Since the beginning of my Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I’ve had the privilege of “meeting” (through the virtual worlds of Instagram and Facebook) so many passionate, welcoming and thoughtful people who are either makers or fellow consumers/chocophiles.
Lauren Heineck, founder and chocolate maker at WKND Chocolate, is one of those people! In addition to being skilled at transforming cacao beans into uniquely flavored bars, she hosts “Well Tempered” (a SoundCloud podcast) where she is both storyteller and community builder to elevate the smart, creative and crafty women within the chocolate industry.
I feel very honored to have been gifted a couple of her bars and to be among the first people to taste some of her creations. By the way, it was a GREAT idea to use a strip of a jute bag that once contained cacao beans as shipping “padding” (it made for some great photos too)! Hope you don’t mind that I enjoy the “weekend” despite what the calendar says.
“Spanish Gaucho” (experimental bar with Mate & Saffron)
What a daring move to create a fusion of Argentina and Spain through the use of two ingredients that are the embodiment of those countries!
The 12-rectangle bar is wrapped in a thin, clear, re-closable plastic pouch & inserted into a faux wood grain paper sleeve that is held closed by a small round sticker with an interlocked square pattern.
While I like the prototypes of the stylish new packaging as seen on Instagram recently, I’ll definitely miss the rustic touch of the handwritten description below the rubber stamped company logo.
Sliding the bar from the outer wrapper, I was immediately surprised by both the bar’s olive green color and the generous sprinkling of saffron threads on the “inclusion” side. My initial guess was that the saffron was only included on the outside (otherwise the bar might have been more yellowish) and that dried yerba mate leaves were ground into a powder before being combined with the cocoa butter to create that unique color. To satisfy my curiosity, I put a call in to Lauren to get more information. Thanks for letting me know that whole mate leaves were added to the grinder to help infuse the white chocolate…I’m surprised that adding some saffron during the melanging phase didn’t affect the green hue.
Once removed from the wrapper, there was no mistaking the sweet herbal/grassy aroma of the mate. This transported me back to childhood summers when my grandparents would visit. The smell of the brewing mate would waft from the kitchen in the morning & I would watch their curious ritual of slowly sipping mate from small hollowed out gourds with metal bombillas (straws) dipped first in sugar to take away some of the bitterness of the tea. The gourd has intricate carvings on all sides.
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and its complex flavor can be difficult to explain. Words like pungent, bitter, funky and medicinal come to mind; though I’ve seen others describe it as reminiscent of plastic and latex. Given that, I was both intrigued and apprehensive about tasting this bar; additionally I tend to stay away from caffeine and mate has moderate levels compared to coffee.
Biting into a rectangle (which had produced a nice snap when segmented from the rest of the bar), the morsel was a little grainy rather than completely smooth.
It tasted very much like it smelled, but was also surprisingly creamy/buttery during the melt. Overall, it was the right amount of sweetness vs. bitterness and the flavors were not as overwhelming as I thought they might be; however both “main” ingredients are considered acquired tastes and probably won’t appeal to most palates.
In the spirit of brainstorming, I wondered if another traditional Spanish spice might be substituted for saffron…so with apologies to Lauren, I paired it with Pimentón de la Vera (a sweet smoked paprika).
Personally, the smoky, sweet chili worked a little better than the bitter saffron…besides smokiness made me think of the parrilladas (barbecues) that the gauchos (Argentinian cowboys) are known for 😉
72% Cacao Fiji
The image on this bar’s wrapper reminds me of high school biology and looking at substances under a high powered microscope…I wonder if this one depicts dissolved salt crystals? One nice feature is the “wrapped up” (date stamp) on the reverse, letting me know the freshness this chocolate.
This would be my first taste of Fiji chocolate, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Removing the bar from the plastic inner wrapper, I noticed the glossy/shiny finish despite some air bubbles and “ghosting” that can occur when removing a tempered bar from its mold. Overall, the surface was a deep, dark brown with reddish flecks at some corners.
Is it a “cop out” to describe the taste and aroma as “chocolatey”?! Upon opening the wrapper, there was an enticing sweet (and chocolatey) aroma. Each bite produced a thick, creamy, velvety mouthfeel while melting the slightly grainy morsel. To me, the flavor was the perfect combination of fruity and nutty, with a lightly astringent, roasted bitter aftertaste.
Must seek out more Fiji chocolate soon 🙂
If you’re headed to the NW Chocolate Makers UnConference or the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle next week, hopefully you’ll have the chance to meet Lauren in person…I know I’m looking forward to it!
For more information, check out: http://wkndchocolate.com/