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/

J is for Jangareddygudem

India as an origin for cacao seems to be having a “moment” as this is the third origin I’ve tasted in as many months. Luckily I noticed that Palo Alto’s The Chocolate Garage stocked all three bars before they were officially released by the maker, Areté Fine Chocolate.

Unlike some of the other places I’ve featured so far, I wasn’t able to find much about the town of Jangareddygudem online. However, Wikipedia revealed that the process of electronic auctioning of tobacco was first introduced in India at the Jangareddygudem Tobacco Board. Does this mean that tobacco is a main source of revenue for this upland agency area?!

Thankfully typing “Jangareddygudem chocolate” into the Google search box yielded more information! From a completely different maker’s website, I discovered that the beans for this bar were grown by a collective of 12 farms in the upper west mountain area within a 20 kilometer radius of the town. As you might imagine, small farms like these aren’t able to sell their products widely, so additional crops need to be grown in order to make ends meet. For example, two of the farms grow their cacao under palm (oil) trees while the rest use coconut trees as the shade crop.

Removing this 70%, 3-ingredient bar from the plastic inner pouch, the aroma reminded me of dried fruit like raisins or prunes.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’m fascinated with the backs of bars. I’ve tweaked the photo below with a “silver tone” filter to showcase what appears to me as an “image within an image.” The larger outline looks like the tilted head and body of a penguin in profile and within that is a bald scrawny buzzard with a rosette boutonnière standing on one leg. Did I mention I have an overactive imagination?! 😲

As usual, the front had a nearly pristine matte finish featuring the company logo of a woman floating in mid-air with an outstretched arm reaching for a star. To me, the “ghosting” circle above her head looks like a full moon.

Surprisingly, this bar had a brittle snap and the breaking point looked a little ashy white at one corner. There were also a few air bubbles visible.

While the chocolate had a velvety smooth and even melt, I struggled to put words to that first taste. The only thing I could come up with was malty or woody. Once my palate became acclimated, I experienced short-lived juicy and tangy/bright red fruit notes that seemed to burst quickly and then disappear like a fleeting breeze. Melting a piece on the tongue was preferable to chewing since that seemed to leave a film on my teeth and some astringency on the finish. Honestly, I’m undecided if I like this flavor profile and it would seem that John Nanci from Chocolate Alchemy also had initial reservations. I found this product description a few days AFTER my own tasting.

It’s evening as I write this post and I’m re-tasting the bar a few morsels at a time. My palate and lips still feel cotton-y dry after the chocolate is gone from my mouth, but now I taste mildly smoky (charcoal), walnut or caramel notes. The evolution of this bar is a prime example of why it’s a good idea to taste chocolate multiple times and at different times of the day to see if the flavors change. If you taste this bar, I’d love to hear YOUR impressions!

For more information about Areté Fine Chocolate’s growing portfolio of chocolate bars, please visit their website: http://www.aretefinechocolate.com/

G is for Guasare

For this round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, my goal is to feature origins from A through Z. In this case, the word “origin” means the place where the cacao was grown, whether that is a specific farm, a city/town/region, or even a country (as a last resort to cover a particular letter). When I selected this 70% Brasstown dark chocolate bar, I assumed that Guasare was an area in Venezuela; I’ve since learned that though there is a Guasare River (Rio Guasare) in the state of Zulia in northern Venezuela (near the border with Colombia), Guasare is really a cacao cultivar (short for “cultivated variety”)! So, rather than find a last minute substitute “G” bar, I’m bending the definition of origin, just this one time.

It used to be thought that there were only 3 varieties of cacao: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario (a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero). Later, Nacional was added to the list. After many years of research and plant DNA mapping, these classifications were expanded in 2008 to encompass 10 major clusters/groups and 22 different species. As you might expect with anything scientific, this is a “work in progress” and will continue to evolve/change as new discoveries are made.

Now for the chocolate itself! As an added (unexpected) bonus, this 3-ingredient bar is vegan in honor of World Vegan Day 2017!

Love the spot gold foil accents on the front of this bar’s packaging, plus that it features the silhouette of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Another prominent design feature is the use of a compass. From the clear round sticker keeping the packaging closed….

…to the image of an antique pocket compass on a map depicting Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland…

…to the tiny compasses that make up the intricate mold pattern.

Despite the fact that Guasare cacao pods contain white to pale pink beans (since this variety is closely related to Criollo and Porcelana), this bar is a rich dark brown color, with a pristine matte finish.

Upon removing the bar from the clear plastic wrapper, the aroma reminded me of honey. There was a high-pitched, hollow snap when segmenting the bar into tasting morsels; some pieces looked close textured (with only a few tiny air bubbles) and others seemed to have hidden nooks and crannies.

While it took a little effort to melt that first piece on my tongue, with a little patience, I was rewarded with a tangy fruit flavor that hit at the back of the throat. I couldn’t place the taste, but referring back to the flavor notes, guava seems like an appropriate description. Chewing a piece, I was surprised by citrusy flavors and an almost juicy sensation. Going back to melting, the mouthfeel was smooth and left a lightly acidic aftertaste (as if I had just swallowed some freshly squeezed lemon juice).

Like the packaging says: “Every bite of Brasstown Chocolate will take you on a unique journey via the taste and your imagination. It might take you overseas or across the mountains or through the farms. To the places new and unknown, yet infused with an occasional splash of a familiar smell or color… taste the place one bite at a time.”

To learn more about Guasare, C-Spot has a short article on their website. Now I’m fascinated to try more chocolate bars made with these beans! If you have any recommendations, please leave me a comment below!

For additional information on this Winston-Salem, NC craft chocolate maker, please visit their website: http://www.brasstownchocolate.com/

D is for Đắk Lắk

A few weekends ago, we took a short trip up to Berkeley, CA to celebrate a family birthday. It wasn’t planned, but we stopped at a “tried and true” shop hoping to source bars for this project. You should have seen me…I was so giddy to have found bars C, D and E all in one fell swoop! I usually travel around with a mini ice cooler and/or ice packs whenever I shop for chocolates; however, temperatures were mild, so I wasn’t too worried about the bars without my usual “equipment.” Rather than leave the bars in the car while we walked back and forth on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, I carried them carefully in an insulated lunch bag. On the flight home, I nestled the bars in my carry-on luggage to keep them safe from harm until I could get them in my wine fridge for storage.

Once I was home, I tried my “C” bar – it was bloomed 🙁 I thought it was a fluke since that was the 2nd to last bar on the store’s shelf. Then, a week later, I opened my “D” bar – it was ALSO bloomed. I mentally blamed the shop for not taking better care of the bars. THEN, I opened a 3rd bar, which was sourced from a different location, but cared for in the same manner as my other bars and discovered…it was bloomed TOO! It suddenly dawned on me that I was to blame for the bars’ condition. Here I thought I had taken every precaution, only to realize that I had inadvertently exposed the bars to temperature fluctuations 🙁 Can you say PANIC?!

I couldn’t, in good conscience, post pictures of the bloomed bar (*) since that wouldn’t be indicative of the maker’s talents. So, I visited at least 4 of my usual local “go to” Greater Los Angeles area shops only to find that their selection of craft chocolates had been decimated. Buyers were either waiting out the last heat waves of the summer and/or weren’t re-stocking their shelves due to slow sales. NOW, what do I do?! Never a dull moment here at Eating the Chocolate Alphabet! :0

<insert drumroll and fanfare here>

Bar & Cocoa to the rescue!!! I ordered a replacement bar on Monday (which was a Post Office holiday) & received the shipment by Thursday. Chris & Pashmina…you are my HEROS! So, that’s the long story behind Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat’s Đak Lak Vietnam bar!

It wasn’t until after I had purchased the chocolate in Berkeley that I discovered that this particular bar was featured on the Slow Melt Makers Series, episode 5. You can hear Sam Maruta (one of the co-owners of Marou) and host, Simran Sethi, tasting this bar right around the 19:20 mark in the podcast. This origin is one of the most recent additions to Marou’s portfolio and the furthest from their Ho Chi Minh City headquarters, in terms of sourcing distance.

Earlier in the podcast, you’ll hear that Đak Lak is located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and shares a western border with Cambodia. Using Wikipedia, I also learned that resistance to French rule was strong in that province and that considerable action was seen during the Vietnam War. Đak Lak, which is mostly mountainous with rich red soil, is known for growing coffee; though rubber, tea and pepper are also major parts of their economy. In fact, the cacao that Marou sources is fruited among the climbing tendrils of Đak Lak’s renowned black pepper vines.

The gorgeous hand silk screened paper has a gold lattice motif with stylized cocoa pods, flowers and clouds.

Depending on where you buy this bar, the packaging will reflect the language of that country (for example: French, Vietnamese or English). This particular bar was imported by A Priori Specialty Foods in Utah, so all the information is listed in English.

The elegance continues with the gold foil wrapped bar, kept closed like a letter, with a scalloped-edge logo sticker (almost like a wax seal).

Unwrapping the chocolate, you can see that the lattice theme is continued on the bar itself. There is a matte (rather than glossy) and slightly scuffed finish, probably due to the long distance that this bar has traveled.

Notice an interesting “swirl” on the back of the bar, near one of the sides.

There wasn’t much of an aroma straight out of the packaging. I detected some lightly earthy or floral notes, but mainly it was classically fudge-like in smell. The bar breaks apart easily with a dry/crumbly snap, sending tiny shard flying every which way. Some pieces look closed textured (not many bubbles) at the break, while others are full of nooks and crannies.

The mouthfeel was smooth and the chocolate was slow to melt on the tongue. There were some nutty + spice aroma notes at the breaking point, as well as those flavors during the melt. A bit crumbly when “chomped,” chewing seemed to bring out a wine-like flavor. It was fascinating to hear Sam Maruta mention that this bar might not be as distinctive as other bars in their portfolio; that it is “too well behaved” / “a bit shy” with subtle flavors. He recommends tasting this bar at warmer temperatures (which would mimic the tropical heat in Vietnam that tends to make the chocolate bendy). My tasting took place in a 71 degree F room, so I experimented with putting the chocolate in the microwave for 10-15 seconds per side. This made the chocolate creamy in terms of mouthfeel + brought out vibrant fruity notes and a long lasting spice note at the back of the throat. I’m not sure that I would recommend this experiment on all chocolates, but it was a revelation in this case.

(*) Remember I mentioned that my first bar was bloomed. Here is a picture of the 2 bars side by side, in case you were curious. On the bloomed bar, I “buffed” the center rectangle with my finger to bring out the more lustrous brown color. What a difference between the 2 bars!

Don’t worry, the bloomed bar will make for delicious drinking chocolate during winter 🙂 No chocolate ever goes to waste in my house!

To learn more about Marou and their various Vietnam origins, please visit their website: http://marouchocolate.com/chocolate-range/single-origin/

B is for Bachelor’s Hall

What’s in a name? If you’re not deterred by some genealogical sleuthing and enjoy immersive hours falling down one “rabbit hole” after another, with each historical source linking to yet another one, you’ll be surprised by what you can discover.

After reading this Pump Street Bakery article describing how the Bachelor’s Hall farm in Jamaica changed hands several times between the 1960s (when the 300+ acre estate belonged to current owner Desmond Jadusingh’s grandfather) until Desmond reclaimed it from government and private ownership in 2002, I wanted to learn more about its history.

Through the University College London (UCL) Legacies of British Slave-ownership webpages, the earliest instance I could find was from 1763, when this was a sugar estate with a cattle mill. Not surprisingly (since the records were transcribed from handwritten ledgers), the name has not been consistent from one source to another: Batchellors Hall Penn; Batchelors Hall Pen; Batchelors Hall; Bachelors Hall; Bachelor’s Hall. I wish I could have delved deeper into the etymology of the farm’s unusual name. Sadly, the UCL archives only traced the owners of this property through 1839, so I wasn’t able to determine when or how Desmond’s grandfather acquired it.

Equally fascinating was reading about Desmond’s struggles after a tropical hurricane in 2004 devastated infrastructure and damaged the plantation. Financially unable to rebuild after years of receiving less-than-market-value for his wet cacao beans, which were sold by the bucket to the Jamaican Cocoa Board and then taken, along with the beans of other Jamaican farmers, to a centralized location for fermentation and drying, he received some welcome assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). After their training and funding for equipment, Desmond was able to take control of the fermentation, drying and selling of his beans such that he is the only direct trade supplier / farm-traceable cocoa exporter in Jamaica. Both quality and consistency improved due to quicker post-harvest handling, additionally his chemical-free farming creates a healthier ecosystem. He is quoted as saying that the fermentation method initially was “40% textbook, 40% experimentation and 20% sheer luck.”

Bachelor’s Hall, which is situated between the John Crow Mountains on the Northeast coast and the Blue Mountains of St. Thomas Parish on the Southeast end of Jamaica, has fertile terroir and rich soil due to natural springs and small rivers running through the property. The Jamaican government introduced Trinitario beans in the 1980s to the already present Criollo and Forastero varieties that were brought to Jamaica in the 1800s from Trinidad. Those Trinitario beans are what SOMA Chocolatemaker used for this particular award-winning, three-ingredient, 70% dark chocolate bar.

As always, I was mesmerized by the impeccable glossy finish and the intricate details of the mold. Can you spot the bird wearing high top sneakers and the distinctive Canadian maple leaf?

Removing the frame-worthy, thin, rectangular bar from the re-sealable plastic wrapper, there was an enticing fruity aroma. Due to the warm California weather, I encountered a soft to medium snap when segmenting tasting morsels instead of the sharp snap that would be possible in cooler conditions.

Pieces melt slowly on your tongue with a smooth and lightly creamy mouthfeel. The flavor started out like an herbal tea and then it evolved to an almost juicy sensation (like biting into an apple). To me, the tart, raspberry notes were muted rather than vibrant, though there was a lingering finish at the back of the throat long after the chocolate was gone from my mouth.

Earlier this year, SOMA Chocolatemaker owners, Cynthia Leung and David Castellan, visited Desmond and Bachelor’s Hall for the first time & recounted their experience on their blog. Toward the end of the post, I was surprised to learn that Desmond also grows coconut trees alongside the cacao, which is apparently uncommon, but his cacao trees seem to love it. This provides a secondary income as well as a natural beverage for his jungle workers. Hopefully one day, when Desmond sets up to create his own bars on-site, he’ll consider adding some coconut to his chocolate – I can already imagine the taste! ?

For more information on Toronto-based SOMA Chocolatemaker, please visit their site: https://www.somachocolate.com/

In parting, we should all live by these words of Desmond Jadusingh:

I cannot really own this farm. I think it’s in my trust, and my duty is to leave it better than I came and saw it. I want to ensure the land I hand down is not worse but better, and I think that once I have done that I have done my duty.”

Bonus Z – Zereshk

Where do I even begin to tell this story? Another round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is coming to an end, so I have mixed feelings. I’m super proud that I was able to accomplish my mission of finding a unique inclusion ingredient for each letter of the alphabet, but it’s safe to say that this “challenge” has added some grey hairs to both my head and my boyfriend’s head! ?

Remember all of his advance planning and preparation for the “X” bar?! Well, he STILL wanted to try tempering chocolate with his sous vide machine, so unbeknownst to me, he researched Z ingredients and discovered zereshk (the Persian word for barberries)! The perfect tie-in to celebrate World Chocolate Day today!

The tiny, plump, moist, jewel-like reddish-brown berries look like a cross between a dried currant and a seedless pomegranate aril.

For scale, I’ve “posed” some zereshk berries next to a U.S. penny!

These berries are a great source of vitamin C and boy are they TART! Imagine mouth-puckering tart when eaten out of hand. According to Wikipedia, Iran is the top producer of zereshk in the world. Next time I visit a Persian restaurant, you can be sure that I’ll be ordering the zereshk polo (a rice dish where the chicken has been cooked in barberry juice) to taste these berries in a different form!

Anyway, back to the story…

The step-by-step instructions and explanation of the chocolate tempering process in “layman’s terms” from this Serious Eats article by J. Kenji López-Alt, led us to believe that tempering with a sous vide circulator would be relatively easy and painless…ooh, famous last words!

A couple of weeks ago, we had some time on the weekend and tested out the process following the instructions carefully. Perhaps we (and by “we” I mean “I”) were a little over-confident. We piped the melted chocolate into the mold, placed the mold in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then unmolded it only to discover that the chocolate WAS NOT TEMPERED ?After a little research online, we discovered that the temperature ranges quoted in the article did NOT match the melting/crystallization/working information for this particular Valhrona product. WAAH! At least we didn’t waste any of the inclusion ingredients and still had plenty of chocolate for further testing. I have no photographic evidence of this chocolate failure…my ego was too “wounded”!

As “Z” week loomed, one evening during the 4th of July long weekend, we decided to employ our “lessons learned” (I have a page worth of notes and ideas of what we could do differently) from the first attempt and give tempering another shot.

So, we measured out 3 ounces of feves from the Valhrona Guanaja 70% bag that was purchased from Caputo’s in Salt Lake City, UT.

Used a vacuum sealer to remove all the air from the baggie.

Waited for the water to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit and dropped the baggie into the pot.

The chocolate melted fairly quickly.

Then we added lots of ice to the pot to bring the temperature down to about 81-82 degrees Fahrenheit. We allowed the chocolate to enjoy its “bubble bath” at this temperature for a while and massaged the baggie at regular intervals to promote crystal formation (this is a step we neglected to perform the first time around). After about 10 minutes, we raised the temperature up to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, still massaging the baggie at regular intervals. We thoroughly wiped down the baggie to ensure that NO water droplets were clinging to the folds. Cutting a small corner from the baggie, we piped some melted chocolate onto the back of a spoon as well as a piece of parchment paper. The spoon went into the fridge for about 3 minutes and the parchment paper remained at room temperature. When we touched the shiny chocolate with a fingertip, the chocolate ended up there, indicating that our tempering was not successful. We re-sealed the baggie and repeated the process at least 3 more times, varying the temperatures a degree or two in either direction, but still NO luck!

Have I mentioned that I have no patience, but my engineer boyfriend is tenacious and enjoys problem-solving?! So, as a last ditch effort (I was ready to quit at this point), he decided to use the “seeding method” (meaning that we took some small pieces of well-tempered chocolate and added it to the melted chocolate). Minutes’ worth of massaging and checking the temperature with an infra-red thermometer, we decided to test it one last time with the spoon and parchment paper sampling method. These were the slowest three minutes of my life…but in the end, SUCCESS!! We had tempered chocolate!

Now to pipe it into the waiting mold and add the zereshk. I have a new respect for those chocolate makers and chocolatiers who make inclusion bars look so photogenic. I tried my best, but still ended up with clumps in certain places 🙁

The mold was placed carefully onto a level shelf in the refrigerator and again we waited; this time for 10 minutes! An eternity, I tell you! TA DA…shiny chocolate with some ghosting and a few cosmetic blemishes due to imperfections in the polycarbonate mold! But no air bubbles…yippee!

The “back” on the other hand is full of lacy squiggles around the berries. I’m a chocolate blogger, not a chocolatier, remember 😉 Or maybe, that gives the bar “character”…yeah, I think I’ll stick with that theory!

We’re calling this bar Zereshk’ed Development (sorry, the “Arrested Development” play on words sounded better in my head!)

Since we had a second bag of chocolate (my BF meant to buy a different type and ended up getting the same Valhrona, though I suspect it comes from a different batch), we decided to make another bar. I’d like to say that we were vastly more successful now that we had some experience under our belts, but really the only way we were able to get tempered chocolate was by using the seeding method…AGAIN!

We are calling this bar “Zereshk Make a Deal” (since I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of adding salt as an inclusion & settled on hickory wood smoked sea salt as an acceptable option). After tasting our creation, I think the smoky flavor notes even out the harsh tartness of the berries.

For whatever reason, this one exhibited much more “ghosting” after unmolding the bar. We probably could have left it in the fridge for a little longer. Did I mention that I’m impatient?!

And though it’s hard to tell from the photo, we channeled our inner Zorro and piped the chocolate into the mold with various stylized Zs to see how it would turn out under the inclusions.

Now for the tasting notes for the “Zereshk Make a Deal” bar. There was a super sharp snap while segmenting tasting morsels. Personally, I think that the bar was a little too thick.

During the creamy, slow/even melt, there were bursts of smoky salt punctuated by chewy berries. Maybe it’s just me; but, the chocolate itself didn’t have any distinguishing flavor notes. I much preferred to “chomp” the chocolate so that the salt and berries mingled together to bring out salty, sweet, tangy and almost juicy sensations.

The “Zereshk’ed Development” bar was a bit plain in comparison. This one also had a sharp snap, but I noticed that more tiny flecks of chocolate went flying while segmenting this bar. This base chocolate had a nutty and caramel-like taste. Biting into the zereshk berries during the slow, even melt reminded me of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Of the two bars, I think I prefer the salty one.

Overall, this was an exciting way to end this round of the alphabet. From here on, I’ll leave chocolate making to the professionals! I’ll be taking a short break during the summer months (it’s HOT HOT HOT here in Southern California…predicted to be 100-101 degrees this weekend). Don’t worry, I’ll still post about chocolates here & on my Instagram feed in the meantime, but just not in alphabetical order.

Current plan for “Round 3” is ORIGINS (countries, estates, farms, etc.) Think Algeria to Zimbabwe. Please leave a comment or send me an email with any suggestions!

HAPPY WORLD CHOCOLATE DAY, hope it’s a delicious one!

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!

50 States Collaboration – Nebraska / Sweet Minou

Last week I was awaiting a delivery from Sweet Minou, Nebraska’s only bean-to-bar chocolate company; so, when a box sporting several Cultiva Coffee Roasting labels arrived, I was a little confused. However, after discovering this informative article from 2015, all the puzzle pieces have fallen into place and things make much more sense to me now! Turns out that when the Cultiva owners opened a new location (called Cultiva Labs), they carved out some space for bean-to-bar chocolate production!

A big thank you to Rebecca Ankenbrand, Sweet Minou’s chocolate maker, for generously sending me an assortment of chocolate bars (and a couple of other goodies you’ll hear about later) for “research purposes” after I contacted her about this “50 states” collaboration project!

Rebecca mentioned to me that Sweet Minou recently rebranded their logo + packaging, so I feel privileged to be among the first to see this round of the artwork and screen printed thick paper wrappers. As you’ll see below, each bar’s sleeve + the informational sticker keeping the fold closed has a different color that seems to tie into a flavor component of the bar. Additionally, the company logo (a cat’s face) is printed in a similar or complementing color. When I first saw the Sweet Minou logo, I assumed that the name was chosen to honor a beloved pet. Maybe my guess wasn’t too far off, since “minou” is the French word for “kitty” and the company name was inspired by Rebecca’s years in France where she taught English and enjoyed tasting many gourmet chocolates.

First up is Bolivia Alto Beni (70% dark chocolate)

This small bar (0.8 ounces) is made from only three ingredients: organic cacao, sugar and cocoa butter. Just removing the 5-rectangle bar from the wax-lined silver foil inner wrapper released a lovely malty and roasted/coffee aroma. While the “top” surface was marred by some air bubbles, chocolate dust and a little scuffing, the vertical and horizontal lines from the mold were crisp and well defined.

Breaking off a tasting morsel, there was a sharp snap and an earthy aroma where the rectangle had been separated from the rest of the bar. During the slow, even melt I tasted light citrus/fruity notes, while “chomping” brought out more vibrant and tangy red fruit notes. Bolivia is my current favorite country of origin and this bar was a fine example, though less earthy in flavor than others I’ve tried.

Next is the Signature Blend + Walnut (70% dark chocolate)

The foil wrapper was bulging out from the paper sleeve, barely able to contain the plentiful inclusions.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the #chocolatetopography comprised of different sized walnut pieces dotted with glistening chunks of amber-colored caramelized sugar that crunched like toffee.

Thankfully most of the inclusions remained intact when turning over the bar to discover that a different mold was used for this larger (1.35 ounce) bar. Despite slight cosmetic imperfections (some ghosting and air bubbles), the “top” surface was mostly glossy and shiny.

Though it was a little difficult to isolate the chocolate from the featured inclusion ingredients, the signature blend was smooth, creamy, not-too-sweet and seemed to have a tang that reminded me of tart cranberries. Don’t judge me too harshly, but there is only a bite or two left of this bar…really, I don’t know what happened! 😉 It was one of those cases where you take a bite, try to pinpoint what you were tasting and then need to repeat the process multiple times since the flavor was a little elusive.

Last of the bars is the Signature Blend + Pistachio (70% dark chocolate)

The colorful purple rose petals and contrasting distinctive green and brown pistachios were sprinkled over the center of the bar. Taking a closer look, the chocolate seemed to change color at the edges of the inclusion ingredients, I suspect this was the oil leeching from the nuts rather than dissolving/deliquescing salt.

Regardless, it was easier to isolate the creamy, smooth chocolate and this time the signature blend was still fruity, but less tangy than the previous bar. To me, the salty nuts added more than the papery rose petals; though when the petals were tasted alone, they were flavorful and aromatic.

But wait…there’s more!!

As an unexpected treat, I also received Mango & Vanilla Bean Cups decorated with a dash of ground turmeric and a few large salt crystals.

My only complaint is that I was unable to remove the dense cup out of the brown paper liner unless I cut the chocolate in half first. The flavorful, creamy, smooth, tropical mango purée flecked with tiny vanilla bean seeds contrasted with the medium-thick chocolate shell (which I assume was made from the same 70% cacao signature blend as the inclusion bars).

Last, but not least, some dark chocolate dipped Chili Mango slices which won Best Dessert Curry at the Lincoln, Nebraska Asian Community & Cultural Center Curry Clash fundraiser event.

The baggie arrived with 4 pieces, but one of them disappeared before the photo session! 😉 There is just the right amount of chocolate to enhance the moist and chewy dried fruit – salty, sweet, savory & lightly spicy. This finger food snack has it all…no wonder it was an award winner!

While Sweet Minou is just starting out, in the two years that Rebecca has been in business, it’s clear that she has a passion for experimenting with different flavor combinations and different bean-to-bar origins. What a thrill to learn that she will be traveling to Haiti later this week for cacao sourcing! I’m grateful that I was able to try so many of her creations & look forward to staying in touch to discover what is next on the horizon!

To learn more and order goodies for yourself, please go to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sweet.minou.chocolate/

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

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

50 States Collaboration – Illinois / Ethereal Confections

This chocolate adventure has been an eye-opening experience in so many ways! Over the past year, it’s been my privilege to taste an eclectic variety of chocolates, expand my knowledge of ingredients/processes/places and “meet” people connected to the chocolate industry/community. One of the things that I most enjoy is seeing how brands change and evolve over time. Such is the case with Ethereal.

Ethereal Confections opened in 2011 by co-owners, Mary Ervin (formerly a graphic designer) and Sara Miller (formerly an interior designer) who met through Mary’s brother, Michael Ervin. When I tried one of their bars last year, the packaging left me wondering if they were still using other people’s chocolate. However, after recently receiving some sample bars from Michael Ervin (who is married to Sara), it’s now very clear that the focus of these two very creative and talented women is producing craft chocolate from the bean. By the way, they have been bean-to-bar since 2013 when they moved from a tiny shop to their current location in the Historic Woodstock Square area of Illinois, ~60 miles north of Chicago.

**While I received the following three bars free of charge, I did not receive any compensation for reviewing their products. The opinions are my own.**

Instead of a cardboard outer sleeve, the bars are now wrapped with thick, textured paper adorned with artwork that remind me of watercolor prints. On the front is a white rectangular informational sticker which peels away easily, such that I will probably re-purpose the colorful wrappers once the chocolate is gone. The folds are kept closed with a thin strip of double sided tape which makes it easy to open and re-close the packaging (another improvement from last year!) The single origin bar weighs in at 2.25 ounces, while the “chubbier” inclusion bars are 2.5 ounces each.

Single Origin – Haiti (70%)

Removing this three-ingredient bar from the light blue foil inner wrapper, I was surprised to see yet another change from last year: an intricate mold with the company logo prominently featured in the center, despite some chocolate dust and air bubbles marring the overall finish.

There was a roasted aroma and a sharp snap, which revealed more air bubbles at the “breaking point.” Rather than a completely smooth texture, the mouthfeel reminded me of melting grainy brown sugar.

Initially, I experienced a sweet, dried fruit flavor (like raisins) which then transitioned to an earthy and lightly astringent finish with a long-lasting, back-of-the-throat, tart taste.

66% Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Almonds, Cocoa Nibs & Sea Salt

The light blue inner foil wrapper could hardly contain this bar’s generous amount of inclusions! Nearly every surface of the back of the bar was covered with crunchy roasted nibs, caramelized almond chunks and enhanced with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Gently turning the bar over to segment into tasting morsels, a few of the inclusions came loose, but the majority remained intact. Again, there were some air bubbles marring the “top” surface, though there were far fewer air bubbles in the chocolate itself.

While it was difficult to isolate the creamy chocolate from the rest of the ingredients, the overall flavor was citrusy, leading me to wonder if Dominican Republic cacao (or a blend) was used.

66% Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Pecans, Smoked Sea Salt & Scorpion Pepper

In 2012, New Mexico State University identified “Scorpion Chili” as the hottest pepper in the world with a heat of 1.2 million Scoville heat units (it’s now considered the second hottest behind the “Carolina Reaper” which, according to some sources, has 2.2 million SHUs!) For comparison purposes: ghost chili is rated at 1 million SHUs, habaneros has between 100,000-350,000 SHUs & jalapeños have a mere 2,500-10,000 SHUs!

I’ve been both curious and apprehensive about trying this bar since I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy foods. Well, let me tell you, this bar is NOT for the faint of heart since the scorpion bourbon spice blend packs a punch! Popping a few errant “crumbs” of chocolate from the dark green foil into my mouth and (wow!) my lips + tongue were already starting to get numb from the building heat! Being daring, I followed that by “chomping” on a small chunk – now the back of my throat and even ears were feeling the burn. I decided to melt a piece on my tongue to try to isolate the chocolate by itself, I was unsuccessful; but at least the sweet, sugar-coated pecans seemed to tone down the intensity just a tiny a bit.

Next time I’m fighting a cold, this will be my remedy! Thankfully the immediate burst of heat slowly faded to a warm (yet long lasting) tingle at the tip of my tongue and back of my throat. A little goes a long way & I can see adding bits of this bar to a plain vanilla ice cream or a sipping hot chocolate for a kick. I’ve been known to test out chocolate on unsuspecting friends; this time I’ll be sure to give an upfront warning :-0

While researching Ethereal a little more today, I was intrigued to discover that 5-10% of their business over the past few years has come from a growing popular niche market: craft breweries. Here is a link to a 2016 article with more details.

Additionally, it seems that their cafe has something to appeal to everyone. Want tea or coffee beverages? – They’ve got that. How about drinking chocolate? – Yep, that’s covered too! There is even an extensive list of craft cocktails!?! What really had me salivating while reading their menu was the extensive list of chocolate pairings and tasting “flights” that they can provide. Imagine the seemingly endless possibilities sampling from among their more than 20 truffles + wine, beer, cider, whiskey or other spirits. If I lived even remotely close, they might as well forward my mail there, because it would be my 2nd home (or I’d beg them to adopt me as part of the family!) 😉

To check out Ethereal’s extensive product line for yourself, go to: http://www.etherealconfections.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 Illinois:

Noir d’Ebene Chocolat et Patisserie

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Illinois 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 – Delaware / Double Spiral Chocolate

Back in November 2016, I attended the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA. While waiting for one of the Saturday educational workshops to begin, I casually chatted with another attendee who just happened to bring samples of chocolate he had recently made and was eager to get feedback from fellow chocophiles. Fast forward 5 months later…imagine my surprise as I was doing online research on the first and only bean-to-bar maker within the state of Delaware, to recognize the face of that same man looking back at me from the “About Us” page on Double Spiral Chocolate’s website! A big thank you to Stuart and Mhairi Craig (co-owners of Double Spiral Chocolate) for sending me samples of three of their bars after returning from one of their origin trips!

At first glance, the light brown outer packaging appeared very plain to me and I assumed that it was just paper made from post-consumer recycled materials. However, in keeping with Double Spiral’s goal to make a global impact not only with their chocolate making process, but also with other aspects of their business as well, the wrapper is actually tree free, carbon neutral, unbleached, biodegradable and compostable paper made from bagasse which is the fibrous matter that is left over after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juices. Almost all of the text is printed in black ink, with some spot color (blue on the back for the batch number and orange on the front when there was a 3rd ingredient used for flavoring). Though it doesn’t say so, I’m sure that they are using vegetable based-ink for the printing.

Removing the glossy one ounce bars (which they believe is an ideal daily serving of chocolate) from the wax-lined silver foil wrappers, the first thing I saw was the custom double spiral logo facing me. The back of the outer sleeve wrapper explains the reason why this symbol was used.

The first two bars that I tasted were made with just two ingredients: cacao beans and unrefined cane sugar (also called rapadura, panela or jaggery, among many other names). Since Double Spiral strives to use as few ingredients as possible and ones that are minimally processed, they sweeten their chocolate with raw sugar that is made by evaporating water from sugarcane juice (in contrast, white sugar has a centrifuge step that strips away the naturally brown color and the nutrient rich molasses).

First up: Tanzania 75% (Kokoa Kamili)

This bar exhibited the most amount of “scuffing” as well as some chocolate “dust,” though it was the only one that appeared to be free from any surface air bubbles.

Try as I might, I was unable to do justice when photographing the bars side-by-side. You’ll just have to take my word that this bar was slightly more reddish brown in color when compared with the other two bars. Upon opening the wrapper, I encountered a fruity aroma and a semi-crisp snap when segmenting pieces from the small bar. The not-too-sweet fruity flavor was muted while melting a piece in my mouth + the mouthfeel during the melt seemed a little dry and grainy. However, when chomping on a tasting morsel, there was an immediate vibrant tart/tangy, almost juicy, raspberry flavor explosion that hit my tongue and a lingering finish at the back of the throat.

Next up: Haiti 75% (Pisa)

The appearance of this bar was marred by some “ghosting” and tiny air bubbles. Simply unwrapping the bar produced an earthy aroma. There was a crisp, dry snap and a nutty scent at the “break point.” Surprisingly, the nutty (almost chalky) flavor hits at the back of the throat rather than the tongue or palate. I struggled to put a name to the specific nut until reading the tasting notes: brazil nut. This was my “ah ha” moment!

Last, but not least: Haiti 75% (Pisa) with Freeze Dried Ginger

The two Haiti bars are nearly identical in color when compared side-by-side. The unflavored Haiti is shown at the top and the ginger Haiti is at the bottom of this photo.

Again, the bar’s finish was also affected by some “ghosting,” “scuffing” as well as some tiny air bubbles. Straight out of the packaging there was a muted ginger aroma, which became much more prominent once the bar was broken into pieces. For me, the ginger flavor hit the roof of my mouth/palate first and then there was the spicy “zing” lightly burning the back of my throat.

Maybe it’s me, but it almost looks like this bar is more “close-textured” (to borrow from baking terminology) since I didn’t notice any air bubbles within the tasting morsel like the other two.

Of the three that I tasted, the ginger was my favorite, with the Tanzania coming in as a close second! If you’ve had the chance to taste these bars too, please let me know your thoughts!

To read more about Double Spiral’s chocolate making philosophy and process or to order bars for yourself, please visit their website: http://doublespiralchocolate.com/

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

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