L is for Loma Quita Espuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K is for Kafupbo

Let me start off by saying that Kafupbo is technically NOT an origin. It’s a cooperative of about 500 small cacao producers in Petit Bourg de Borgne in northern Haiti.

For Wm. Chocolate’s first collaboration bar, owner & chocolate maker Will Marx teamed up with the Madison, Wisconsin-based non-profit Singing Rooster who has partnered with Kafupbo since 2015. Singing Rooster was established in 2009 to connect Haitian artists and agricultural producers to the U.S. market as a way to combat widespread poverty in Haiti.

While I was researching Kafupbo and Singing Rooster yesterday afternoon, I discovered online articles about other chocolate makers who have also used these beans. In fact, just yesterday morning I tried a dark milk chocolate bar from K’ul that mentioned Petit Bourges, Haiti. Is this coincidence or a case of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?! 😲

I love when chocolate makers are creative with their packaging! In this case, Wm. Chocolate used a wraparound photo, taken by Singing Rooster, showing piles of fermented cocoa beans being dried in the sun.

Another neat feature of the packaging that will catch your eye is the “spider chart” which denotes the intensity of certain flavor characteristics on a zero to five scale. You can see that this bar is fairly roasty, earthy, spicy and nutty, as well as cocoa flavored and sweet.

Once you become familiar with tasting craft chocolates and take note of the flavor profiles that you most enjoy, this type of chart will help you pinpoint which bars hit that “sweet spot” combination.

Removing the slender bar, made up of 12 unadorned beveled rectangles, from the compostable heat-sealed inner wrapper, the appearance was neither shiny nor flat/dull. I’m guessing the correct term would be a “satin” finish? Please let me know if there is a better way of describing this!!

There was a robust roasted and chocolate aroma and deep dark brown color, which you would expect from an 80% bar. Someone needs to invent “smell-o-vision” for the internet, don’t you think?! 😉

While, I don’t often expect to find designs on the backs of bars, I’m always amused and entertained when I do. Take a look at the picture below & let me know what YOU see. I see a myopic caterpillar wearing glasses or the fictional movie character ET, frowning while stuck in a dryer exhaust tube!

The bar segments easily with a sharp snap, leaving interesting shear patterns behind and what appears to be some unrefined Costa Rican cane sugar crystals at the break point.

Prior to tasting, my nose detected either herbal or honey aromas. Popping a piece in my mouth, I could instantly feel a “cooling” sensation on my tongue during the slow, even and creamy melt. If I remember correctly, this sensation is caused by the added cocoa butter content. Herbal, malty, earthy or spice notes danced in my mouth. At the finish, the flavors reminded me a bit of a bowl of oatmeal, oatmeal cookies or whole wheat bread.

The chocolate is “toothy” and solid when you bite into it and I experienced bursts of vibrant fruit flavor while chewing the tasting morsel. Oddly enough, this method seemed to leave a film on my teeth. While 80% is a bit higher in percentage than I generally enjoy, I’m wondering how this will taste as a hot chocolate beverage…more experiments to follow, for sure! Happy National Chocolates Day! 🍫🎉

To learn more about Wm. Chocolate’s philosophy behind chocolate making, please visit: https://www.wmchocolate.com/

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/

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!

N is for Nori

There almost wasn’t an “N” post this week! :0 I knew exactly what I wanted, but was having trouble sourcing it. After successfully maintaining my own personal deadline schedule of posting one article per week for 39 weeks, would I now have to resort to recycling a review from a year ago?! Had I just followed my instincts and visited my hometown health food store earlier, I might have saved myself a week’s worth of angst, but then I would have missed my various phone conversations with Cole Meeker, founder and one of the owners of the The Great and Wonderful Sea of Change Trading Company. (Is it just me, or does the company name make you think of “The Wizard of Oz”?)

Until today, I didn’t do any research on the Northern California company, so I was excited to find this 5 minute video featuring Cole and his wife Anastasia explaining their passion for making food products with sea vegetation. I certainly didn’t know that there were 400+ kinds of edible seaweed in the ocean and that only about 3 of them were commonly eaten.

Introducing today’s bar…Wild Nori Crunch made with 70% unroasted, stone ground Ecuadorian cacao

Holding the outer packaging at an angle, you can better see and appreciate the spot UV anglerfish, with a sun or all-seeing eye coming out of its head as a lure. Opening the back flap, you’ll see a thank you message to those that were instrumental in getting this project funded in 2015 through an Indiegogo campaign.

Removing the slender rectangular bar from the heat sealed gold foil wrapper, you’ll see that the mold is comprised of 9 slightly textured, matte finish “batons” that are minimally marred by some air bubbles + chocolate dust at the top and bottom corners of the bar.

Taking a closer look at the bar, you can easily see dark flecks of the wild-harvested seaweed near the surface, though flipping the bar over shows just how the well dispersed they really are.

Breaking off one of the rectangles produced a brittle, crumbly snap that released an earthy and mineral-rich aroma.

Taking a bite, I’m reminded of the Middle Eastern sesame paste or nut-butter based snack halva in terms of the gritty crunch that is associated with stone ground cacao.

This is definitely a bar to be “chomped” rather than melted, unless you like having tiny mineralized flakes of seaweed stuck to your tongue and teeth afterwards! 😉

As an experiment, I used a knife to segment another piece from the bar just to hear the rasping “scritch” of the metal blade making contact with the chocolate and dried seaweed mixture. It certainly created a bit of a mess, but it was fascinating to see the delicate and translucent nori chunks apart from the chocolate itself.

I know what you’re thinking…seaweed and chocolate?! If you’ll recall, I wasn’t a big fan of the flavor back in April 2016. However, after a year of eating poke bowls garnished with furikake and enjoying a miso bar last week, I think my palate was better prepared for the flavor profile.

Lightly sweet from the coconut sugar and maple syrup, satisfyingly crunchy and lightly savory/vegetal in flavor, I encourage you to set aside your preconceptions and taste this for yourself. After reading about seaweed today, I’m really intrigued to try their Wild Dulse bar next…now to find it! 😉

In the words of fellow Instagrammer honeycreeperchocolate: “Wow, nori…you are certainly on an adventure!” – Yep, and loving every moment of it!

To learn more about Cole and Sea of Change, check out the “About Us” page on their website. If you’re not lucky enough to find their products in your local health food store, you can order online through their sea vegetable store: https://www.seaofchangetrading.com/sea-vegetable-store/

These are my personal thoughts and experiences. I did not receive pay or any compensation for reviewing this product.

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/