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!

P is for Parmigiano-Reggiano

Have you been seeing lots of pairing events popping up lately like beer and chocolate, tea and chocolate, whiskey and chocolate or even cheese and chocolate? But what about cheese IN chocolate? Well, David Briggs from Xocolatl de David in Portland, Oregon has done just that by combining 72% Ecuadorian chocolate with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese :0

What seems like a lifetime ago, but was really only back in February, I tried another one of his savory bars and I now wish I had some left over to be able to pair with this unique flavor combination.

Using a knife to slice apart the informational sticker that keeps the outer cardboard packaging closed and removing the bar from the thin aluminum foil, you can immediately see that both sides of the bar are dimpled with a generous amount of the cheese inclusion.

The top is flatter, shinier and has some evidence of scuffing and ghosting:

While the bottom has uneven lumps and is not as reddish brown in color:

The thin bar breaks apart easily with a dull snap, releasing a musty, aged cheese aroma. A cross section of the tasting morsel looks almost like a lunar landscape: nooks and crannies created by air bubbles and the rest of the non-chocolate space occupied by tiny chunks of shaved cheese.

The flavor is very savory, almost meaty, and seems to overwhelm the overall chocolate taste. As if Parmigiano-Reggiano isn’t already salty enough on its own, this bar also has fleur de sel as an ingredient. While it’s generally recommended to “melt” chocolate in your mouth, this particular bar is abrasive during the melt due to the amount of hard cheese that was added. The chocolate melts away easily and quickly, but then you are left with a mouthful of clumped, partially dissolved cheese particles. However, “chomping” the chocolate will intensify the overall flavor and a couple of nibbles go a long way! I’m thinking of pairing this with some toasted bread just to see if that will tone down the taste.

Have you tried chocolate with cheese blended into it? Do you think that chocolate and cheese should be left separate? Let me know your thoughts!

In case you’re curious, next on my “wish list” from Xocolatl de David are the hazelnut + black truffle, the Black River caviar, the Mole Negro or the “Swiss Picnic” collaboration with Olympia Provisions. You know me, when it comes to chocolate, I’m ready for a taste adventure 😉  

To see their entire line up of savory bars as well as sweet ones that have less unusual ingredients, check out their website: http://www.xocolatldedavid.com/#main

50 States Collaboration – Washington / indi chocolate + Theo Chocolate

Since Time to Eat Chocolate wrote about Florida yesterday, I decided to feature a state that is diagonally on the opposite side of the country: Washington!

Thanks again to Jess (aka the Seattle Dessert Geek) for helping to shop for chocolates in her hometown! In addition to sending me a variety of chocolates, she sent a super cute hand-drawn card with the penguin avatar from my Instagram handle @myic2016!

First up is a mini single-origin tasting “pod” in the shape of a, you guessed it, halved teaspoon-sized cacao pod packaged in a re-sealable plastic pouch…as if there could ever be any leftovers! 😉

All of indi’s single-origin chocolates are made with just three ingredients: cacao, sugar and cacao butter and, although it’s not stated on the packaging, this Nicaragua pod is made from 72% cacao.

Due to the size and shape of this chocolate, I wasn’t able to “snap” the piece, so I forgot to smell the chocolate after I bit into it! 🙁

I think this was the first time tasting Nicaraguan chocolate, so I regret not sniffing it before eating the whole pod. The flavor was earthy and reminded me of black olives. The slow and mostly smooth melt finished with a slightly tannic aftertaste.

Next is a single-origin mini bar made from Orecao beans.

The country of origin isn’t listed on the packaging, but their website reveals that it is Ecuadorian. I remember this being one of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation “Designation 7” chocolates that I tried last year. If you are interested in learning more about HCP, here is the link to that post.

Though the bar sustained some damage in transit and there was a bit of chocolate “dust” marring the surface, it’s hard not to be captivated by the decorative multi-segment bar depicting leaves as well as whole and cracked opened cacao pods.

Since I had neglected to smell the last bar, I made sure to pay attention this one! To me, there seemed to be a faint “industrial” aroma, but thankfully that didn’t really transfer to the taste of the chocolate itself. Overall the chocolate looked a little dry in appearance and had a sharp snap when breaking it into tasting morsels.

I experienced a grainy mouthfeel and the piece melted slowly on my tongue. Interestingly, the taste seemed to change depending on how I ate the piece: when “chomped,” the flavor reminded me of raisins, but when I melted a piece in my mouth, I was reminded of a hard rind cheese! Afterwards, there was a long-lingering astringent/chalky aftertaste.

indi chocolate is best kept secret of Pike Place Market…but now YOU know! They are currently located on the 5th floor, but it sounds like soon they will be moving to the new Market Front (Spring 2017), so be sure to check out their website for more details: https://indichocolate.com/

One of my current favorite inclusion ingredients at the moment is breadcrumbs, so I couldn’t miss trying a 70% dark chocolate Bread & Chocolate bar which is a twist on a pain au chocolate breakfast viennoiserie and is part of Theo Chocolate’s “fantasy line.”

My only complaint with Theo’s bars is that the outer packaging is sealed so tightly, that it’s impossible to open the wrapper without ripping it. Being ingenious, I ended up using a letter opener to slice the informational sticker from the paper. While it used to bother me when the inner foil encasing the bar itself was folded with the outer wrapper, I now realize that it’s a much neater way to keep both layers crisply folded.

The “back” side of the bar is mottled with tiny dots that appear to be the beginnings of bloom and there were also plenty of large lumps poking out, showing that Theo was generous with the inclusion ingredients!

Though not pictured, this mini bar is made with a 4 rectangle mold and there was a matte finish to the “top side” of the chocolate. Breaking off one of the large rectangles produced a dull snap & little flecks of chocolate flew everywhere. So many nooks and crannies and chunks of bread!

The crunchy, lightly salted, creamy, not-too-sweet bar had a toasted butter aroma that begs to be chomped NOT melted! I would have loved to have known the origin of the chocolate, though perhaps it was a blend?

Just last week, as part of my separate Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I featured a different Theo bar, please follow this link if you are interested in reading more about that adventure.

Theo Chocolates can often be found at Bristol Farms and/or Whole Foods Markets in Southern California, but you can always order directly through their website: https://www.theochocolate.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:

Bellflower Chocolate Company

Fresco

Tease Chocolates

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Washington 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 – South Carolina / Batch

When two life-long artists team up together and begin crafting small batch chocolates which reflect and highlight local flavors, ingredients and fellow artisans, you know the final result will be something special and unique! In December, fellow chocophiles were posting pictures on Instagram about their latest shipment of Batch trios (I’m still bummed that I missed out on “Batch 8”); to avoid future disappointments, I signed up for Tamara & Zan’s newsletter so that I would be among the first to hear about upcoming releases. As soon as I received notification about “Batch 9,” I immediately ordered and the shipment arrived just last week!

On the back label of the rustic packaging, the makers describe that their chocolates are “handcrafted with love & OCD in their Rock Hill, South Carolina kitchen,” so this is the perfect companion piece to Lori’s post from yesterday featuring two North Carolina makers.

Below I’ll be telling you about the two inclusion bars that I received in the trio that features Ecuador’s Camino Verde cacao bean which has naturally nutty and floral notes.

First up is the 70% Maple Pecan bar:

I love that Batch includes a double sided card with the chocolate bar to help you learn more about the origin of the beans and also guide you through the steps of exploring aroma, texture and taste.

Immediately you can see the generous inclusion of Carolina pecans that were toasted in pure vanilla maple syrup and sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon and ginger.

Unwrapping the bar from the plastic inner pouch, the aroma reminded me of coconut granola. There was a shiny, almost mirror-like shine to the top surface of the bar & I was sad to break off a piece since that meant leaving fingerprints everywhere 🙁 There was a sharp snap, though the bar didn’t segment exactly where I was applying pressure.

The morsel was smooth & creamy, but I didn’t really taste the subtle ginger or cinnamon until near the end of the even melt. Overall, the flavor was fudgy, nutty, earthy and reminded me of a streusel-topped muffin.

Next up is the 75% Cherry Rosé bar:

The plain brown craft paper envelope doesn’t prepare you for the “anything-but-ordinary” bar that awaits inside. While this probably won’t impress you, I was thrilled that this bar was number 2 out of the 240 bars that were made in this batch!

Upon opening the re-sealable plastic inner pouch, the aroma was quite unusual (some might say “funky”) and made me think of an aged balsamic vinegar. While the outer packaging only mentions the company names of the other makers, I decided to do a little more research on the ingredients since I’m a fan of “sour” beers and fruity wild ales. Batch’s website mentioned that the cherries were soaked in a reduction of Dover Vineyards Rosé wine and Free Range Brewing’s Hee-Haw House Got Musty wild ale. From a mobile app called Untappd, the beer is listed as a barrel aged muscadine wild ale with must and further described as being fermented on a house strain of brettanomyces with fresh muscadine grapes, aged for a year in wine barrels with a mixed culture of bacteria and yeast and then re-fermented on fresh must of Chambourcin and Villard Blanc grapes. In case you were curious, “must” is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit; this probably explains why the jewel-like, chewy cherries taste more like grapes to me.

Handcrafted items generally have a touch of character, some minor imperfection that proves that they were not mass-produced with exacting perfection. I noticed some “ghosting” on the front of the bar, which reminded me of a pebble dropped into water and the resulting concentric ripples that appear.

There was a sharp snap to the bar and a floral, earthy, grassy aroma. I enjoyed the smooth, creamy, even melt of the chocolate and noticed some citrusy notes when sampling pieces without the cherries. Overall, I preferred the chocolate without the cherries and might have preferred the cherries if they were more tart than sweet.

I’ll be saving the plain 80% bar for another opportunity and can’t wait to see the flavors for Batch 10!

As of right now, “Batch 9” is still available for order. To learn more about Batch and to ensure that you don’t miss out either, visit their website: https://www.batchcraft.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 South Carolina:

Night Owl Chocolate

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

X is for Xocolatl de David

During the initial planning stages of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series, most people assumed that “X” would be a difficult letter to find. Thankfully in the Aztec language Nahuatl, “chocolate” is “Xocolatl”: the combination of the words “xococ” for sour or bitter and “atl” for water or drink, so while “X” chocolatiers and chocolate makers aren’t plentiful, it was a relatively easy letter for me!

After discovering that a friend of mine would be visiting Portland, Oregon, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to request that some Xocolatl de David bars return home with him. Knowing those bars were available at any Portland Salt and Straw artisanal ice cream shop location, I hoped that my request for 1-2 unusually flavored bars wouldn’t be too hard to accommodate. When asked to define “unusual,” I mentioned sourdough + olive oil or Parmigiano-Reggiano (in my heart, I really hoped for foie gras and would “settle” for hazelnut + black truffle or one with peppers!) Maybe those flavors weren’t available and these were the most “unusual” ones that could be obtained, though these seem pretty mainstream to me!

Bacon Caramel (72% Ecuador)

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The packaging is fairly plain and simple on the front, with the company logo letterpressed toward the bottom third of the beige colored box. The informational sticker that keeps the envelope closure sealed in the back folds over the top of the box to announce the flavor, the phonetic pronunciation of “Xocolatl” + the percentage and country of origin of the cacao. My only complaint is that you can’t open the packaging without destroying the informational sticker (I’ll show you what I mean when I review the 2nd bar later in this post).

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One of the ingredients that caught my eye was “invert sugar.” I looked on Wikipedia for a definition, but that only confused me more. Thank goodness for my trusty “Food Lover’s Companion” (a Barron’s Cooking Guide) for simplifying the explanation! From the Third Edition: “Invert sugar is created by combining a sugar syrup with a small amount of acid (such as cream of tartar or lemon juice) and heating. This inverts, or breaks down, the sucrose into its two components, glucose and fructose, thereby reducing the size of the sugar crystals. Because of its fine crystal structure, invert sugar produces a smoother product…” (and some say that it’s also sweeter tasting).

Removing the bar from the foil wrapping, I was surprised to see what looked like three large shapes rising from the back of the bar, which were cracked and oozing caramel on the front. Maybe, in retrospect, buying the bar in late March and having the “best by” date expired by a month by the time I tasted it wasn’t a great idea, despite storing the bar carefully?!

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Honestly, I thought I might find a wide strip of smoked bacon underneath the chocolate at each of those square/rectangular shapes, but that wasn’t the case. The bar bends more than snaps when segmented and it would appear that there were “slots” in the bar where the bacon-infused caramel was inserted.

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The caramel itself was a bit chewy and amongst the portions that I tasted, I didn’t find any of crunchy caramelized bacon bits that were described online. The caramel definitely had a salty and smoky flavor.

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The chocolate pieces that didn’t have any caramel were smooth, but overwhelmingly flavored with vanilla so that I didn’t detect much else.

Salted Caramel (72% Ecuador)

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The Salted Caramel packaging is very similar, but this one has a Good Food Awards winner sticker – though this award was received in 2011.

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Above you see what I mean about the difficulty of opening the packaging while trying to keep the informational sticker intact. Other suggestions?

Delicately peeling back the thin foil inner wrapper, three whitish (bloomed) shapes appeared on the back of the bar, with caramel oozing from the cracks, making it difficult to remove the foil in places.

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The front of the bar wasn’t bloomed, but the cracks were larger.

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Overall this makes for a visually “messy” and inelegant bar.

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The bar had a dull snap when being segmented and at the place where I bent the bar, there appeared even less caramel than in the previous bar.

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So, I decided to segment the bar at a different section to see if there was more caramel elsewhere. Seems the middle of the bar was more plentiful.

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Again, the caramel was chewy rather than gooey or liquidy and seemed to have been inserted into narrow rectangular “slots” in the chocolate. The chocolate itself had a more roasted/bitter flavor than the previous bar and though smooth, didn’t melt easily. Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried two caramel bars back-to-back, but this caramel was overly salty and almost had a “gamey” aftertaste.

Next time, I’ll shop for chocolates myself closer to when I plan to consume them (and probably skip the caramel ones). As you can probably tell, most of David Briggs’ creations are on the savory side rather than sweet. Personally, I’m really intrigued by the foie gras bar (which has a “foietella” chocolate spread). Has anyone tried that one yet besides Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods America?!

For more information on their line of products, check out: http://www.xocolatldedavid.com/#main

We interrupt the alphabet for something different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heirloom I – Alto Beni (Bolivia) 68% cacao

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First tasting notes: smells & tastes nutty;  tart flavor

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

Heirloom II – Wild Beni (Bolivia) 72% cacao

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

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

Heirloom III – Orecao (Ecuador) 70% cacao

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

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

Heirloom IV – Maunawili (Hawaii) 72% cacao

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

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

Heirloom V – Mindo (Ecuador) 77% cacao

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

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

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

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

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

Heirloom VII – Maya Mountain (Belize) 70% cacao

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First tasting notes: soft/smooth; tastes of raisins

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

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

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

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

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

S is for Sirene Artisan Chocolate Makers

In the words of Taylor Kennedy, owner of Sirene Artisan Chocolate Makers in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, “Without a direct comparison, it is hard to understand that there is something different about chocolate.” To aid in the appreciation of the nuances between countries of origin, this particular box contains two different mini chocolate bars so that you can easily compare and contrast with minimal effort. Not only are both bars the same percentage (73%), but also they each only contain two ingredients (cacao beans & organic cane sugar) that way the natural flavors/characteristics of those beans can truly be showcased.

This morning on Instagram, The Chocolate Website recounted her dilemma of trying to identify 6 different chocolate bars once they were removed from their packaging. With this in mind, I really appreciated that each of the Sirene bars was wrapped in a different colored metallic foil (silver color for Ecuador and gold color for Madagascar)!

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Choices, choices…which one to try first? After reading the tasting notes on the inside of the box flaps, I decided to try Ecuador first and then Madagascar…I think I made the right decision!

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The Ecuadorian beans come from Camino Verde, a plantation in the town of Balao with trees that are close to 100 years old. According to the packaging, trees of this age yield beans with 10% less cocoa butter, which in turn produces a more intense cocoa flavor. True to that description, I could immediately see the deep, dark brown color and smell the earthy and roasted aroma upon unwrapping the chocolate.

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Even though the bar is a little thick, there was a nice sharp snap when being segmented. Each of the 5 rectangles reminded me of a flag with alternating vertical and horizontal lines on each quadrant…it was fun to run my tongue along those ridges while I was melting each bite. There was a slow, even melt and the flavor was reminiscent of a not-too-sweet, nutty brownie with a long, satisfying finish.

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Upon unwrapping the Madagascar bar, I noticed more chocolate “dust” clinging to the outside, possibly since one of the rectangles had been broken in transit.

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The snap of that particular rectangle felt a little dry/crumbly and there was only a mild aroma; however the taste was an explosion of bright fruits. Since I didn’t want to rely just on that first broken piece, I segmented another portion for comparison purposes. At the breaking point, there was a fresher roasted aroma and the flavor reminded me of a just squeezed lemon. This piece also had a more velvety smooth mouthfeel with an even melt and a long lasting tart aftertaste.

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The Madagascar beans from the Akesson family’s Somia planation are lighter brown in color (perhaps because of being enriched with volcanic minerals), so there was no surprise that this bar looked more like milk chocolate compared to the Ecuador bar.

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As a side note…maybe it’s just me, but I’m as fascinated with the undersides of bars as I am with the mold-imprinted side. Both bars seemed to have concentric “ripples” as if a pebble had been dropped at the edge of a lake…more than likely a final drip of liquid chocolate hit the mold & had not been vibrated to a completely smooth finish.

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If “tasting pair boxes” aren’t your thing, don’t worry…other packages feature just the one origin or flavor. To find out more about Sirene and Taylor Kennedy’s background as a former world traveling photographer and writer for The National Geographic magazine, check out:  http://sirenechocolate.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/

N is for NOMNOM Chocolate

There will probably come a time when friends will refrain from telling me of their travel plans (I DREAD that day!!) Until then, when you tell me about your upcoming trip, especially if it is to New Zealand, Australia or Europe, there will be a gleam in my eye while I scan through a mental rolodex…be prepared for a kindly request to acquire some “wish list” chocolates for me! 🙂

Right around the letter “G” (early July), I came to a startling realization that my coveted “N” chocolate was actually a “C” – more on that story later in the week. In a panic, I started combing through resources to find alternate “N” chocolates and became fixated on NOMNOM Chocolate from Wales based on the endearing tales of silliness and mischief by the norty (aka naughty) weasels on their Instagram feed.

Shipping from Wales was going to be cost prohibitive, so I sent out several inquiries to friends who a) live in the UK, b) were going to be visiting the UK soon or c) knew someone who knew someone with any connection to the UK. All this effort resulted in dead ends 🙁 But, then, my boyfriend mentioned that one of his work colleagues would be traveling back to England soon for a visit (cue the choir of angels singing!) Imagine my delight! I wasn’t sure what flavors were available, so I couldn’t make specific bar requests. After several weeks of not hearing updates, I was told not to get my hopes up since this might not pan out either. After moments of distress and disappointment, I began searching for other Ns that might be acquired more locally. Then in the middle of a humdrum day, I received a text message with a picture attachment, but no actual verbiage. Ta da…a stack of SIX NOMNOM Chocolate bars. Good thing my boyfriend wasn’t around to take a video of my “happy dance” 😉

With so many delicious options to now choose from, I decided to feature the only dark chocolate bar of the bunch (follow me on Instagram to hear about the milk chocolate ones later).

Lemon Curd (72% Ecuadorian Chocolate + Welsh Lady’s Lemon Curd)

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Before each thick bar receives a fairly plain brown paper outer sleeve, the bars are hand wrapped in a different colored rectangle of shiny thin aluminum foil. During the recent Olympics, NOMNOM had a friendly wrapping competition among their employees. First place was a record of 12 bars in 1 minute and 17 seconds! The wooly lamb that is part of their logo reminds me of the mischievous “Shaun the Sheep” cartoon.

Upon unwrapping the foil, there was the unmistakable scent of citrusy lemon & it was then that I noticed some small cracks on the back of the bar due to its transit from England to California. Since there is a bit of heft to the bar, the crack didn’t go all the way through and the top side of the dark brown bar was intact.

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Using the existing fissure as my “breaking point,” I was so surprised to see that the chocolate bar was filled with creamy, tart lemon curd.

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(my penguin alter ego above, was VERY curious about the curd 🙂 )

According to Amazon.com, Welsh Lady Preserves was voted in the Top 50 Foods by the Guild of Fine Foods, with judges describing it as “The creamiest, most lemoniest spoonful of deliciousness ever offered to man or woman.” The recipe had been perfected over 50 years, each batch lovingly prepared from the finest ingredients and cooked slowly just like you would at home. This is in keeping with NOMNOM’s philosophies which are explained on the back of the outer sleeve:

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Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a messy photo shoot today, so I had to suppress giggles during this process: “stage” the chocolate pieces so that they were ready for their close ups, lick fingers, take photo & repeat.

What a great way to start the week!

It was a little difficult to taste the 72% Ecuadorian chocolate separately from the lemon curd, so I don’t have much to say about that other than it was tasty and worked well with the citrus notes. Based on this initial taste of NOMNOM, I can’t wait to dig into the other 5 flavors that I acquired: welsh cake, peanut butter, waffle, orange marmalade & Halen Môn (Anglesey Sea Salt).

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Here’s a thought for the day from the nutritional info on the back of their wrapper: “Never eat more chocolate than you can lift.” – I think that’s a motto we could all live with 😉

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When you visit their website (http://www.nomnom.cymru/), one of the first things you will see is this greeting: “hello we’re NOMNOM and we haven’t a proper website” + these notes:

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Since flavors change weekly, my recommendation is to send them an email since the super friendly “Keeper of Deliciousness” (Lili Woollacott) will be happy to assist you! (P.S. wish her a belated 21st birthday too!)

G is for Gracias Chocolate

What does one do when faced with the challenge of choosing between three unusual inclusion bars? Use the “eenie meenie miney moe” or “rock paper scissors” method? Well, after some consultation with friends, I did what any sane person would do: tried ALL three!! (OK, you caught me! I really just wanted an excuse to try all of them since I’m doing this research for all of you! 🙂 )

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I’m not sure what led me to discover Gracias Chocolate. It must have been photos on either Facebook or Instagram showing off their array of uniquely flavored inclusion bars.

Originally I was hoping to avoid summertime shipping costs & planned on asking visiting relatives from the San Francisco area to transport the bars to me. When that didn’t work out last month, I tried coordinating with a Sacramento friend to visit a local farmers’ market to obtain the bars for me – but then 100+ degree weather messed up those plans! In the end, I think it worked out just fine to buy directly from Jessica at Gracias Chocolate since the delicate bars were expertly cushioned with multiple layers of bubble wrap & sent along with an ice pack to keep things cool (we also waited to ship until the weather cooperated more!)

It’s great that Gracias Chocolate is so transparent about the ingredients they use for their bars. Each bar has a page dedicated to it on their website. There are thumbnail photos of the ingredients, along with a short paragraph about the health benefits about them. I learned so much about maca (a root that grows in the South American Andes) and coconut sugar (made from dried sap of a palm tree) from reading those blurbs. Another great thing is that they acknowledge the sources of the ingredients, right down to the farm or co-op. I wish all chocolate makers disclosed that amount of information.

Gracias Chocolate started in 2014 with the purpose to “create a powerfully great taste experience using high-quality and conscionable ingredients that are healthy & kind to our bodies and the Earth.” This is why they are committed to making chocolate treats that are soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan + free from refined sugar. Additionally, they use non-GMO, organic, fair trade or responsibly farmed ingredients, as well as biodegradable packaging (a bonus is that the packaging is clear + re-sealable).

Each of the three bars that I tried had some common “base” ingredients like 10% maca and different percentages of unroasted Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional cacao powder (follow the link to see more information about the 6-8 ingredients that were used in each bar). Building on that base, each bar then had “inclusion” ingredients to make them truly stand out.

All of the bars lacked a sharp “snap” when broken – I blame the summer heat/humidity for making them more bendable than they should be. Not surprisingly, they all had a slightly gritty/coarse texture…but, I didn’t mind the mouthfeel since it made me more aware that unrefined coconut and maple sugars were used.

Below is a brief description of each bar, in the order that I tasted them.

Sour Cherries and Pistachios (64% cacao)

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Even after being careful with these delicately thin bars, I still managed to crack this bar before opening the package 🙁 One of the very first flavors that I detected when biting into this bar was anise! I was sure I was imagining things since it wasn’t listed on the front of the package, but indeed there it was listed on the back! The tart, chewy, unsweetened dried sour cherries paired nicely with the salty smashed pistachios and crunchy nibs. This combination produced an overall “earthy” flavor for me.

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Olive, Date & Thyme (65% cacao)

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This is the bar that originally drew my attention to Gracias Chocolate. Where else can you find a chocolate that sounds like a Mediterranean feast or an Algerian/Moroccan tagine?! This is the epitome of sweet & savory: generously chopped dates for the sweetness and sun-cured olive morsels for the savory. My only complaint is that the dates (I think they were Medjools) stuck to the packaging & that made it harder to remove the bar. To me, overall the bar was more savory than sweet, plus the combination of olives and chocolate is definitely an acquired taste.

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Citrus Habanero & Hazelnuts (63% cacao)

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Habanero peppers are known to have a kick, so I wanted to make sure to leave this for last in order not to ruin my palate. This one certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of heat! The combination of habanero-infused olive oil and cayenne pepper produced a short-lived, but noticeable “back of the throat” burn…however, it was my favorite bar of the bunch (and it was “juicy” too)! What you see is primarily Oregonian hazelnuts from Freddy Guys Family Farm, but the aromatics are orange oil. I can only imagine this combo as a hot chocolate…maybe I need to experiment a little?!

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To see all their flavors and even sign up for a chocolate bar subscription plan, go to:  http://www.graciaschocolate.com/ – you’ll thank me for it 😉