Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Day 2: Zotter Chocolate's Mitzi Blue has Dark Secrets

On Day 2 of my 'A Zotter a Day Keeps the Doctor Away' theme week, I am focusing on something a little darker than yesterday's post about Zotter's Sheep's Milk Chocolate. Zotter's Mitzi Blue line of chocolates are a work of art. Each and every bar, or should I say 'wheel' is beautifully crafted, and holds a 'Mini-Mitzi', a small wheel of a different flavour of chocolate in the centre. I have tasted Zotter's beautiful Crispy Caramel Mitzi Blue chocolate and the Strawberry Yogurt Mitzi Blue chocolate bar. These were both flavourful and beautiful, and because of that were perfect for gifting. But I was most excited to buy a Mitzi Blue that falls within my first chocolate love: dark chocolate.

The Dark Secrets Mitzi Blue chocolate disc is made of 70% dark chocolate, crafted from a blend of South American beans (although it tastes most similar to Zotter's Peruvian chocolate bars). And the 'Mini-Mitzi' in the centre is also made of a blend, but in 80% dark chocolate. This is perfect for someone like me who waffles between 70% dark and 100% dark on a daily basis.

The 70% dark chocolate had a very sweet flavour profile. It was delicate and sweet and super smooth. I find Zotter has a tendency to make very fine, delicate-like chocolate. It truly melted in the mouth, and had a lovely flavour of sweet chocolate with some perfect balance of bitter cocoa and just the slightest touch of floral and fruit flavours, although neither one standing out. The small amount of salt in the ingredient list was not at all noticeable.

If you prefer bold cocoa flavours, like a strongly citrusy Madagascar chocolate, or a smoky origin chocolate, this may not be for you. But if you like a balanced, bitter-free chocolate that is low in acidity, then this might be your jam. And it also makes a perfect gift for a dark chocolate lover - a step-up from Lindt and Godiva, and on par with craft chocolate brands. And it's chocolate beauty and the story behind it (you'll find out the story of the 'wheel' once you open the package), can't be beat.

Buy Zotter Chocolates in the USA online at: https://www.zotterusa.com/14-mitzi-blue. You can also buy some of Zotter's chocolate from Miss Choco online out of Montreal at: http://www.misschoco.ca/international/. Google 'Zotter' to buy online near you in other parts of the world.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Zotter a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

For anyone who knows about Austrian-based Zotter Chocolate, you'll know that Zotter is taking over the bean-to-bar chocolate world with its over 300 flavours (or is it now over 400?) of chocolate bars. And truthfully, I haven't found a Zotter chocolate bar yet that I don't like.

So recently, when I was deciding what to buy myself for my birthday, I settled on ordering a large variety of Zotter chocolate bars, including a few that I have tasted before, and a few that I haven't yet sunk my teeth into. But in order to write about all of these Zotter bars on this blog, I realized that I would have to write about one every day for a week or more. Otherwise, the article would be too long for anyone to read. So this week, I plan to tell you about one Zotter chocolate bar a day. There may be a few other chocolate makers and recipes thrown into the mix, but certainly a Zotter a Day must keep the doctor away (or at least keeps 'unhappiness at bay').

Day 1:  Zotter Chocolate's Labooko 'Sheep's Milk' chocolate with 55% cocoa solids

I LOVE this chocolate. And I am not the only one. I've shared it and my friends seem to like it to. I really like that it has 55% cocoa solids, and that the sheep's milk is quite mild in comparison to goat's milk chocolate. I find with goat's milk chocolate, it tends to taste just like goat cheese. That's great, if you want to taste goat cheese in dark brown form. But for me, I prefer the only-slightly-savoury taste of Zotter's Sheep's Milk chocolate, and it doesn't remind me of cheese while I am eating it.

The chocolate is also very creamy, smooth and has a delicate taste and texture. This truly is fine chocolate. The vanilla and pinch of salt listed in the ingredients are very much at the back of the chocolate flavour, and seem to be just the right amount so as not the negatively influence the flavour.

So overall, I think this chocolate would be perfect for anyone with a cow's milk intolerance (See? If you have a cow's milk intolerance, this Zotter Chocolate each day would keep the doctor away!)

Which chocolate shall tomorrow bring? Stay tuned to find out!

You can order Zotter Chocolate from anywhere in the world through Zotter USA (I ordered mine from their American headquarters in Florida) and the original Zotter Austria website, or Google Zotter Chocolate to find a retailer near you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

East Van Roasters Offers a Different Approach to Unsweetened Chocolate

Have you been trying to eat 100% dark chocolate, but just can't get used to it? East Van Roasters has the solution for you.

When Shelley Bolton, Managing Director & Chocolate Maker at East Van Roasters in Vancouver, first handed me a piece of this innovative chocolate bar last Fall, I was impressed with the ingenuity. Shelley told me that many customers were looking for unsweetened chocolate, for required dietary reasons or as part of a plan to reduce sugar and be healthier. But some customers found 100% dark chocolate too bitter and acidic to enjoy. Shelley resolved this by adding cashews to the chocolate, to be refined directly in, in the same way that hazelnut butter might be included in chocolate to create a Gianduja.  Not only does this soften the texture of the chocolate and make it a bit creamier, but it takes the bitter edge off of the chocolate, making it palatable.

I've been curious about this extra dark cashew bar and thinking a lot about the conversation with Shelley. So I purchased East Van Roaster's Mad Cashew bar online from La Tablette de Miss Choco, in order to spend some time experiencing the taste and comparing it to other 100% dark chocolate bars. Once in hand, I found it quite tart from the taste of the Madagascar bean, but the bean's natural flavours also shine through with some citrus and berry flavours. The added salt gives the bar a savoury taste. I generally am not a fan of 100% dark chocolate made from Madagascar beans. Although wonderfully fruity when lightly sweetened, I find them too acidic to be palatable in 100% dark chocolate form. But Shelley's addition of the cashew paste, and a hint of salt, has not only made this chocolate palatable, but also enjoyable.

I did compare it to other 100% bars on hand, and found that Shelley's idea was quite genius - cashew butter does take the edge off of 100% dark chocolate. And it also adds a little protein, making this dark chocolate the perfect breakfast, lunch or anytime snack.

East Van Roasters has a store front location in Vancouver. Visit the website for more details:
http://eastvanroasters.com/ . And as I mentioned above, you can purchase the Mad Cashew Bar online from La Tablette de Miss Choco at: http://www.misschoco.ca/marques/.

Looking for other 100% dark chocolates that take the 'bite' out of the bitter?

Another bar that takes the harsh bite out of unsweetened chocolate is Zotter's Labooko dark-milk with 70% cocoa solids. There is no sugar or sweetener of any kind added, but the remaining 30% consists of milk and a touch of vanilla. This chocolate bar - although like East Van Roasters is also without sugar - sits on the sweeter side of the unsweetened chocolate spectrum.

Soma's Arcana chocolate bar is made from a blend of beans, designed to balance both the acidity and bitterness of 100% dark chocolate. Learn more here.

Try different origin bars! If you find one 100% chocolate too bitter or acidic, taste a different one made from beans of another origin. I have been experimenting with different beans to make 100% dark chocolate, and I have found that the palatability is completely dependent on the bean. For instance, the sweet Honduras bean that I use has nearly no acidity, and so a 100% chocolate made from those beans is easy to eat, compared to unsweetened chocolate made from beans that have more acidity. I also found an organic Philippine cocoa bean , which was perfect in an unsweetened chocolate and excellent for tasting. But truly it is all about your taste buds, and what is right for you. So get tasting!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Brighten Up Your Easter Treats with the Best Trend in Chocolate: Natural Food Colouring

The coolest trend in bean-to-bar chocolate is happening RIGHT NOW, and it is perfect for this Easter season: coloured chocolate. This trend started building in the last few years and really exploded in the end of 2016. And I don't mean the use the artificial food colouring of our past, I am talking about natural fruits, teas and even vegetables to colour chocolate bars in the most natural way. Chocolate makers are freeze-drying fruits and veggies to add both colour and flavour to their white chocolate.

https://www.zotterusa.com/Zotter, an Austrian chocolate maker, has been coming on strong with its pink-coloured white chocolate combinations. For Easter, you can buy a perfect strawberry caramel combo pack from Zotter, called 'Hiding & Seeking'. On the left side of the package is a pretty and delicious strawberry white chocolate bar, coloured only with dried strawberries, but also flavoured with a little lemon powder that adds a perfect sweet tartness to the chocolate. I love this chocolate bar!

On the right side of the package is a caramel bar, which gets its beautiful natural caramel colour (and flavour) when Zotter caramelizes the milk sugars. The package overall, with its Easter bunny & Spring flower images drawn on the front, is a perfect gift for any kind of sweet-lover this Easter (whether a chocolate-lover or not).

Zottter also makes a amazing Strawberry Yogurt white chocolate bar, called Never-Ending Strawberry. It is a part of their very artistic Mitzi Blue line of chocolate wheels, and not only is wonderful to taste (it tastes just like strawberry yogurt), but it is wonderful to look at too. It also offers a cool taste sensation with a mini wheel of a slightly different taste and shade in the centre. This is a perfect gift for anyone who loves strawberry at any time of the year.

Zotter also sells a raspberry bar in its Labooko line. It is mildly sweet, and strong in raspberry flavour. It truly is delicious and like the strawberry bar, it pairs nicely with white wine. You can see in the picture below that Zotter's has a light pink colour, in comparison to Soma Chocolate Maker's raspberry bar, which has a deeper shade of raspberry colour.

Soma's new beautiful Raspberry Bar, which has only sugar, raspberries and cocoa butter as the ingredients, also has NO food colouring or flavouring. Yet it's bold, dark colour instantly tells you that you are in for an experience. It is so rich in raspberry flavour that it is almost shocking - definitely in a good way! Because it is so bold, and has no milk content, it pairs nicely with red wine. Believe me when I say that Soma's raspberry chocolate bar is a must-try.

In addition to the pink chocolates for Easter, Soma has launched yellow Mango Chili Bar that looks amazing! I tried to get my hands on one for Easter, but they were sold out. Keep your eye on this link, and perhaps we'll see them back in the near future. They also make a gorgeous Mango pod, but you have to be in Toronto to be able to pick one up.
Picture by Soma Chocolate Maker
Reference: Somachocolate.com

Quebec-based Chaleur B Chocolat is making green chocolate, coloured only by Matcha tea. This is a very creamy bar thanks to its high cocoa butter content. I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but then I ate every last piece. It surprised me with its creamy goodness. Learn more about it or buy online by clicking this link.

For more matcha bars, you just need to search #matchachocolate on Instagram for a whole slew of pictures of green chocolate.

There are a few other chocolate makers currently experimenting with freeze dried strawberries, matcha, dried beets and all sorts of other fruit and vegetables to create new shades of chocolate.

Sirene Chocolate just launched a caramelized white chocolate bar, which looks delicious. Learn more and find a retailer near you at: http://sirenechocolate.com/.

I know there are a few other pink strawberry bars floating around social media, in addition to some beet-based chocolate bars, and Zotter's currant bar. If you remember another chocolate maker who is participating in this trend, please share in the Comments below! Let's help promote these all-natural shades of chocolate!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Cacao Market by MarieBelle New York

I recently received a chocolate bar from a traveling friend. It was dark, delectable and full of small pieces of crunchy, caramelized almonds. I loved it.

This chocolate was by Cacao Market, a MarieBelle New York brand.  In the bean-to-bar world, I have not heard much about MarieBelle or Cacao Market bean-to-bar chocolates. Perhaps because they operate in a large city with foot traffic sales and thus, have less need to ship their chocolate worldwide, like so many craft chocolate makers operating in smaller cities and towns in North America.

I admit, I am not a person who gets excited about inclusions in the bean-to-bar chocolate that I buy, including almonds, even though I eat them on a daily basis. I also stay away from any inclusions sprinkled on the back of a chocolate bar, including seeds, dried fruit, salt and other nuts. I know many people love it, but I am just not a fan. But of course, I'm occasionally surprised. The Dick Taylor Black Fig bar certainly turned me, and encouraged me to taste more chocolate with inclusions. That is also th case with this Cacao Market 70% Dark Chocolate with Almonds bar.

The almonds were in small pieces and caramelized, which added a lightly sweet crunch. They were also incorporated directly into the chocolate, rather than sprinkled on the back, which I think offered a fuller flavour experience. The overall effect of the light crunch and the taste of the delicious Honduras Trinitarion cacao was a perfect combination and quite enjoyable. So enjoyable, in fact, that I finished eating this bar while writing the first paragraph of this post.

So if you are in New York, or looking to order some delicious chocolate online (in the U.S.), check out MarieBelle's Cacao Market and the delicious 70% Dark Chocolate with Almonds bar: http://mariebelle.com/shop-online/cacao-market-40g-bar-dark-almonds/.

The chocolate was also purchased for me from Xoxolat in Vancouver.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Find my Bean-to-Bar Chocolate on FoodiePages.ca!

As some of you know, I have been making bean-to-bar chocolate for some time now. I started out making stone-ground style chocolate several years ago, and have helped many people use various home equipment to make simple chocolate for personal consumption. You can find a variety of recipes posted to this blog.

I have also been testing different cocoa beans for review for suppliers for quite some time with a more professional refiner, making creamy, smooth chocolate.

Since then, I have been testing cocoa beans for my own chocolate business (Ultimately Chocolate) and began selling my new chocolate bars locally at events, and more recently at a few of my local retailers. I have new packaging in the works and will officially 'launch' when that is ready, but in the meantime, you can now find my chocolate online on the FoodiePages website.

Making chocolate is a labour of love. Sorting, roasting, winnowing, refining, molding and hand-wrapping chocolate takes weeks to complete from start to finish. It has truly been an 'eye-opener' for me to understand the process, and better understand the craft chocolate and chocolate makers that I have been reviewing over the last several years. It has taught me more about cocoa beans than I could ever have learned from research, and improved my palate a great deal when tasting both chocolate and cocoa beans.

In addition, selecting just the right cocoa beans, then deciding which recipe will bring out the best flavour of those beans is a part of the craftsmanship of chocolate making. I have been testing a variety of beans, deciding on roast times and temperatures, deciding on my 'cocoa butter philosophy' and how creamy I like my chocolate to be, and choosing sugar % and cacao % for each bar. I have made test batches using different sugars, and have created tasting kits of different origins.  And now, I've finally settled on a few bars that can be found on FoodiePages (as well as sold locally in Northern Ontario): a Mexico 60% dark chocolate, a Honduras 70% dark chocolate, a Buttermilk 48% dark-milk chocolate, and a 100% Honduras unsweetened chocolate.

In addition, my crunchy, flour-free CacaoCookie is now made entirely from bean-to-bar using my Honduras-origin chocolate.

This has been the most enjoyable-yet-pain-staking process I have every gone through (aside from carrying and delivering my children, of course). I am super excited to introduce these products to you, and to my loyal local customers of the last 8 years here on Manitoulin Island and in the Sudbury region. It is also exciting to be the first bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Northern Ontario!

For more information about my bean-to-bar chocolate, or if you would like to purchase Ultimately Chocolate's products from outside of Canada, please send me an e-mail at info @ ultimatelychocolate.com.

And don't worry, I will still be sampling hundreds of other makers' chocolates, and telling you about them here on the blog! I am a writer, chocolate reviewer, and recipe developer at heart, and this blog is still an outlet for my passion for chocolate makers and their work, chocolatier and artisan chocolate, and chocolate made all around the world.

Have a great day!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

DURCI Chocolate Annihilates Cacao Origin Stereotypes

DURCI chocolate is relatively new in the bean-to-bar chocolate industry, but definitely a fine example of craft chocolate. I have written a little about DURCI chocolate, having just tasted one bar by this chocolate maker. More recently, I picked up a few more of their chocolate bars at the Northwest Chocolate Festival and have been tasting them slowly ever since. So with a few extra bars under my belt, what's the 'big picture' when it comes to this chocolate maker? My opinion so far is: DURCI is good chocolate.

Comparing DURCI's bars directly to a few other bean-to-bar chocolate brands, I noticed the difference in the roast. To me, it seemed a medium roast was applied to DURCI's cocoa beans in the two bars I tasted: the Corona Arriba (Ecuador) and the Empyrean Sabor (Carenero, Venezuela) 70% dark chocolate bars, in comparison to chocolate made with darker roasted beans. And I found this slightly lighter roast truly highlighted the bean flavours, like the very bold floral and spicy flavour in the Ecuadorian chocolate bar, and the fruity cherry notes with a rustic, organic intensity in the Venezuela-origin chocolate.

Both chocolate bars were delicate, yet bold in flavour. They offered a nice balance of just three ingredients (single origin cocoa beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter), not stiff in texture, yet not overwhelmed by creamy cocoa butter. I also found both bars had a sweeter profile than many other 70% chocolates, with some bright acidity showing in the Venezuela chocolate. Overall, these were great chocolates for including in chocolate tasting parties or workshops.

The 70% Ecuador (Coronoa Arriba) surprised me. I have tasted many Ecuador-origin craft chocolate bars over the years, and most are nutty, have limited fruit flavours and usually a straight up chocolate flavour. The very bold floral flavours of this chocolate, a pleasant roast taste, with an aftertaste of spice, and a little fruit, threw all my mental stereotypes of Ecuadorian cacao out the window. It was a refreshing take on single origin chocolate.

The 70% Carenero, Venezuela (Empyrean Sabor) also surprised me. Often, a Venezuela origin chocolate will have the taste of cream, some nuttiness and a cocoa taste (think Porcelana's and Chuao's, and a few other popular Venezuela origins) and occasionally subtle fruit flavours. But not this one - it was bold in its fruity, cherry-like flavours, and held a smoky, organic, rich chocolate taste. I like being surprised.

Thanks DURCI for opening my eyes and tossing out my preconceptions on cacao origins!

To find out where to buy DURCI chocolate, visit the chocolate maker's website at: www.durci.com

Thursday, March 9, 2017

French Broad Opens the Book on Chocolates


"Once upon a time...." are the words that begin every timeless story. And those are the words found on the inside of French Broad Chocolates` new high-end chocolate packaging. The chocolate bar box is designed to look like a beautiful hardcover book, and when all lined up together, they create a wonderful 'library' of chocolate.

During their Instagram takeover of @ChocolateNoise a while back, French Broad Chocolates founders, Dan and Jael, refer to it as "locally-crafted packaging", and a way of sharing the "stories behind the chocolate", whether it is their "own love story, a special relationship with a cacao farmer, or a brilliant local coffee roaster."

On the package, their story is told from the beginning, starting with falling in love (at a wedding), and on to the farmer's markets where they sold confections, to a stint in Costa Rica running a bakery/café, and then on to their more current accomplishments in chocolate, such as an online web store, a busy dessert lounge in 2008, a Chocolate Factory and tasting room in 2012, and a chocolate shop and café called Chocolate+Milk in 2014. In the last year, they have been winning awards and basking in the glow of a business that has come into its own, gained nation-wide (and International) popularity, and has all the right marketing in place to be one of the 'big guys' in craft chocolate.  You can read more of their 'story' on the chocolate maker's website.

Now let's continue our story by talking about the chocolate...

When it comes to dark chocolate, French Broad Chocolates seems to be a two-ingredient chocolate maker. This can be identified just slightly in the texture of the chocolate, there is always something a little stiffer in the texture of two-ingredient chocolate. But usually, I have found, the natural cocoa bean flavours of two-ingredient chocolate are more intense. Often, when cocoa butter is added, it can change or dilute the flavour (depending if it is deodorized or non-deodorized cocoa butter). So by choosing two-ingredient chocolate, Dan and Jael have chosen a chocolate philosophy (as I call it) of featuring the pure flavours of the bean.

I have tasted a few of French Broad Chocolates over the last few years, and enjoyed each one immensely. In fact, I always vow to share, because I find their chocolate bars so pretty I want other people to see it, but inevitably, I end up eat it all myself.

Most recently, I purchased French Broad's Guatemala 73% chocolate bar and their Nicaragua 68% bar.  I was testing some new Nicaragua beans myself, and I was curious if the flavour was just as citrusy, with some bold acidity as the other Nicaragua beans I had been trying. I found a similar flavour profile, but loved how French Broad Chocolates featured the flavours of this Nicaragua bar. To me, it offered a robust roast flavour, the slightest hint of lingering grape, then a citrus-lemon aftertaste. After looking at the chocolate makers notes, I see they tasted something very different: "buttered toast, black tea, and brown sugar." Of course, upon tasting it again, those flavours also come to mind, but that may be from the memory of reading it. I still taste citrus, and the black tea is a flavour that features a certain measure of acidity, which this chocolate certainly has. I like how the chocolate makers have used the art of chocolate making to tone down the natural acidity with a little more sugar and a good, strong roast.  It is a very good, balanced dark chocolate.

The Guatemala is in-a-good-way intense, with a rich cocoa flavour. It has a slight fruit flavour, with blackberry, and perhaps bitter wild blueberry. It has no hint of the astringency that I have tasted in some recent Guatemala bars. Guatemala seems to be all the rage in terms of cacao origins these days, which is why I chose this bar. I wanted to see how it compared to some others on the market. I found, again, that the chocolate makers did a lovely job with the beans. They chose a perfect sugar level and a roast to feature the best flavours in the bean, making it an enjoyable and interesting chocolate bar for all palates.

French Broad Chocolates offers many other kinds of chocolate bars, so many that you can line your book shelves at home and chuckle every time you trick your friends into thinking you read a lot of books. I suggest you check them out on French Broad`s website: https://frenchbroadchocolates.com/frenchbroad/. They also offer lovely desserts and confections in their store-front locations, so if you are ever in Asheville, North Carolina, you won`t want to miss the experience of visiting.

Have a great day! Hope you discover a new chocolate today!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Chocolate of the Day (Day 5): Francois Pralus Chuao chocolate

Yesterday was the final day for me to write about my favourite 'chocolate of the day'. I certainly tasted the chocolate during the course of the day, but I had a lot of chocolate work of my own and failed to find the time to write about it. So I am writing now, on a sunny, but cold (-15 degrees Celsius!) Saturday morning.

There was one special bar that I snacked on yesterday, the 75% dark Chuao chocolate bar by French chocolate maker, François Pralus. This chocolate came in such a beautiful package, very different than the packaging for other Pralus chocolate bars, instantly letting the taster know it is special in comparison. It is dark and luxurious looking, and certainly says chocolate with it's deep brown shade. The name Chuao is followed by the coordinates of the region, the small and famous village in Venezuela where the cacao is harvested. This village is only accessible by boat or a hike that spans days, and its cacao is highly coveted.

Upon opening the layers of packaging, instantly there was a sweet, floral and chocolaty aroma. With the first taste, there was a heavy roast flavour, indicating a good strong roast was applied to the beans. On the melt, I found some fruity tones and a citrus lemon taste, mixed with some woody and organic flavours. Overall, the combination is quite unique, intense, and very enjoyable. Although my 'chocolate curiosity' side makes me want to taste this Chuao bar against another chocolate maker's Chuao origin chocolate some day to see how the beans taste with a lower roast profile. But overall, this chocolate was special and unique.

I received the chocolate from Coco Doro Corp., an importer and distributor of Francois Pralus chocolate to retailers in the Toronto area. The business also imports Akessons, and sells gift packages of Pralus and Akesson chocolate online. I am excited that such a business exists in Ontario, because previously these two highly regarded chocolate makers were not easily accessible to Canadian consumers.

So although this is the end of the week, I still have a lot of good chocolate on hand, including some Sirene Chocolate, French Broad Chocolate, and my own Buttermilk chocolate right out of the refiner (of course, that's my favourite one!).  So I will be back next week with more chocolate. But perhaps every other day, since I should probably spend a little time making my own chocolate!

For more information on Pralus, visit www.chocolats-pralus.com. For more information on Coco Doro Corp, and where to find Pralus or Akessons in the Toronto area, visit www.cocodorogiftco.com.

Have a great weekend folks!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Chocolate of the Day (Day 4): Soma's Deep Dark Blend

For Valentine's Day, I received a package of Soma chocolate. With the new online ordering available on the Soma website, it is suddenly easier for my loved ones to buy me chocolate with a simple click. That is exciting stuff.

So this morning I was tasting my lovely line-up of Soma chocolate bars, and picked what I thought was the most interesting bar for discussion today: the Crazy 88. This chocolate bar is called 'crazy' because it is a blend of six different origin cocoa beans, including: Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Madagascar, Peru and Venezuela. I am fascinated by the unique flavour combination that has resulted from this blend.

This chocolate bar is very bitter, in fact it seemed nearly too bitter at first, even for a girl like me who regularly eats 100% dark chocolate. But with each piece, its mysterious taste became almost a must-have dietary need. The description of 'green bananas' captivated me when I read it on Soma's package because it instantly articulated the flavour for me, when before I could not conjure a description to save my life. And it is not only the taste of green bananas, but it is the experience of green bananas, where your tongue is almost left with an intense dryness.

As the chocolate melts in the mouth, it seems to move from green bananas to a coffee cream taste and some nuttiness that lingers. And each time it fully melts away, I am left wanting more so I can continue to 'figure it out'. There really does seem to be a mystery surrounding this chocolate flavour. And perhaps because it is the result of blending so many unique-flavoured origin beans.

Why blend origins? Blending origins gives the chocolate maker a chance to master a flavour profile, like tone down some high acidity in one bean by balancing it with a creamy and mild bean, or add a fruity or floral flavour to an otherwise bland or mild-tasting bean. In the case of Crazy 88, Soma's founder, David Castellan, has taken many different 'famous' and highly coveted origin beans, like Venezuela 'Ocumare' and the Peru 'Maranon' beans and created a master mix of sorts.

If you are looking for an example of another blended chocolate bar, and perhaps in a slightly sweeter style, Soma has a very interesting 70% chocolate called Dual Origins, Little Big Man. It takes the fruity tartness of a Madagascar bean, and combines it with the nutty and creaminess of an Ecuador bean. It seems to start with the taste of nuts, then moves to black liquorice, then brings on some red fruit and berry flavours on the finish. Truly an interesting balance of origin flavours (and one that is a little easier to articulate!).

So if you are into super dark chocolate, like the 85% or 90% dark chocolate, or simply want to expand your horizons and explore blended origin chocolates, I recommend you give Soma's Crazy 88 bar a try. After all, you can now buy online! Learn more at: www.somachocolate.com. And while there, don't forget to try the oh-so-creamy CSB Chama, the Raspberry bar (to die for!), the Arcana 100%, and many of Soma's other treats, like the tree branch or their single origin truffles...I could go on and on...

An aside....
I have always respected and admired this chocolate maker for the interesting and delicious combinations, but I just learned during my last trip to Sudbury that I went to the same high school as Soma Chocolate founder, David Castellan! We did not attend at the same time, but it was not far off. Who knew our little Sudbury Secondary School would not only turn out actors, singers and dancers, but chocolate makers as well. :-)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Chocolate of the Day (Day 3): Dandelion Chocolate's Trinidad Origin Dark Chocolate Perfectly Pairs with Honey Wine

Today is Day 3 of my Chocolate of the Day reviews (if you read Monday's post, you'll know that this week, I started sharing my favourite picks from my daily chocolate tastings). And today I am talking about a unique chocolate made by San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate. It's the San Juan Estate, Trinidad 70% dark chocolate bar. Specifically, this dark chocolate was made from beans harvested in 2014 from San Juan Estate in Gran Couva.

I love how personal this chocolate is. Dandelion tells us on the packaging who specifically has sourced the cacao for the chocolate bar we are tasting. In this case, it is Greg. You may not know who Greg is, but that does not matter. The fact that Dandelion is so forthcoming about every aspect of the chocolate (i.e. sharing the harvest and specific info about the cacao farm, who created the roast profile, etc.) is what makes this small-batch chocolate maker so special.

Upon opening the package, I was amazed at how heavy the wrapping was, like when opening a gift wrapped in very expensive and luxurious wrapping paper.  It's thick, fibrous and natural in both texture and appearance, yet has the look of something both rich (with gold accents) and yet jungle-tribal with the tiny triangles specked all over it. 

But let's get to the taste. This chocolate had a lovely mild chocolaty flavour, with a sweet and creamy side. It was not fruity, nor tart, nor nutty. And the 'sweet', in fact, was very much honey-like in taste.

In fact, I was surprised by how much the chocolate tasted of honey and light liquor, so I immediately went to the wine cooler and pulled out a delicious Honey Wine (mead) by Rosewood Estates Winery that I purchased recently. The pairing was as suspected: perfect. I can see myself serving the two together, and also combining this Trinidad origin chocolate with mead to make a lovely honey liquor-based chocolate truffle.

If you haven't yet tasted this chocolate bar, or any of Dandelion Chocolate's products, I strongly suggest you do. I also quite liked Dandelion's Mantuano, Venezuela 2015 harvest dark chocolate bar for its light nuttiness and rich chocolate taste. Learn more about Dandelion Chocolate on their website: http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/.

Have a great day, and may it be filled with chocolate!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Chocolate of the Day (Day 2): Malagos Chocolate 72%

Today I was sampling the last piece of a chocolate bar that I opened before Christmas. I bought it at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November, and have been carefully wrapping and unwrapping it to sample a few bites ever since. And each time I do this, I have an opportunity to think about how truly sweet and chocolaty this bar is.

The chocolate bar is a 72% Single Origin Dark Chocolate made by Malagos Chocolate, a chocolate maker based in Davao, Philippines. This is a tree-to-bar operation, and is a part of the growing trend of made-at-origin chocolate. The beauty of making chocolate in the country where it is grown, is that the money made from converting the beans to chocolate can stay within the country, the region, and in some cases within the farmers pockets if they are both growing the cacao and making the chocolate. It benefits the people of the origin country, and unlike the chocolate of our past, the people in cacao-growing countries can see, taste and understand what is being made from the cacao beans that they harvest.

When I was at the festival in Seattle, I had a chance to meet one of the farmers - a woman - who produces the cacao for this chocolate. She was a beautiful woman, and certainly changed the image in my mind of what a 'farmer' looks like. And she was an all around delight to chat with over lunch. This may be why I was so excited to later visit the Malagos booth, and to buy some of their chocolate.

I was surprised by the lovely flavour of the chocolate. It was sweet for a 72%, and seemed to lead with cacao and sugar, rather than a creamy cocoa butter taste. The chocolate was mild and low in acidity, and held just hints of raisin or date flavour, coconut, some floral flavours and a little nuttiness. There was no vanilla added to the chocolate, and I found the pure flavour of the beans did not need it, with the sweet profile of the chocolate and easy-on-the-palate taste.

I suppose I should not have been surprised by the sweetness and mildness of the chocolate flavour, having just experienced Davao-grown beans first-hand when I received samples of organic cacao beans from the Philippines, and made a dark chocolate from them (read more about that here). The flavour profile of my chocolate was similar and also on the sweet side, with low acidity, compared to other origin chocolates.

Overall, this chocolate is really enjoyable - a widely like-able flavour, like the Shiraz of chocolate. If you want to taste it too, visit http://malagoschocolate.com to learn more. They also make unsweetened baking chocolate, which has a tasty flavour in chocolate recipes.

For my fellow chocolate makers, Malagos also sells dried, fermented cacao beans. Learn more about the beans here.

Have a great day!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Chocolate of the Day: Just Another One in 300 of Zotter Chocolates

I am trying something new this week. I am planning to tell you about my favourite chocolate from each of my daily tastings. Yup, that's right: I eat chocolate every day. No shocker here. I start every day with a tasting, before eating anything that can affect my palate. I choose the daily tasting by pairing them up into categories, like 70% dark, 85% dark, dark-milk chocolate, same origin, etc. And since I do this every day, I have a lot of chocolate bars piling up that I haven't had the time to write about on the blog. So this week, and possibly next, I am planning to tell you about these chocolate bars each day. Or at least my most beloved chocolate of the morning. 

Today, I've chosen one of Zotter Chocolate's pairing pack of bars. I started out heading for the box of very dark chocolate bars this morning, and then quickly realized that I truly wanted something a little creamier. So I pulled out Zotter's 2-pack of dark-milk chocolate bars with 50% cocoa solids.  Inside was one Nicaragua origin chocolate bar, and one Ecuador origin chocolate bar. These both were made with the same ingredients (raw cane sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, full cream powder, salt, vanilla), except the cocoa beans came from different origins. Because of this, the taste and colour of the chocolate had very different results.

The Nicaragua had a darker shade, much like a 'dark chocolate' might with just a slightly milky, and to me, a taste of light liquor and a little spice, likely from a slightly more acidic bean and perhaps a little fresh fruit flavour. It was very creamy, full of cocoa butter texture. And this morning, I found an aftertaste of lemon liquor.

The Ecuador 50% looked like a milk chocolate and had an upfront creaminess that was heavenly. It also reminded me of the taste of real-cream milk chocolate truffles, like the ones I often make with a 45% dark rich milk chocolate. There was no acidity or spice-like texture, and just a wonderful flavour of cream and chocolate.

So which did I like better? I suppose the Nicaragua was very interesting for its perkier spice and fruit flavours, but the Ecuador dark-milk was absolutely decadent. If I had to go back to just one for more, it would be the Ecuador 50%. But overall, I loved the concept applied by Zotter: two bars in one box, enabling me to choose, to compare, and to learn all at once.

What a treat to start off a cold Monday on Manitoulin Island. Have a great day everyone!

Join me tomorrow to see what chocolate will perk up the Tuesday blues.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Four Venezuelan Cocoa Beans: A Review of the Beans and the Resulting Chocolate

I was recently sent samples of Venezuelan cocoa beans by a supplier: Casa Franceschi. The company is dedicated to the production and commercialization of cacao beans from Venezuela since 1830. They pay careful attention to harvesting and post-harvesting methods in order to "seize the best flavors from the best genetics." Casa Franceschi exports cocoa beans from several regions in Venezuela, and other countries. They sent me four featured origins all from Venezuela, including: Ocumare, Patanemo, Piaora and Sur del Lago.

In order to review these beans, I had to make chocolate! I hand shelled all four batches (I have a winnower now to remove the shells, but hand shelling teaches a lot about the beans), and then I made four different single origin 70% dark chocolate bar batches out of all the beans. The chocolate has now aged by a few weeks and been moulded into bars. So I can spend a little time reflecting on these beans and sharing the results with you and my fellow chocolate makers who are interested in offering Venezuelan origin chocolate, or selling cacao beans for eating or brewing.

Admittedly, I refined for only 24 hours, until the chocolate was smooth and very palatable. I did not conche or extend refining time because I had four origins to deal with, and needed to focus my time on my current line-up of products, but I found little acidity to worry about in all four origins, and thus 24 hours seemed to be enough to get a good idea of how these beans taste in chocolate form.

Overall, I quite liked the results of all four origins. I couldn't pick a favourite, although at first I was leaning towards the Patanemo chocolate for its fruitiness, but then I became quite attached to the bold and complex flavour of the resulting Ocumare origin chocolate, even though the beans were slightly troublesome to sort. I loved the Piaora beans - they were very big, easy to shell (by hand and with the winnower) and quite tasty.  The beans were all similar in some ways, meaning there is a nice low acidity level, some fruitiness to each bean (Ocumare falling more on the nutty side, and having slightly more balance in acidity). There was only slight colour variations with Patanemo having the lightest and most unique colour. Any one would be a good addition to a product line and a great representation of Venezuelan chocolate.

My review on each bean, how it was to work with, and the resulting chocolate that I made from each type of bean is organized into the chart below. I've included some of the information provided to me as well, including bean type, fermentation, etc.

Bean type + fermentation
Review of beans
Review of Taste
Ocumare de la Costa, North Central Region
Trinitario with “light Criollo blood”, Fine Premium F1, Controlled Fermentation
Tough to shell (slightly sticky shells), quite a bit of sorting required.
Makes a very complex and lovely chocolate, but the bean can be a little harsh on the palate to consume directly, compared to the others. Ideal when made into chocolate, but perhaps not ideal to sell as an eating bean.
Balanced-if-slightly-high acidity, unique and interesting flavour, boldest of the four origins in such a good way. Perhaps a little nutty and earthy, a dark caramel taste, and definitely some fruit taste, citrus and orange with some berry - the fruit shows up especially after tasting the Piaora.
Patanemo, North Coastal Region
Trinitario with “light Criollo blood”,  Fine Premium F1, Controlled Fermentation
Easy to work with, most palatable bean if packaging for consumption as is, in whole bean or nib form (for sprinkling on food, etc.). Would also be good as a brewing bean.
Strongest fruit flavour of all four origins. Bright, full of berry and red fruit, while a little astringent. Reminds me a little of that fruity-yet-astringent Guatemala bean that has been making the rounds in craft chocolate recently, but this is much more pleasant on the palate. It is quite enjoyable.

Piaora, Amazonas, North Southern Region, isolated community, can only harvest 6 mo’s a year.
‘Wild Cacao’, Trinitario, F1, Natural Fermentation
Beautiful beans. Large, easy to shell. Palatable, but just a little harsh at first - makes an interesting chocolate though. So perhaps not ideal for selling as nibs or for brewing.
Possibly the most neutral flavour, yet some citrus and cocoa powder flavour, but all creamy in texture. Other than a general citrus/lemon taste from the mild acidity, no other fruit flavours, just earthy, woody and wonderfully powerful.
Sur del Lago, Merida – South Western Region
Trinitario Cacao with “high Criollo blood”, Natural Fermentation, Fine Premium F1 type
Very easy to shell (shells released easily), many large beans, but careful sorting was required.  The remaining beans were quite tasty on their own, very palatable for eating as is.
Bold flavour, perhaps some astringency at first taste, but certainly interesting with lingering fruit and acidity. Creamy chocolate taste on the finish.

If you are interested in any of the Venezuelan cacao beans reviewed above, contact Pedro E. Rojas R. at projas (at) casafranceschi.com or visit www.casafranceschi.com for more information.  Casa Franceschi also supplies beans of other origins, including Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica.
You can also taste chocolate made from some of these beans (Sur del Lago and Ocumare) made by award-winning chocolate makers, Franceschi Chocolate (http://www.franceschichocolate.com/en/).  They make a range of delicate and delicious 60% dark chocolates from a variety of Venezuelan origin beans.
Any questions or comments? Please feel free to add to the Comments below this post.