Friday, April 24, 2015

zChocolat will help you say 'I love you' this Mother's Day


Have you tried zChocolat yet?  If not, take it from me, this chocolate is divine.

I have told you about zChocolat before. I have written about how elegant and beautiful these filled chocolates are. I have even told you about the signature Z, the company's pride and joy. This delicate confection comes in milk, white and dark chocolate.

And in this article, I can tell you that the chocolate is still just as delicious as the first time that I tasted it. Each chocolate is numbered, and as it turns out, my old favourites are still, well, my favourites. Take chocolate #8, for instance, which is a Venezuelan dark chocolate shell, filled with a smooth coffee ganache in one half and a crunchy praline filling in the other half. Every time I taste it, I remember why I have a love affair with chocolate. And that infamous Z?  Well, that succulent caramel, combined with a lightly crunchy praline is the perfect combination to satisfy those sweet chocolate cravings.


This week, I had the pleasure of tasting zChocolat's Mother's Day chocolate collection. For Mother's Day, they have created a lovely pink box that truly says "I love you" to the Mother in your life. At a cost of only $52.70 Canadian (plus shipping & taxes), you can give your mom 15 of zChocolats original chocolates.

Every chocolate in the box is numbered, and the box is accompanied by a gorgeous mini book with pictures and tantalizing descriptions. There is also a personalized note and a lovely cloth bag to protect the box of chocolate. Even the ice pack that accompanies the chocolates is elegant and imprinted with zChocolat's logo.

So hurry up and order! zChocolat ships direct from France to locations all over the world, but you will receive it in just days. Plus, worldwide shipping is less than $20 Canadian! Your mother will thank you.

Visit www.zchocolat.com to order or for more details.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

This small chocolate business in British Columbia has a big selection

Take a Fancy, a Burnaby-based chocolate brand, has been making chocolate in small batches, from bean to bar, for the last few years and selling it at Farmer's Markets in British Columbia. As one of Canada's newest chocolate makers, I was anxious to try Take a Fancy's products. The ingredients are natural and organic, and made from cocoa beans from Peru. What's more, the owner, Becks D'Angelo, is on a bean-hunting trip in Costa Rica, and says there may be exciting new single origin chocolate from Take A Fancy soon.

I ordered online and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. I purchased six different chocolate bars with a variety of cacao percentages, including two that were sweetened with maple sugar instead of cane sugar. When it arrived, I was also pleased with the chocolate.

The milk chocolates surprised me the most. Not many of Canada's craft chocolate makers make milk chocolate, so I was pleased to see that a such small business, like Take a Fancy, offered both a 42% bar and a 50% dark-milk chocolate. The 42% milk chocolate was not super sweet, but still very much designed for die-hard milk chocolate lovers.  It had a lovely milk chocolate colour and rich taste like a delicious milky hot chocolate.

Sittin' on the Fence is a 50% Dark-Milk Chocolate with a intense cocoa experience, but also with that familiar milk chocolate taste. Any kind of chocolate lover, whether an advocate of dark chocolate or an I-won't-let-go-of-my-milk-chocolate-addiction kinda person, could fall in love with this bar.

The 85% Dark Chocolate bar was enjoyable, with a creamy mouthfeel. Made with Peruvian cocoa beans, it had a nice earthy and cocoa flavour. I tried this up against a Lindt 85% and Take a Fancy's won out.  It was creamier and a little easier on the palate. And there was no vanilla to overwhelm the flavour, so the chocolate taste could shine through.

In fact, all of the bars were very creamy; I could definitely taste the added cocoa butter. The Maple 72% dark bar was quite enjoyable, albeit slightly more bitter tasting than the 72% Dark Chocolate made with cane sugar, but rather good (and rather Canadian too!). The regular 72% chocolate had a slightly fruity taste, with a real chocolaty base flavour. It was quite delicious.


Also, two caramels were included in my shipment. With that rich milk chocolate made by Take a Fancy and a soft, melt-in-your-mouth caramel centre, the experience was divine (and that coming from a girl who has never been into caramels!).

Ms. D'Angelo, has been selling only at Farmer's Markets. She says that she loves farmer's markets, "It's fantastic to connect the community with where chocolate comes from," which is really the heart and soul of the bean-to-bar craft chocolate movement. However, plans are in the works to branch out beyond farmer's markets in the Fall. So keep an eye on this brand, as we may see more of it in the future!

Currently, the chocolate bars are sold in two sizes, and all of Take a Fancy's chocolate is made with minimal ingredients (only 3 for the plain chocolate bars) with no added vanilla and no soy lecithin.  This is the natural stuff!

You can find the list of Farmer's Markets here. Also, follow the Take a Fancy blog now to learn how the cocoa bean-hunting trip in Costa Rica is going.  To order online (after Ms. D'Angelo arrives back from Costa Rica in a few weeks), visit: www.takeafancy.ca.

Monday, April 20, 2015

An Afternoon of DARK-MILK Chocolate Tasting

Are you in the Sudbury area and want to learn about a new category of chocolate?  DARK-MILK chocolate is all the rage; it melts in your mouth like that milk chocolate taste of your childhood, but has all the antioxidants and richness of dark chocolate.

Join us at the Fromagerie Elgin for an afternoon of chocolate tasting on May 3rd!  Learn about the very trendy dark-milk chocolate and why small-batch craft chocolate makers are excitedly launching these bars all over North America.

Whether you are the type to only like milk chocolate, or if you only like dark chocolate, this workshop may open your taste buds to a new chocolate love! I've brought together 7 hard-to-get fine chocolate bars from around the world that we can enjoy at this tasting. Plus, you will receive a recipe to make your own truffles that have a unique dark-milk chocolate taste, and you'll take some truffles home. We'll also cover a quick 'how-to' on mixing your own dark-milk chocolate at home (no need for specialised chocolate equipment!). Also includes one coffee/tea/wine beverage.

This event will take place at the Fromagerie Elgin in Sudbury, Ontario, and will be hosted by Lisabeth Flanagan, Owner of Ultimately Chocolate (Manitoulin Island), writer and chocolate reviewer for The Ultimate Chocolate Blog and contributor for AOL/Huffington Post.  With more than 10 years of chocolate tasting experience, and six years in business as a chocolatier & pastry professional, Lisabeth knows all the best brands of fine and origin chocolate.

Use the 'Buy Now' button below to pay for tickets online using credit card or PayPal. Tickets are not available for pick-up at the Fromagerie Elgin. Print your PayPal receipt and bring it to the event (or show us on your phone). We will also have a list of those who paid.  Use the contact info below to let us know if you would like to buy tickets with another form of payment.

Here are the event details:


Event Name: Afternoon of DARK-MILK Chocolate
Price: $35.00 (only 18 tickets are available. Advance ticket purchase only.)

Location: Fromagerie Elgin at 5 Cedar Street, with entrance on Elgin Street in downtown Sudbury. Parking available across the street on Elgin.
Date/Time: 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 3rd, 2015.

Contact:  E-mail info@ultimatelychocolate.com or call 705-282-3535 if you have questions or for further information, or to register with another method of payment.


 
See you there!

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in the Sunshine State: Castronovo Chocolate

Castronovo Chocolate, a craft chocolate maker in Stuart, Florida, has been making a big splash on the chocolate scene lately. A 2014 Silver win in the International Chocolate Awards for their 63% Dark Milk chocolate bar and two just-announced wins in the Academy of Chocolate Awards in the U.K., confirms that Castronovo is making good chocolate.

Thanks to a wonderful birthday gift, I had the privilege of tasting a full line-up of Castronovo's single origin bars last week. I revisited each one, every day for about seven days, from Peru, to the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, two plantations in Columbia and finally, Venezuela.

What's great about this chocolate maker, is that they name the bean type and batch number, and they include a descriptive explanation on the back of each chocolate bar package. Also, the evaporated cane juice used to sweeten the chocolate is organic and Castronovo's chocolate contains no soy lecithin, wheat, nuts or gluten.

Overall, I enjoyed this line-up of chocolate bars. Not only did all the chocolate have a nicely balanced bean-to-cocoa butter ratio, each bar had a unique flavour profile, which made for very interesting tasting sessions. I would recommend this line-up to anyone wanting to hold a group chocolate-tasting session.

My favourite was the 72% Criollo & Trinitario Columbia 'Sierra Nevada' bar.  I can see why this won an Academy of Chocolate award. I found it to be noticeably fruity with a nice cocoa finish, and actually outshone the Dominican Republic chocolate (but don`t get me wrong, the Dominican bar was delicious and it is fully organic). Also, the description of how the cacao is harvested by the Arhuaco indigenous people is worth reading on the chocolate package.

The Peru bar also surprised me, with its heavy cocoa aroma and lightly fruity flavour, which I have not often detected in a Peruvian origin chocolate.

The Nicaragua bar was the only one I was unsure about. In a way, I loved it for its interesting smokiness. In another, there was a funny flavour that turned me off a bit.  But yet I kept going back for more, so that says something. Plus, that smoky flavour really rounded out the range of chocolate bars.

Here is the line-up of bars available from Castronovo Chocolate, which can all be purchased on their website here. In Canada, some of Castronovo's bars are available at LaTablette.ca:

1. Columbia Sierra Nevada 72% Criollo & Trinitario Cacao 'Rare Cacao Collection', Batch 341
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: Fruitier than the others, nice cocoa finish, bright.

2. Columbia Arauca 76% Criollo & Trinitario Cacao, Batch 339
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: bright and fruity-floral with a nutty finish, but more bitter than the Sierra Nevada. I detected a slight tobacco flavour.

3. Venezuela Amazonas 72% Wild Cacao, 'Rare Cacao Collection', Batch 345
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: This one took me a little longer to figure out, possibly because it was the most neutral in flavour - no heavy flavours in any direction - just bold cocoa flavour with hints of earthy or tobacco, and nice low acidity. Very interesting story behind this 'wild' cacao and how it can be harvested during the dry season only and travels by two-day canoe trip by the Piaroa's indigenous communities.

4. Peru Tumbes 70% Trinitario Cacao (printed on front of package, but back says 'Criollo', Batch 332
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: This is one of the nicest Peruvian origin chocolates that I have tasted. Lightly fruity, possibly with a hint of orange, and some nice cocoa flavour, but nothing like the cocoa-heavy flavour that I am used to with Peruvian origin chocolate.

5. Dominican Republic, Duarte province, 70% Criollo & Trinitario, Batch 344
Ingredients: cocoa beans*, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter*  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: Medium-to-milk fruitiness, citrus flavours and yet also the flatness of dried fruit (compared to fresh fruit flavours). Well-rounded flavour overall and enjoyable, like many Dominican-origin bars are.

6. Nicaragua Momotombo 72% Trinitario Cacao, Batch 342
Ingredients: cocoa beans*, evaporated cane juice*  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: Possibly it is because the cacao is grown in the volcanic soil of the Momotombo region of Nicaragua, or just the smoky finish, but the flavour is certainly unique. Less chocolaty and more savoury than anything. Certainly interesting.

7. Dark Milk Chocolate, Columbia, Sierra Nevada, 63% Criollo & Triniario Cacao, Batch 309
Ingredients: cocoa beans, organic evaporated cane juice, organic cocoa butter, whole milk powder.  Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten or soy.
Taste: Creamy and smooth texture with a taste that is still a little tart and sour like many dark-milk chocolates can have. It has a very milky colour for a 63% and overall is very enjoyable.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mmmm...Caramel: Callebaut Belgian Caramel Flavoured Chocolate from Bulk Barn


I was shopping at Bulk Barn last week and noticed a new bin in the chocolate section. I was pleased to see that it was filled with a caramel-flavoured milk chocolate.  This is great for all sorts of delicious molded confections, but it is also great for easy caramel truffles, caramel-flavoured ganache and caramel-chocolate cake.

I was not excited that there were artificial flavours in the ingredients list (I try not buy anything with artificial flavour), but there was also some natural vanilla flavour and caramelized sugar, which I knew was the reason for the caramel flavour. I bought about 15 ounces anyway, just to taste the product, and try them in a recipe.

With 31.2% cocoa solids and 27% milk solids, the taste was certainly a sweet caramel flavour, with a bit of a sugary taste and smooth milky mouthfeel. It was similar to Valrhona's Caramelia chocolate, but sweeter and less creamy.


I knew that it would be fun to experiment with and in the end, I decided to make a flourless milk chocolate cake: Sea Salted Butter Pecan & Caramel Milk Chocolate. The cake truly was delicious, and because of the caramel flavour, I topped it with sea salt, fresh roasted pecans and some swirls of milk chocolate ganache and dulce de leche caramel sauce. The result was buttery smooth with a lovely light caramel taste. You can find the recipe on my cake blog here: (http://ultimatelychocolatecakes.blogspot.ca/2015/04/sea-salted-butter-pecan-caramel.html).

Another great way to use this would be in a chocolate fountain or a chocolate fondue! Just think of that rich caramel flavour paired with pieces of banana or apple slices. Oh yum! One thing to remember though: a little oil needs to be added to the chocolate to make it run through the fountain properly.

These caramel flavoured milk chocolate callets (i.e. pieces) are not only available at Bulk Barn (in bulk bins only), but you can find them pre-packaged at a Callebaut or Cacao Barry supplier near you.  Although not available right now, check back at Vanilla Food Company for them in future (they ship from Toronto to both U.S. and Canadian locations). They are also out of stock at McCalls, but again, just check back frequently to see if you can buy online. And you can always buy them at Bulk Barn while you wait!

Here are the details from the chocolate that I tasted and wrote about today:

Callebaut Premium Belgian Caramel Flavoured Callets
Made by: Callebaut (www.callebaut.com)
Sold at: Bulk Barn (www.bulkbarn.ca)
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, unsweetened chocolate, skim milk powder, caramelized sugar, soy lecithin (emulsifier), artificial flavours, spices, natural vanilla flavour. Contains milk and soy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

OMG, That's Good Chocolate


Patric Chocolate is considered by many to be one of America's best craft chocolate makers. This was recently affirmed in a Slate.com article, which stated that Missouri-based Patric makes "epic single origin bars." I can reaffirm that statement based on the hundreds of chocolate bars (if not more) that I have tasted in the last ten years.

In Patric's e-mail newsletter last month, owner Alan McClure said Patric Chocolate was "the 5th U.S. craft chocolate maker". But really, Mr. McClure is among the first group in a movement that has swept across America since 2006, to a peak of over 100 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers in 2015. Patric's first bar was launched during a flurry of craft chocolate introductions in early 2007, according to Shawn Askinosie, in an article published on Huffington Post (US). So clearly Patric Chocolate was at the forefront of this movement, and has therefore built on years of experience in chocolate making.

And Patric Chocolate can only get better. Mr. McClure is currently working at a masters in Food Science, in order to better understand "flavor formation during the various complex steps of the chocolate-making process." So we can look forward to what may come yet from Patric. But for now, let's take a look at some of McClure's current product offerings that I tasted in the last few weeks.

MOCHA OMG, 'Smooth Dark Chocolate & Espresso Bean Blend', 2.3oz (65g)

Pairing coffee and chocolate is one of the most natural and instinctive pairings, since many people often enjoy chocolate with a cup of coffee. This pairing can be found in most chocolate shops across North America, and coffee is frequently an inclusion in chocolate bars. Even better is espresso with dark chocolate, a natural complement to one another because they both have distinctly bold flavour profiles.

Patric Chocolate makes an espresso-flavored chocolate bar called OMG Mocha, which was launched in 2010. It won a Good Foods Award, and it is no wonder why.  Upon first taste, this creamy chocolate bar offers a strong punch of espresso flavour, while being surprisingly smooth. I have rarely tasted a coffee-and-chocolate combination that is as smooth as Patric's.

Also notable is the cacao percentage of this dark chocolate. With 63% cocoa solids, this dark chocolate offers a bold and slightly bitter-sweet flavour to match the strength of the espresso. Competitive chocolate products, an example being Chocolate and Love's smooth Dark Chocolate with Coffee 55% bar, often fall on the sweeter side. I prefer the slightly bitter combination of Patric's chocolate bar.

On the package, we are told that award-winning espresso beans (by Kaldi's Coffee) are used to make this bar. But surely all the credit cannot be given to the coffee maker. The delicious taste and perfect texture has a lot to do with the production of the chocolate and experience of the chocolate maker. With just the right amount of cocoa butter, sweetness and perfect texture and temper, this chocolate certainly is a delight all on its own. It is simply made better with good espresso beans.

DARK MILK, 'Milk Chocolate Crafted with Extra Cocoa Beans', 2.3 oz (63g)



Dark-milk chocolate is all the rage and I have recently tasted over 15 competitive dark-milk chocolate bars. Patric was one of the last, being difficult to get my hands on given my rural Canadian location, but I managed to acquire one a few weeks back that was slightly past expiry (although it had not gone bad), and then, thanks to traveling friends who picked another up for me last week, I tasted a new Patric Dark Milk bar (with a 2016 expiry).

The first had that familiar sour cream taste that is common among dark-milk chocolate bars, although it was slight. The newer bar only had a hint of sour cream flavour, with a clearer tangy and lightly acidic profile. Among the other dark milks that I have tasted, this one was certainly creamy and had a very nice smooth texture. Its flavour was close to a strong hot chocolate, but certainly the bar was on the savoury side, which is to do with the high cacao bean content (58% cocoa solids) and the small addition of salt. It is a taste experience like no other, and the savoury flavour grows on you with each bite (until you can't get enough!).

Alan McClure has also recently launched the Piura Dark Milk bar, a high percentage milk chocolate made with single origin Peruvian cacao. It is described as having clear hints of toffee, almond, red grapefruit and sun-dried wine grape flavors. You can bet this is next on my list of dark milk chocolates to try.

Here are the package details from the chocolate that I tasted and told you about here:

MOCHA OMG, 63% Cocoa + 2% Espresso Beans, 2.3 oz (65g)
Patric Chocolate (Columbia, MO)
www.Patric-Chocolate.com
Ingredients: cacao, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter, espresso beans. May contain traces of dairy, peanuts and/or tree nuts due to shared equipment. Soy and Gluten free.

DARK MILK, 58% Cocoa, 2.3 oz (65g)
Patric Chocolate (Columbia, MO)
www.Patric-Chocolate.com
Ingredients: cacao, whole milk powder, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter, sea salt. May contain traces of dairy, peanuts and/or tree nuts due to shared equipment. Soy and Gluten free.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Manoa Chocolate: 72% Hawaii Origin Chocolate and 69% Goat Milk Chocolate

Manoa Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate maker on Oahu, Hawaii. This artisan producer is a part of a "new wave of single-origin chocolate makers based in the Islands.", according to a recent article in Honolulu Magazine. Hawaii recently began producing cacao (the only state in the U.S. that can grow the fruit), and local chocolate makers are excitedly jumping at the chance to produce a truly local product.

Last week I tasted two Manoa Chocolate bars. Here is my review of each:

72% Hawai'i Chocolate by Manoa

Manoa's 72% Hawai'i single origin bar is made with only three ingredients: cacao nibs, cane sugar and cocoa butter. But upon first taste, it hit me with a punch of flavour that was reminiscent of tropical fruit juice. To me, it was a bright combination of pineapples, grapefruit, tangerine, berry and some lemon-lime style acidity, with a nice chocolate after-taste. And all of that comes from the naturally fruity flavour of Hawaiian cacao.

I tasted this deliciously smooth and lightly creamy single origin Hawaii bar up against a 70% Peruvian chocolate (by a different chocolate maker). Interestingly, Manoa's 72% tasted sweeter, which may be due to the fruity flavour. It also made it clear that the tropical fruit flavour was not all in my head; the Peruvian chocolate had no fruit flavours and a straight up bitter cocoa taste.

I also found this strong fruity flavour in the single-origin 70% Hawaiian chocolate made by Madre, another bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Hawaii, showing that Hawaiian cacao is as tropical-tasting as the location where it is grown.

GOAT MILK 69% Chocolate by Manoa

Manoa's 69% Goat Milk chocolate bar was a very interesting chocolate. It was creamy and smooth, and definitely all natural with only four ingredients: cacao nibs, cane sugar, goat milk powder and cocoa butter. The colour was also gorgeously dark and rich.

Personally, I am not sure I liked the taste because it truly tasted like goat's cheese. And yet, I ate the entire thing because I was so fascinated by it. I have had one other chocolate bar made with goat's milk before, which was made by Missouri chocolate maker Askinosie, and it was goat's milk in white chocolate with nibs. Although sweeter, I was fairly sure then that goat's milk chocolate was not for me.

This chocolate is certainly worth a try for anyone who cannot have cow's milk, or if you truly love the taste of goat's milk. It is also an excellent chocolate to buy for the curiously brave chocolate lover.
 
***
 
Manoa's two bars were available for sale at JoJo Coco in Ottawa, for $11.50 each, or you can buy Manoa Chocolate at La Tablette de Miss Choco in Montreal (also available online here) and at XOXOLAT in Vancouver. For a list of locations that may be nearer to you, click here. You can buy the above-mentioned Madre Chocolate from The Chocolate Clinic online (and have it shipped to Canada and the U.S.).

Want to learn more about Manoa Chocolate's other products? Read my review on their crunchy Breakfast Bar here. Or visit Manoa's website for details: http://manoachocolate.com/.

If you want to taste other Hawaiian origin chocolate, Madre is another bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Hawaii who makes an excellent 70% Hawaiian Dark Chocolate bar. Madre also has a shop in Kailua, so if you are touring there for vacation, you can hit up both Manoa and Madre and try as much Hawaiian chocolate as possible! Click here for the details on Madre.