Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Selmi Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Making Equipment at Tomric Systems in Buffalo

Last week I enjoyed the most amazing chocolate maker's experience: I visited Tomric Systems in Buffalo, New York. Tomric is North America's only distributor of the Italian brand Selmi, which is a line-up of equipment for bean-to-bar chocolate-making.

 
As my business grows, I have been looking at the next steps in chocolate making, and I spent the day working with the Selmi equipment to see just how good it is at stepping up production capacity, while keeping in line with craft chocolate making.  Every piece of equipment worked perfectly together to achieve that goal, from roasting, to cracking and winnowing the cocoa beans, to pre-grinding. After grinding the beans, the Selmi ball mill refines the chocolate until it is smooth in less than 2 hours, then the conching begins - either with the continuous tempering machine or a separate conche, which Selmi has developed and is soon on its way to Tomric. At the end of it all, tempering and moulding chocolate bars is fantastically easy with the continuous tempering machine, enabling moulding between 60 and 120 bars per hour by hand.
 
The Selmi Roaster with  5kg of cocoa beans ready to roast.

The Selmi roaster roasts 6 kilos of chocolate at a time, with the ability to set your personal settings for each type of bean you work with: a light roast for that full-flavoured coveted bean and a dark roast for that bean that needs a fuller roast profile.


 
 
The Selmi Winnower.
 The Selmi winnower both cracks the beans and separates the husks from the bean pieces (nibs). It processes about 6 kilos in 10-15 minutes, quickly and efficiently. You can adjust the size of the pieces depending on the origin of the cocoa beans, since not all beans are the same. We needed to adjust the winnower one way for my Honduras beans and another quick adjustment worked great on my Mexico beans (which have stickier, heavier shells).
 
This is me. Watching the cocoa-grinding action.
 
The Selmi Grinder quickly pulverizes the cocoa nibs to a rough (gritty but wet) chocolate liquor. This liquor is then moved to the ball refiner where sugar and cocoa butter are added to make a dark chocolate, and milk and other ingredients like sunflower lecithin (if using) are added to make milk chocolate.

The Selmi Micron Ball Refiner uses small stainless steel balls to pulverize the chocolate.
A ball refiner does the same work as a stone grinder, only in less time. Although it does not aerate the chocolate the way a stone refiner does, the chocolate is then moved to the tempering machine or a conche to aerate and agitate it to remove any unwanted flavours.



The Selmi Ball Refiner (also called Ball Mill).


The chocolate then drains out of a spout from the ball refiner and goes immediately into the Selmi Virbo, which vibrates the chocolate through a sifter to remove the hard cocoa bean germ (it is like a little hard stem inside one end of the cocoa bean) and any husks that were remaining in the chocolate. This adds a consistent mouthfeel to the chocolate. It is surprising at how much grit the Vibro removes from the chocolate at this stage.
 
The Selmi Micron Ball Refiner drains from a spout into the Semi Vibro.
 
The Vibro collects and sifts any cocoa bean germ and
other gritty bits that might still be in the chocolate.
The Selmi Continuous Tempering Machine
The chocolate then moves to a Conche or to the Continuous tempering machine for overnight conching or immediate tempering (if you've chosen not to conche). Tempering is the most important part of the chocolate making process - without it the chocolate would not only be dull looking, but also streaked with white lines of cocoa butter and sugar bloom, and it would not hold together well. The continuous tempering machine does the work of hours and hours of hand-stirring, tempering over marble or ice. The tanks at Tomric fit 20kg, but Selmi makes machines that also fit 60kg.

Moulding chocolate bars is an easy task with this piece of equipment, and in order to do large quantities of chocolate bars, it is a must-have.  It not only can melt the chocolate, but then temper it, and keep it in a steady temper (if you treat the machine well). By hand and bowl method, with all the melting and tempering, I can currently mould 40 chocolate bars over the course of a morning. With a Selmi, I could more than quadruple that number in the same time-frame. Potentially I can mould over 800 chocolate bars a day.

Overall, this experience at Tomric Systems in Buffalo was amazing. I could truly see and compare where I am today, and where I can potentially get to with a line--up of great equipment with the Selmi brand. Also, Tomric provides all the support and services a chocolate maker needs to use any piece of equipment, whether they buy the whole line-up or just a piece at a time as they grow.

If you are looking to step up your bean-to-bar chocolate production, check out Tomric Systems and the Selmi line-up of equipment at: http://tomric.com/bean-to-bar/. They also have the moulds you need to make chocolate bars and every other kind of chocolate you could imagine. Follow them on Social Media (@TomricSystems) for more information on what they supply.


Chocolate in Buffalo
 
Also, Buffalo was a great city to visit. It had wonderful restaurants, and a variety of foods from around the world. And it also had The Chocolate Bar, which was a fun place to go for music, chocolate, dessert and wine. I enjoyed a chocolate mousse cake that was also part-crème-brulee, with the sugar topping fired up at my table.



The Chocolate Bar offered a wine flight with squares of dark chocolate.

The Chocolate Bar's chocolate mousse cake, with a Crème Brulee centre.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

No Cane Sugar Chocolate Treats by Heavenly Organics; Taste the Sweet Honey in 100% Dark Chocolate

Are you in love with the taste of honey? Have you excluded cane sugar from your diet? If you said 'yes!' to both of those questions, then I have found the perfect chocolate treat for you.  I was shopping at The Island Jar, a local favourite health food store here on Manitoulin Island, and noticed some new little packaged treats: Heavenly Organics chocolate honey patties. They came in three flavours: Double Dark, Ginger chocolate honey pattie, and Peanut (ahem, it's peanut butter flavour even if the package does not describe it that way).



And if you have been reading my blog regularly, you'll know that in the winter months, I try out all sorts of unsweetened, 100% and cane-sugar-free chocolate to tell you about here. Since it is still winter here on Manitoulin Island, with a wake-up call of -14ºC this morning, then I can still tell you about these fantastic no-sugar chocolate finds.

The Double Dark is my favourite, with just two ingredients: 100% dark chocolate and raw white honey. It has a mildly sweet centre of creamy (although not liquidy, more like a ganache texture) honey which is dipped in a very thin coating of 100% dark chocolate. Normally 100% dark chocolate can be off-putting, and nearly too bitter to palate for most people, but in this case, the honey and bitter chocolate combine in your mouth for the perfect combination. Only the after taste leaves a little bitterness, mixed with honey. It really is a perfect combination for a dark chocolate lover like myself, and for anyone who is trying to stay away from cane sugar, or overindulging in sweet treats. Even my six-year old son loves them, and hasn't seemed to notice they are made with unsweetened chocolate (although he likes dark chocolate, up to about 85% dark, so this wasn't surprising).



The peanut pattie was less sweet than the Double Dark, but if you eat natural peanut butter, this will be like breakfast for you. The peanuts and honey were mixed together with a touch of Himalayan sea salt for the pattie in the centre, and again this pattie was enrobed in 100% dark chocolate. I see this as more of a low-carb (no-grain) snack and afternoon healthy pick-me-up.  This one won't appeal to a child, since it lacks both the creaminess and sweetness of the Double Dark treat, but it may satisfy your mid-day craving for protein and dark chocolate. It tastes great with a coffee.

 
The Ginger chocolate honey pattie was not my favourite at first, but it has really grown on me over time. The ginger taste is not over-powering, mild in fact, but the flavour is there. The honey centre is creamy and the after taste of 100% dark chocolate is very nice. I recommend trying this one too.



The brand, Heavenly Organics, can be found online at: https://heavenlyorganics.com/, where you can learn all about the company founder, Amit Houda.  The patties are available in Canada on Well.ca in three-packs for only $2.49 Canadian, or in larger bags of about 12 for $8.99. They are made from certified organic honey and organic chocolate, fair trade certified and gluten free. Also, you will find only 50-60 calories per pattie, so you can indulge guilt free.

You can purchase cases of the larger bags or individually wrapped patties on the Heavenly Organics page on Amazon.ca. And for more information or wholesale information, you can contact Fairfield Organics, LLC from Keota, Iowa at INFO@HEAVENLYORGANICS.COM.

And if you are reading this from Manitoulin Island, you can find these treats at The Island Jar at 15 Water Street in Little Current, Ontario.

Happy Healthy Chocolate Tr-eating!


***
I have not been paid or compensated (or even provided with information from any company) to write this blog post. These are my own opinions and I liked this product so much that I did my own research.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The #1 Reason to Visit Almonte, Ontario

My family visited the Hummingbird Chocolate Factory in Almonte, Ontario a few weeks ago. We were on our way to Ottawa for a few days, and I'd been wanting to get to Hummingbird since they started making chocolate several years back. Their Dominican Republic origin chocolate bar - the 'Hispaniola' bar - made with the coveted 'La Red' cocoa bean, was (and still is) a favourite of mine back when I wrote about it in 2012, and since then, it has won several awards, including the Golden Bean Award from the Academy of Chocolate.



The little company began with chocolate-making couple Erica and Drew and has grown into a full, yet still quaint-sized factory in Almonte with over 10 people working there. The cute little store-front rests in the newest shopping and entertainment district of Almonte, tucked in close to a fabulous craft brewery and an amazing coffee roaster & its eat-in café. So for my family, we were able to enjoy a Saturday morning full of food and drink, starting with Hummingbird's factory tour and chocolate-tasting in the store front, then a quick pick-up of Crooked Mile craft beer, and a rather enjoyable lunch at Equator Coffee Roasters.

Hummingbird's quaint storefront offers not only their chocolate bars,
but gift packages, confections and seasonal treats.


During the tour, we learned that Erica and Drew have maintained the 'craft' part of chocolate making, by using a hands-on and hand-made approach. There are no wrapping machines, moulding machines or even new-age stainless steel winnowers on site. Nope, the original winnower which removes the husks from cocoa beans, is still standing in the factory and used regularly. Drew built it in the company's humble beginnings, with a few shop vacs, wood and some Plexiglas. I have a smaller version of this for my little workshop, so it was nice to see a chocolate maker who has built up a successful Canadian brand still using a homemade classic. And along with that, a team of people were buzzing around the space, doing the bar moulding, wrapping, and all the other work that comes with craft chocolate making.


This little tour was not about tasting chocolate (you can do that in the storefront), it was more about learning where the chocolate comes from, how it is made and the process Hummingbird goes through to make their craft chocolate. It only cost $5 per person and was fairly short and sweet (just long enough to get all the information, and just short enough so the children didn't lose interest and start some chaos in the factory).  The kids had fun putting on hair nets and seeing their parents in the same silly get-up. And for my kids, who have watched chocolate making on a small scale, they were excited about the size of the equipment, the fact that the winnower looked like a giant version of the one their grandpa built, and the sheer volume of cocoa beans that were piled up in bags in one corner. They were also excited to taste cocoa beans.



As for the goodies that we purchased in the store, there were some old favourites, like the 70% Hispaniola bar and its darker 85% version, and my new favourite, the Cap-Haitien, made from very fruity cocoa beans from Haiti. The Honduras 'Copan' bar is also a relatively new addition to Hummingbird's line, made from caramelly-flavourful cocoa beans that I am very familiar with, since I also make a few different chocolate bars from those beans.



Hummingbird also recently introduced a 60% dark-milk chocolate to the mix, which made my milk-chocolate-loving daughter very happy.




All in all, it was wonderful to see how Erica and Drew have grown their business over the last six years, from those first bars they sent me back in 2012, to the award-winning range of chocolate they now have available in FarmBoy stores across the Ottawa region, and many other retail locations worldwide.


Aging chocolate on the shelves inside Hummingbird's chocolate factory.
Chocolate moulds awaiting washing at Hummingbird Chocolate factory.


If you would like to see the factory, check Hummingbird's website at www.hummingbirdchocolate.com to book your tickets and a time, as well as find out where you can buy their delicious chocolate.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fresco 100% Dark Chocolate Line-Up: An Eye-Opening Cacao Experience

Although many of us have already abandoned our New Year's resolutions and are regularly skipping the gym in February, one thing we can try to maintain (because it takes no extra time), is to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets. Especially after a sweet Valentine's Day, it is a good time to adjust our palettes and get used to bitter flavours, and even start to like them.

So as I mentioned in one of my last posts, I like to push myself to taste only extra bitter, and completely unsweetened chocolate in the winter months. The newest line-up, which I was excited to see at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, was a full range of 100% bars by Fresco Chocolate.  Most chocolate makers just make one 100% dark bar, but Fresco had at least three, if not more, at their booth at the festival. And knowing that Fresco always offers me an interesting taste experience, along with great learning experiences because they print the length that the chocolate was 'conched' (aerated and heated and cooled to reduce volatile flavours), as well as the roast length on the package, I bought them all. 



I was not disappointed. All three bars offered a taste experience like no other for 100% dark chocolates. A long conche was applied to each chocolate, reducing acidity levels and volatile flavours, making the chocolate more palatable than baking chocolate and many other unsweetened chocolates that I have tasted over the years. My favourite was certainly the Guatemala, because I think it made 100% dark chocolate palatable for any taster. The most potent of the three was the Maranon, because of all that wonderful acidity that makes a 70% Maranon so interesting and tasty, but very intense when no sugar is included.

Below is a quick description of my tasting notes on each bar, and where you can find more information about each one on the Fresco website.

Oko-Caribe 100% Pure Chocolate, Limited Release, Medium Roast, Long Conche, 50 g
Oko-Caribe is a cacao farming co-operative in the Dominican Republic, known for producing good-quality cocoa beans. The aroma of this 100% chocolate, made from Oko-Caribe beans, is wonderful; full of berries and floral elements. And the upfront flavour in the chocolate is very 'roasty'. The packaging lists a 'medium roast', but there really is a heavy roast taste to the chocolate (not burnt, just the flavour of roasted cocoa beans, or perhaps roasted walnuts or pecans). That is the upfront favour to me, but also there is some floral, some berry, some bitterness and a bit of earthiness and grass to the taste. A long conche was applied, which may have been a good thing. I could see how the raw cacao might have been too bitter for a 100% dark chocolate without the use of a long conche. For more information on this bar, visit:
https://frescochocolate.com/collections/100-chocolate/products/oko-caribe-100-limited-release



Polochic Valley 100%, Guatemala, Light Roast, Long Conche, 50 g
This chocolate is very interesting, with a lot of upfront fruit flavours. In fact, it is almost shocking that fruit flavour was not infused or added to the chocolate. In addition, it has extremely low acidity. The fruit is like grapes, real juicy purple grapes. And sometimes it reminds me of a merlot, other times a 'fruit & nut' chocolate bar. And even more surprising is the bitterness level: there is none. It is sweet in comparison to every other 100% dark chocolate that I have ever tasted. Overall, this bar was both surprising and fascinating for a 100%, taking unsweetened chocolate to a new level. I highly recommend tasting this chocolate bar.  Learn more about it here: https://frescochocolate.com/collections/100-chocolate/products/100-polochic-guatamala.



Fresco Maranon 100%, Recipe 231, Medium Roast, Long Conche, 50 g 
This chocolate was the most acidic of the three, a real punch of bitterness and roast flavours. The acidity in the Maranon cocoa bean is what makes a sweeter chocolate taste so darn good, but yet at 100% it offers nearly a shocking punch. I wrote about this one before, which I had nearly forgotten about (about the same time of year in 2016), and looking at the post, I see my tasting notes are very similar. The difference now is that I have more experience with making chocolate. And I've learned that the most acidic 100% chocolates often make the best 70% bars. A Madagascar unsweetened chocolate, this Maranon chocolate, and the newly popular Peru Ucayali cocoa bean that I have been experimenting with at 100% versus 90%, versus a 70% chocolate. The best flavours can be brought out with a little sugar to offset the acidity levels. To learn more about this punchy chocolate, visit Fresco's website at: https://frescochocolate.com/collections/100-chocolate/products/maranon-231.



This chocolate-tasting exercise was a real eye opener. I enjoyed trying three 100% dark chocolates with long conches. The long conche brought out the good flavours of the beans while offering a palatable unsweetened experience. The higher roast on the Maranon and Oko-Caribe subdued some of the acidity, while the lighter roast on the Guatemala helped maintain all the wonderful fruitiness in the cacao beans. Fresco is certainly becoming a leader in the 100% category.

For more information on Fresco Chocolate, visit the company website links above, or read on of my previous posts about this chocolate maker by clicking these links:
http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2016/02/fresco-chocolate-range-of-chocolate.html
http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2016/02/fresco-chocolate-part-1-100-dark.html
http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2016/02/fresco-chocolate-part-2-length-of-conche.html
http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2016/03/fresco-part-3-cocoa-roasting.html
http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2016/03/fresco-part-4-cacao-harvest-year-and.html

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Unsweetened Chocolate: A winter tradition that keeps getting better

Several years ago, I started an annual tradition of eating only very dark chocolate and 100% dark chocolate in January and February. I look back at those early days trying out Lindt and Michel Cluizel chocolate bars, and I see a person who didn't think she could ever get used to unsweetened chocolate. Now I eat it all the time, testing roasts and batches of unsweetened chocolate after it has been in my refiner for 24 hours or more. I make 100% dark bars to see how the beans hold up as bitter chocolate, to check acidity levels and creaminess, and see what kind of 'cringe factor' it inspires (and by that I mean the instant reaction to a 100% dark chocolate, and whether or not it evokes the cringy-face a baby makes when eating a dill pickle), and I also now eat it because I enjoy it.



Since I first started writing about tasting unsweetened chocolate in 2012, more bean-to-bar chocolate makers have opened their doors (at a rather rapid pace, I might add). This led to more 100% dark chocolates being introduced across North America and the rest of the world. Not every chocolate maker makes a 100% bar, but some do, and it has certainly become easier to find a good selection.

I also think health trends have driven the introduction of more bars, and a lot of good education by bean-to-bar chocolate makers, which is beginning to have an effect on customers, who are becoming more and more curious about the taste of pure cocoa.

In fact, no sugar chocolate has become a bit trendy. Zotter Chocolates of Austria made unsweetened milk chocolate popular a few years back, when they introduced their 'Milk Chocolate Dark Style' bar, where 70% of the ingredients list was cocoa solids (cocoa beans + cocoa butter/fat) and the other 30% of the ingredients was just milk powder. No sugar added. No alternate sugar added. It was - and still is - a melt-in-your mouth combination that takes just a moment to get used to, and soon enough you find yourself craving it. Then in 2016, East Van Roasters in Vancouver created an unsweetened chocolate bar with cashews ground into it, making a smooth combination that took the edge off of the acidic and fruity Madagascar cocoa beans they were using for the chocolate.

And now, I have discovered that Hotel Chocolat in the UK makes an 80% Supermilk Saint Lucia origin chocolate bar, which takes Zotter's no sugar-milk-chocolate creation one step further. So I thought I'd start the annual tradition with this one.


What I discovered is that perhaps this unsweetened milk chocolate trend can only go so dark. Hotel Chocolat's 80% Supermilk bar is more bitter than Zotter's, and unfortunately it is not quite as smooth. I think between it's texture and the bitterness level (and slight taste of earthy/soil/mould), it lacks the potential for me to go back to it again, in the way Zotter's does. Although I have to say the aftertaste that lingers is pure milk, which is a nice effect.

Another new one that I found at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November, was Zotter's Protein Kick, with 75% cocoa solids and 25% whey protein. 


This too was not as inspiring to me as their original 70% dark-milk chocolate (with 30% milk).  Granted, the texture is lovely, but the taste of the whey protein takes some getting used to. In fact, it took me about a week, and absolutely no sugar in my diet to get used to it. However, I can imagine that people who consume no sugar ever, can learn to like this bar. And although the whey flavour is a bit of a turn-off for me, I do like the idea of protein, and I think that people who lead a Paleo or no-sugar lifestyle, or perhaps weight-lifting-whey-eating folks, might like it as a post-workout snack.

I also tried Zotter's High-End dark chocolate with 96% cocoa solids, and 4% organic coconut blossom sugar.

This was interesting. Since I work with coconut sugar quite often, I know it is less sweet than regular white or organic cane sugar, and it has a detectable flavour. So the 4% coconut sugar offers a bitter-ish taste in this chocolate, and it really might as well be a 100% chocolate. I do like it better than the Protein Kick bar. And I can see a larger customer base enjoying this bar, since the low-acidity cocoa beans chosen for it and the lovely conching work Zotter has done on the chocolate, has made it so palatable. As far tasting the 'terrior' of the chocolate, there is not a lot of that going on. It is really just a straight up Peru, hints of floral flavours and a sweet bean profile. The lingering aftertaste is quite nice and cocoa-y.

In the next post, I will move on to some new pure 100% dark chocolates, including Soma's newest Arcana 100% bar (yup, it's a blend and it changes seasonally with a Venezuela Porcelana as the base cocoa bean), along with Fresco's line-up of three different single origin 100% bars, and Sirene's Tanzania and Ecuador 100% chocolates.

Happy Chocolate Eating!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tastes of California-Made Chocolate: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate

If there are 'giants' in the craft chocolate world, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate is certainly among them. And it has less to do with their fantastic packaging and more to do with taste. Dick Taylor consistently delivers on taste and flavour design.


During a 'blind' tasting led by Chloe Doutre-Rousell at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference, we experienced tasters immediately knew from the beautiful design on our tiny pieces of chocolate, as well as the powerful, wonderful fruity flavour punch, that Dick Taylor's Madagascar bar was among the line-up of chocolates. The gorgeous mould may have given it away, but the wonderful flavour confirmed it.

My first taste of the Northerner Blend, a DT chocolate bar that I've heard a lot about over the last year, was a few weeks back. I opened my stash from the NW Chocolate Fest and found the Dick Taylor bars that I had forgotten were among my purchases. I've been peeking into the virtual window of Dick Taylor's shop (ahem, that pretty much means stalking the business on Instagram) and seeing this 'Northerner Blend' chocolate. As a customer from 'Northern Ontario' who considers herself a Northerner, I have trouble imagining such a name could be applied to anything in sunny California. But regardless, the name spoke to me, and I had to taste this bar.



In craft chocolate terms, a blend is a bar that has been made of carefully chosen beans from different growing regions. Blending is a chocolate maker's art, and perhaps an expression of their ideal flavour composition. In the case of the Northerner Blend, it immediately reminded me of the Madagascar chocolate bar by Dick Taylor. Full of fruit flavours, potent, and a real punch of flavour. The blend was no different. It had all those flavour components of the Madagascar cacao, and some fruit from the Brazilian cacao that the Madagascar was blended with. The chocolate makers noted honey and dried apricot as tasting notes, but the flavour elements seemed much richer than those two things. Perhaps a rich, dark honey, and there were definitely some acidic fruity notes. It is a bold chocolate that makes a statement. And it quite addictive.

At the Festival, I also picked up Dick Taylor's other relatively new release: their Brown Butter, Nibs & Sea Salt chocolate bar. I quickly learned that this chocolate delivers a powerful punch of flavour upon first bite. Made using the 73% Northerner Blend, this fruity chocolate offers a potent flavour kick, with some upfront acidity that makes way to creamy, buttery notes and texture. The crunchy nibs and salt leave an after taste of pure cacao that lingers, and bursts of salt that quickly melts away.



The Brown Butter chocolate bar is easy to eat quickly, thinking that with each bite you'll figure out its complexity, and be able to describe its flavour with a simple word or phrase. Soon enough, the bar is gone and you are left wanting another so you can fully understand it. Perhaps that can never happen, even if you eat 100 of them. But you'll enjoy every single one.

With nibs in every bite, this bar I complex - is it buttery or crunchy?
Tart or sweet? Fruity or just plain cocoa-y? 
And look at the beauty of that chocolate mould pattern!

In a later post, I will tell you more about the Dick Taylor's limited edition Solomon Islands chocolate bar: a special release bar that changes each year, depending upon a contest held among cacao farmers of the Solomon Islands. The best cacao is chosen by chocolate makers like Dick Taylor and Madre, and a few others. I picked one some at the 2016 NW Festival, and in 2017 I bought Dick Taylor's, along with a Madre's and Zokoko's. What a treat to experience how different chocolate makers approach cacao from the same region, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.

For now, here is more information on the bars that I wrote about today:

Brown Butter with Nib & Sea Salt in a 73% Northerner Blend
Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California
www.dicktaylorchocolate.com
Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar*, butter*, fleur de sel (Cacao solids: 73% minimum). *Organic. Contains dairy. May contain traces of nuts.

Northerner Blend, 73% Dark Chocolate
"A balanced blend of Madagascan and Brazilian Cacao."
Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California
www.dicktaylorchocolate.com
Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar* (cocoa solids 73% minimum). *Organic. May contain nuts and milk.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Chocolate Project: A Great Place to Buy Craft Chocolate Online

Throughout my many years writing about chocolate online, and tasting all that this world of chocolate, and particularly craft chocolate, has to offer, I've heard about The Chocolate Project. I visited the website many times, and always noticed that they have over 300 chocolate bars at their location in Victoria, British Colombia. I have been to nearly all parts of Canada, but Victoria is still on my bucket-list.  A faraway place on the other side of the country, on an island (like myself, only surrounded by salt-waters rather than the very unsalted waters of a Lake Huron). So I guess I put off ordering chocolate from this famous-in-the-chocolate-world shop because it just seemed so far away.

Then I had a phone conversation with the amazing Joanne Burns, a chocolatier who owns Chocolate Beach on Salt Spring Island, BC (another Island-er who understands what it is like to have a passion for international bean-to-bar chocolate), and she told me again how wonderful The Chocolate Project is. And I met the super awesome Stephanie from Uncouth Chocolate in Victoria, who was representing The Chocolate Project at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. So I decided 2017 was the year for me to try The Chocolate Project.

Turns out, distance is nothing in this age of technology and fast-shipping. I ordered a Christmas present for myself online from The Chocolate Project just a few short weeks before the big day. The chocolate travelled across the country quickly and arrived at my door with days to spare (and somehow Santa got it into my stocking for me!).

The packaging was simple - no need for fancy extra's telling me about The Dark Collection that I ordered. Simply the four bars, in a box rolled with insulated wrapping to control any external factors. It was perfect for someone like me: arrives quick and to the point, letting me taste the chocolate for myself without unnecessary extras.

The Dark Collection from The Chocolate Project,
in December (January's Dark selection has changed,
but customers can ask for a custom box of chocolate bars from
any of the 350+ chocolate bars they stock).


I chose the Dark Collection because it contained bars from four chocolate makers that I had not had the opportunity to taste before. You may be surprised (if you follow the craft chocolate movement) to learn that I've missed out on omNom from Iceland, and Letterpress Chocolate from Los Angeles. But in my defence, Letterpress has not been selling widely for long, and omNom is, well, in Iceland. And I live on an Island in the centre of Canada, so I guess I have an excuse. I also had not tasted Shattell Chocolate from Peru, and I only tasted one bar from Brasstown in the past, when they sported different packaging. So this group of chocolate bars was a perfect fit for me.

The Collection was nicely set up for a chocolate tasting party, should Chocolate Project's customers want to hold one with friends. The Shattell Chocolate is made in Peru, with Peruvian cacao and offers extreme floral notes, whereas the OmNom is a made from Nicaraguan origin cocoa beans that have a citrus kick to it. Brasstown's bar is the Elvesia 70% made from Dominican Beans and very full of red fruit flavours (although as time goes on it seems to also have some floral notes, perhaps I've stored it too close to the Shatell). And finally Letterpress Chocolate's Tanzania 70% Dark bar, the star of the show, offered tart notes of banana, and yet citrus that almost tastes of mandarin or under-ripe orange, with a clear taste of the roast on the cocoa beans. Overall, these chocolate bars showcased a full range of single origin, natural cacao flavours.

So why was LetterPress the star bar? For starters, I finished it first, surprised by how good it was, how the texture was smoother than the rest and stood out, yet the chocolate only contained two ingredients, with no cocoa butter added. The combination of fruity flavours and roast were well balanced, and really intriguing. What a treat. I WISH I had another bar.


This Letterpress Chocolate Tanzania 70% dark bar was
the star of the collection!

So what did I finish second? The Brasstown. The fruity punch from the Dominican cacao made it interesting to come back to time and gain. It was also a stately bar, long and slender and classic.

The OmNom was good, but I have tasted many Nicaragua origin beans, and made quite a few bars myself from Nicaragua beans, and over time have discovered that I am not personally partial to that overly acidic citrus kick with few other flavours (although the website lists tasting notes of mushroom, red wine (for the acidity & tannins I assume) and rye bread. Some people love it, but it is just not my thing. I did enjoy the aroma of coffee and cocoa, and the fantastic snap (the tempering was perfect and the bar shiny and gorgeous).


omNom's Nicaragua bar was shiny and had a good snap.

However, the most impressive part of omNom's chocolate, was the bar mould and packaging - the overall look and pattern on the chocolate itself, and the packaging and marketing around this chocolate hit the mark. The outer sleeve did not have a lot of writing, nor tasting notes, nor long descriptions of cacao origin, but the image of the wolf, and the imagery of crocodiles, certainly had a menacing yet wild effect.

omNom Chocolate has the most incredible packaging!
 

It is rare to see the inner foil printed. omNom has thought through
every step of their packaging to give the customer a consistent experience.


And combined with dangerous creatures was the mountain peaks that peaked out from the inside of the pointed flaps of the box. It evoked a certain power to the chocolate that is inside. Even the foil had images of the wolf, coming from two sides, which created a pattern that needed to be searched for the wolves within. I will come back to OmNom chocolate time and again to try all their other origins. The quality was there, not perfectly smooth texture but a good product. And the overall experience was worth it.

The Shatell Bitter 70% Cacao Ayacucho bar was just too floral for me. It really had a lot of interesting notes in it, once I got past the floral thing, and some balanced acidity with a punch of flavour and some fruitiness. The aromas were quite powerful and I can imagine how fun it would be to eat the raw cacao at the farm with all those notes in it. If you are into Lavendar chocolate or rose-flavoured ganache, that sort of thing, this may be jut the bar for you. The aroma and taste certainly reminded me of where cacao comes from - a plant that flowers and grows fruit. 



Shattell has a Chuncho 70% dark chocolate bar that won 2017 Gold at the International Chocolate Awards. I have tasted a Chuncho origin chocolate before by Qantu, and it was good (also an award winner), so I am looking forward to tasting Shattell's Chuncho dark chocolate someday.

Overall, I am quite happy with my choice of chocolaty Christmas gifts this year. I will return again to The Chocolate Project's website, and also will be likely to e-mail David Mincey again in future to order any of the 350 bars he now has in his collection. He even carries a Rogue bar, which might be the only place to buy one in Canada.

For more information on The Chocolate Project, visit the website at: http://www.chocolateproject.ca.

To learn more about the four craft chocolate brands listed above, visit their websites through the links below:

www.letterpresschocolate.com
www.omnomchocolate.com
www.brasstownchocolate.com
http://www.shattell.com/ (this will lead you through to Shattell's facebook page).

Happy New Year Everyone!