar is made with just two ingredients! Trinitario cacao beans + local maple syrup from Fulton’s Sugar Shack. I like that Hummingbird Chocolate’s packaging even features a photo from the 5th generation Fulton descendant running the maple production facility as a way to both honor their partner and provide transparency about the ingredient source.

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What started out as a casual hobby, making the best chocolate possible in small batches has become a passion for husband-and-wife team Drew & Erica Gilmour in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario, Canada. They are industrious (like their namesake), without being industrial.

The inside of the outer label lists the 10 steps they take in the bean-to-bar process (this information is also shown in greater detail and with more photos on their website). My favorite part was seeing an illustration of a vintage melangeur (conching machine), the one used as part of a recent bean-to-bar class was tiny (and modern) in comparison!

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The hummingbird graphic on the front of the outer packaging reminds me of Maori tattoo art, so I’m not sure what I was expecting the mold to look like.

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What a surprise to peel back the gold foil wrapping to see a bar comprised of 8 squares of different heights and images imprinted on them. It reminded me of a childhood block puzzle that still needed to be re-arranged into a final cohesive image.

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In a happy twist of fate, the chocolate bar had broken in such a way that if re-positioned, it almost looked like a bird with outstretched wings or a stealth bomber, depending on how you look at it! 😉

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As I was taking photos, I enjoyed the enticing chocolate aroma. So, it surprised me that the first couple of bites produced a slightly bitter, fruity taste (like unripe raspberries). Though it doesn’t say so on the packaging itself, their website indicates that the Trinitario beans used for this bar come from Northern Dominican Republic, so that would explain the fruity notes. The bitterness faded and evolved into a fairly mild maple syrup flavor. As I continued to sample more squares, this time letting the chocolate melt in my mouth, it seemed like the maple sweetness was “cumulative” and it certainly seemed like it was heightened toward the end of my tasting. Surprisingly intense and complex for just two ingredients!

To read about all the awards they won this year (2016) from the UK-based Academy of Chocolate, go to: http://hummingbirdchocolate.com/press/