I is for Izabal

These days, I’m constantly on the lookout for new chocolate origins; however, sometimes I get so excited about discovering a new place, that I forget to write down who makes (or sells) the bar 😮 Such was the case with Izabal, Guatemala. Apparently, I dutifully typed the name into my “wish list” spreadsheet at the beginning of October, but neglected to note the maker, foolishly thinking “I’ll remember when it comes time for that letter of the Alphabet.” By late-October, my mind was a blank. EEKS! Now what?!

Instagram Stories to the rescue! For a day, this “plea for help” appeared:

Lucky for me, a fellow chocolate enthusiast reminded me that one of my favorite chocolate makers, Violet Sky, sells a bar made with Izabal beans! Looking back, I was able to trace my first discovery of the origin. Thanks to chocolate maker Hans Westerink’s excellent customer service, he was already holding a bar for me! ❤️  The day after returning from a busy trip to Seattle’s Northwest Chocolate Festival, he shipped me a bar which arrived yesterday, just in time for the end of “I” week!

The coastal Department (what we would call a state) of Izabal surrounds Guatemala’s largest lake and is bordered on the North by Belize and on the East by Honduras. This area has a rich ecosystem and a mixture of Mayan and Garifuna cultures. The Garifuna people (which are found primarily in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) are an Afro-Caribbean mixed race, follow this link to read more.

I was fascinated to learn that at Hacienda Rio Dulce, where the beans were grown, hardwood trees like mahogany and rosewood are intercropped with the fine flavor cacao varietals. Here is a short video from the Izabal Agro Forest website which shares the sights and sounds of the plantation/farm.

Just look at rainbow of colorful pods!

Source: Izabal Agro Forest website

Now for the chocolate bar you’ve been waiting to hear about! Two-ingredient 77% Izabal, Guatemala.

I love that the bar looks like a holiday-wrapped present with its thick, textured, silver outer paper and bright green informational band. The folds are kept closed in the back with a similarly colored sticker. Since I like to keep that informational sticker intact, I’ve found an ingenious way of unfolding the outer paper so that I can simply slide the shiny foil wrapped bar out of the top or bottom. Voilà!

There is an elegant simplicity to the glossy shine of the 28-rectangle bar (though I need to be careful since it takes fingerprints easily!)

Sometimes it’s the little, often overlooked, details that make me the happiest, like the “shear pattern” that emerges or the cross section texture after segmenting a tasting morsel with a sharp snap.

The flavor of that first piece reminded me of tart fruit with a yogurt-like tang; sort of like cherries and kefir. The smooth, even, creamy melt had a velvet mouthfeel that coated my tongue. The second piece tasted like hazelnuts during the melt and when chewed, it reminded me of a thick fudge with a roasted/earthy aroma.

And to think that I almost missed the opportunity to sample and feature this bar! I’ve definitely learned my lesson: don’t leave things to chance, TAKE DETAILED NOTES IMMEDIATELY! 🙂

For more information on Violet Sky, please visit their website http://www.violetskychocolate.com/ or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Violetskychocolate/

50 States Collaboration – Massachusetts / Goodnow Farms Chocolate

Maybe I’m developing a “knack” for reaching out at the perfect time? Maybe “fate” is intervening to guide my path? Either way, these moments of serendipity, when things fall into place, make me the happiest 🙂

Just last week, after months of waiting for a CSC (community supported chocolate) subscription allocation to arrive, I decided that particular Massachusetts maker, who shall remain nameless, really didn’t need additional hype since there were lesser-known makers in that state deserving of recognition. Late at night, looking at the Goodnow Farms website under “Retailer Locations,” I saw California listed as “Coming Soon” – this was a good omen! So, I sent an email asking if there might be an update and wouldn’t you know it, the very next day I received an email from Tom Rogan (co-owner of Goodnow Farms Chocolate) advising that, later that afternoon, a delivery of chocolate bars was scheduled to arrive to a shop near me!! The two bars I’ll be featuring below had only been in the shop’s inventory for 2 days by the time I visited, so it’s no wonder that the employees there weren’t familiar with them yet!

The gold foil stamped & embossed thick, textured paper sleeves of each bar feature watercolor landscape paintings of idyllic country life, which I assume reflect Tom & Monica Rogan’s 225-year old farm where the small batch chocolates are made. A quick search on the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce website revealed that Goodnow was the last name of one of the first settlers of that town from back in the late 1600s. I also discovered that there is a Goodnow Farm Historic District in Princeton, Massachusetts…but I’m not sure if the two are related since the two towns are about 30 miles away from each other.

70% Asochivite Guatemala with Maple Sugar

The unique name caught my eye as I was selecting which of their 4 bars to sample. In case you’re curious too, “The remote Guatemalan village of San Juan Chivite is perched on the side of a mountain, reachable only by foot. Part of the journey requires crossing a long, narrow wooden and steel cable footbridge across which all harvested cacao is carried by hand.” / “The Q’eqchi Maya farmers of Chivite, Guatemala harvest cacao from the wild trees surrounding their village.” What a journey for these beans! :0

The gold foil-wrapped bar slides easily from the paper sleeve and reveals an envelope-like fold kept closed with a small round sticker.

[As a side note, whoever thought to use an informational sticker is a GENIUS! I struggled to refold the foil as neatly as it arrived to return the bar to its appropriate sleeve. Without that sticker, I wouldn’t be able to tell which flavor was which for future tastings…thanks packaging designer!]

Simply peeling back the origami-like folds, there was an immediate aroma that reminded me of freshly toasted raisin bread spread thickly with sweet butter. I also really liked that the custom logo mold was the first thing you see upon opening the package.

The bar had a near flawless matte finish, though I did encounter some errant flakes that looked like “fuzz” sticking to the “top” surface. Thanks to Tom for explaining the cause of that phenomenon:

…[this] is actually tiny chocolate shavings caused by the bars being handled prior to being opened. The reason these shavings happen is that the chocolate contracts a bit as it cools in the molds, and it ‘sticks’ to the sides of the mold slightly, leaving a bit of a ridge on the edges. This ridge is what ends up flaking off a bit when the bar is handled in the wrapper. 

Upon turning the bar over, I noticed 8 squares with concentric rings. I’m intrigued and would love to see a video of their molds being filled since the still photo online from Step 6 of “Our Process” (Tempering and Molding) only showed chocolate being pumped out from one spout?!

Update from Tom on June 6th: “…the 8 squares on the back of the bar are formed by the depositing head we use on our tempering machine. The head is custom made for each of our different size molds, and it allows the mold to be filled more evenly. It attaches to the single spout that you see in the pictures in the ‘Our Process’ section. The depositing heads are a pain to deal with but they allow the chocolate to fill the molds more quickly and the result is a better looking bar.

Segmenting the bar into tasting bites, there was a soft snap; the chocolate had some elasticity and bent a little before breaking apart. I assume that this was due to the maple sugar used as sweetener. From the packaging and website: the maple sugar is sourced locally from family-owned and operated Severance Maple in Northfield, MA. Milt Severance and his family tap the trees surrounding their sugar house and do every step of the process themselves to produce granulated maple sugar (chocolate makers can’t use maple syrup since moisture and chocolate don’t mix!)

There was a refreshing + short-lived tingly sensation at the tip of my tongue during the smooth, creamy, even melt. A fruity, yogurt tang hit me at the back of my throat and the finish reminded me of roasted coffee.

Limited Edition 77% Nicalizo Nicaragua

According to the packaging, Nicalizo is the first Nicaraguan bean awarded Heirloom Cacao status (last year I tried samples from the “D7 Series”) – the Nicalizo beans are the 8th out of 13 varieties to earn this designation.

Again there was a sticker holding the gold foil folds closed, this one shows a “scarecrow” in a garden, in addition to the flavor’s name.

The toasted bread aroma was more subtle upon opening the inner wrapper; though I also encountered lightly earthy/woody scents. Tiny “fuzz” particles appeared on the top surface of this bar too, marring the otherwise pristine finish (you might have to zoom in to see below). As you would expect from wispy, thin chocolate shavings, they disappear as soon as you touch them lightly with your finger or tongue.

The same 8 squares appear on the back; I’ve adjusted the camera’s color settings to make them “pop” (the photo next to it was “undoctored”):

This bar had a sharp snap as well as a smooth, creamy, even melt which brought out nutty, grain-like, and wood flavor notes and ended with a lightly astringent, grape wine finish.

Goodnow Farms Chocolate is a relatively new company, established in 2015. This article provides interesting details about how Tom & Monica got started in creating single-origin, 3 ingredient, bean-to-bar chocolates and their continued efforts to improve the lives of the farmers at origin. One thing that especially caught my attention is that they press their own cocoa butter from the same beans as are used in the chocolate bars!

Please check out their website to see their full line of bars: https://goodnowfarms.com/

We’re nearing the end of this “50 States” project, so remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the last few stops!

Other chocolate makers in Massachusetts:

Chequessett Chocolate

Equal Exchange

Rogue Chocolatier

Somerville Chocolate

Taza Chocolate

Vivra Chocolate

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

I is for Izard Craft Chocolate

Some letters provide more of a challenge than others (“Q” & “Y” have been particularly elusive, so far)! So, when I noticed Izard Craft Chocolate on the feed of a fellow Instagrammer, I jumped at the opportunity. The company was unfamiliar to me + I was intrigued by both the name and the fact that they were located in Little Rock, Arkansas. (I’m sure that there is chocolate made in every state in the Union, but this was the first time I had heard of a bean-to-bar maker in that state.) That elation turned to concern when I visited their website & saw “sold out” on most of their products. 0767 Undeterred (you will never know if you don’t ask), I sent off an email inquiring if there might be 1 or 2 remaining bars that I could purchase. I was thrilled to quickly receive a note back from owner Nathaniel Izard asking which of their 4 flavors I would like to purchase. Below are the two that caught my eye the most.

First off is Chimelb Microlot Guatemala (72%)

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The motif of the outer wrapper makes me think of cacao beans that have been split in two for a “cut test” – though, as far as I know, beans don’t come in turquoise/aquamarine! 😉 The paper that was used is luxuriously thick, reminiscent of the packaging used for Mast Brothers Chocolates. The informational “sticker” keeping the flaps closed in the back also has great woven texture…my only complaint is that it’s hard to unwrap the bar without destroying either the sticker or the outer wrapper. Upon opening the wrapper, I noticed that this paper is double sided/reversible! Is it wrong for me to want to keep this wrapper to use as a background for future photos?! It’s as if the gold foil wrapped bar is wearing a kimono, though the pattern calls to mind India or the American Southwest.

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Finca Chimelb Microlot is a private farm located in Lanquin, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala (“Finca” means ranch or estate. “Chimelb” seems to be a word in the K’iche Maya language of Guatemala; though try as I might, I wasn’t able to find a translation).

Upon opening the wrapper, I encountered an earthy, almost leathery, aroma. It was also a bit wood-like, reminding me of a barrel or cask. I was surprised to see a lighter brown color, since this is a 72% dark chocolate.

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The Izard label says that they roast the beans more lightly, so maybe that accounts for the particular hue of reddish brown. There were no imperfections to be seen on this matte finish 24 rectangle bar.

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This 3 ingredient bar (cacao, sugar & vanilla) was easy to segment, though there was a dull snap & it didn’t really break apart evenly along the “score” lines – but that makes for abstract art in its own way.

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The mouthfeel was extremely smooth, likely due to the longer conching time. The flavor started off woody, was sweet/fruity in the middle and then ended on a slightly astringent note. Definitely a unique taste, one that grows on you over time.

Next was the Icelandic Sea Salt (70%)

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This outer wrapper reminded me of a 1900s era men’s bathing costume or a sailor’s striped shirt (it’s too bad this wrapper wasn’t double sided too). It was a nice “nautical” touch given that the flake sea salt is hand harvested from the icy waters of the Norwegian Sea and then evaporated using the heat from nearby geysers in Reykjavik, Iceland. This type of salt grain seems to dissolve very quickly while enhancing the flavor of the chocolate without overwhelming it. I think it also provided a nice crunch element and a hint of briny aroma.

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This 24 rectangle bar also had a dull snap, but was easier to segment evenly along the “score” lines. There was a pleasant grassy, almost hay or grain-like scent. Although neither the packaging nor the website lists the country of origin for the cacao used, another source indicated that the beans came from the Maya Mountain Co-op in Belize. Belizean beans are known for their naturally fruity taste. It was hard for me to pinpoint a particular flavor, though peaches, plums or cherries came to mind while savoring this chocolate. I was pleased that it was less astringent than the Guatemala one and had a smooth, creamy mouthfeel despite this being a vegan/dairy-free chocolate.

Izard started out in 2014, so I can’t wait to see what is in store for the future based on my initial experience with them. Check out their website for more details:  http://www.izardchocolate.com/