Monthly Archives: April 2008

Melbo on Bacon Chocolate

I am ecstatic to feature my second guest blogger. Wahoo! Melbo is uber talented in SO many departments, language and writing being two of them. If I could say more in German for her I would, but I know about five other words aside from “uber.” Here’s Melbo’s fresh take on Mo’s Bacon Bar of Vosges Haut Chocolat!

I love mixing sweet with salty (french fries dipped in Frostys, anyone?) and I LOVE bacon, so I had no reservations about this one. For my first nibble, I let the chocolate melt on my tongue (not an easy feat-I regularly inhale the stuff!) and I actually ended up with a piece of crispy bacon! Amazing! The flavor and texture of the chocolate itself was divine – so smooth and creamy with a subtle dark flavor. The fine granules of bacon were evenly distributed throughout the chocolate, and I compare the taste overall to a chocolate covered pretzel (minus the pretzel, which I suppose would leave us with chocolate covered salt). I really enjoyed the “bursts” of salt every time I chomped down on a little crunchy speck. And even now, 5 minutes later, I’m still picking bacon pieces out of my teeth with my tongue. Mmmmm…
I enjoyed my little square, but I could never imagine myself eating an entire bar on my own. I’m also not sure I’ll ever get a craving for it.. at least until I’m pregnant again. But when that day comes, I’ll be stocking up!!

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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Byrne & Carlson

There’s not much to say. These bars are gorgeous. Man! Why don’t I live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire? If I lived in Portsmouth then I could visit the Byrne & Carlson shop all the time. Even a Portsmouth summer home would work for me … I would live happily ever after. I’ve been stalking these bars for the last little while and I have to say they still amaze me. With other chocolate makers, I normally go right for the pure dark chocolate bar. I love bits in ice cream (right, Kato?!), not in my chocolate. But all of a sudden, just in discovering these bars, I feel I have a whole separate category of potential chocolate bliss!

I’m in a holding pattern for now, though. I can’t decide which one(s) to order. They are just too beautiful; I can hardly believe they could taste better than how I’ve imagined them to. I’m entirely swept away. For example, I deeply dislike orange and chocolate together. I don’t even really like cherry and chocolate. But seeing these incredible pieces makes me slightly consider ordering the orange cherry bar!

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DC on the Chocolate Map

I was delighted to follow the mapping out of chocolate shops and their offerings through a discussion thread on The Chocolate Life forum. This chocomap was posted among the comments. Course, I drilled my search down to DC and was a little shocked in discovering that my favorite local shop was the only one on the entire map of the District of Columbia! I guess if it hadn’t been for my actively searching out this shop–after hearing about single-bean on The Splendid Table radio show–I would have never been introduced to the world that is artisan chocolate. Thank goodness the Fates were good to me.

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Cacao Reserve–Hershey’s

It’s interesting to watch the tipping point of trends. I guess we can say that all the wonderful aspects of artisan chocolate are gaining the attention of a broader audience. To me, evidence of that reach is not just the fantastic emersion of bean-to-bar makers dotting the map, but tracing the interesting path of good old Hershey’s chocolate.

Hershey’s has actually released its own line of single-bean bars called Cacao Reserve. I just discovered it by word of mouth (Thanks, Luisa!), but the line was first launched in 2006. I’m still new to the inspired art of gourmet single-bean, but I’ve not heard one expert mention Hershey’s at all, let alone its origin bars. To me, that’s a sign that it might not be worth sampling. On the other hand, I’m tempted to test it just to see how unsavory it is compared to the other magical chocolate creations out there.  

What would happen if I did taste it, though, and was pleasantly surprised that this mainstream maker could design a somewhat palatable bar? Frankly, I’m not sure what I would do at that point. I have to say that I still probably wouldn’t be that dazzled by it. 

For one thing, I don’t know what’s in the chocolate. Hershey’s doesn’t list its ingredients online and I haven’t actually seen these bars in person to check the label. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a huge fan of minimal ingredients. I’m also into unique package art, fair trade, and the flavor complexities that small-batch chocolate so often has.  

So, for now, I’m following my instinct: until I’ve exhausted my favorites featured at my local chocolate shop, I’m not going to invest my time or money in Hershey’s. 

 

 

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Chocolate.com/Tcho Engineering

*Photo from tcho.com

Robert dog-eared an Economist article for me entitled, “Chocolate.com: A Start-up Innovates in an Unexpected Field.” The article focuses on a small company called Tcho whose unique approach involves making the chocolate-making process more sophisticated. Tcho also intends to simplify ways to quantify benchmarks of fine chocolate. The company’s founder, Mr. Childs, has created “ways to analyze and grade beans, and a six-segment ‘flavor wheel’ to map out their natural aromas. Using a variety of jury-rigged spice grinders, heaters, and temperature sensors, he has worked out how to get cocoa beans to reveal their complex flavors and to get chocolate to solidify evenly.”

After reading the article and checking out Tcho’s website, I am unsure whether theirs is a good or bad system for expanding chocolate horizons. Will this new system and best practices targets homogenize chocolate to an unfortunate degree? (The checkboxes on their packaging, for example, look suspiciously like Starbucks’s cups . . .) The Tcho creators hope to spread their ideas and technology in “an ‘open source’ fashion to other growers. Beans will be turned into chocolate on Tcho’s elaborate production line, which is being used as a test-bed for remote video-monitoring of industrial processes by researchers at Fuji Xerox in Palo Alto.” Am I just getting wrapped up in the romance of a provincial process of small batches and unique flavors in every bar? I’m reluctant to view this innovation as having entirely positive effects.

My opinion of how a Tcho-like system could negatively effect the chocolate industry: small farmers could be squeezed out in a survival of the fittest; unique chocolate-makers could be forced to comply with a streamlined “six-segment flavor wheel”; prices might increase; and we could end up with bland chocolate in the end.

My opinion of how a Tcho-like system could positively effect the chocolate industry: I could be missing the point and this could actually be a way of highlighting/enhancing unique flavors and methods of individual chocolatiers; this could actually give us better chocolate; it could improve life for small farmers if wealthier bean buyers provide them with better technology; and the public’s interest in chocolate could increase through exposure.

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J. Chocolatier

Last night, Robert and I enjoyed the gorgeous evening by walking to a chocolate tasting for local chocolate maker–J. Chocolatier. Jane Morris, maitre chocolatier, has a wonderful website and makes her filled chocolates out of the Rock and Roll Hotel Restaurant, which is a couple of blocks from where I live on the Hill. When I heard this several months ago, I was delighted to check the restaurant out, only to discover that it really wasn’t a traditional restaurant but a music venue (with select opening hours). So, the tasting was at Biagio.

Jane’s new spring/summer line was filled with really the freshest of ingredients–lemon, cranberries, lavender, and more. I overheard Jane discussing how she opted to grow her own fresh mint since she was not totally satisfied in her experiments with extract, etc. She was lovely and the chocolates were a perfect welcome to springtime. We, of course, ended up taking home our absolute favorite from J. Chocolier– the fleur de sel. Take me away salty and sweet!

A trend among my mom, sisters, and myself is keeping a dish of kosher coarse sea salt on our countertops or stoves. Even though I use this chunky salt all the time, whenever I encounter it in a sweet, I am immediately rushed into ocean memories. Why does the salt/chocolate combination remind me of the beach…and almost always a colder northern beach at that? I could be thinking of the cordials we always get when we’re in Sausalito…or other tasty treats from Cannon Beach. I mostly think it’s because that salty and sugary blend is beachy-like, though. Salt, sand, sugar.

Of course, on top of enjoying Jane’s bites, we also picked up some new bars and an old favorite.

I don’t do the bacon thing, so Robert sampled the Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar. Robert wasn’t a huge fan; however, the shop guys said this was a really popular bar. Is it just novel, or simply preferred by other palates? Not sure. I’ll have other people sample it and let me know their thoughts.

I’ve been wanting to sample the Dolfin for a while. I’m glad I picked it up last night because I’m totally into it. I’d definitely get it again.

Then, of course, we picked up Amano’s Madagascar–my first chocolate love. It never fails and was as good as ever.

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Guest Blogger Numero Uno

I am honored to feature the work of my first guest blogger, Nate Ayer! Nate is a DC-area writer and blogger, published in the Washingtonian. He lives with his wife, Hilary, on Capitol Hill. Nate and Hilary attended our chocolate tasting the other night, and I’m delighted to present Nate’s opinion on the matter (Sorry, the [lack of] spacing was impossible to remedy.):

“It’s a what?” I asked Hilary.

“Chocolate tasting. You go and you taste chocolate,” she said.

You’d think that the name of the event would have been pretty self-explanatory but the expression on my face must have begged for the definition.

With just the concept “you go and taste chocolate,” I filled in the rest of the details in my head: Overpriced dark chocolate with unpronounceable French names, served on frou-frou little doilies, with the chocolate expert (a chocolateusse—that’s what her title will be) extolling the exquisite yet subtle differences between what seem to me two identical candy bars.

But by the end of the night, I discovered that most of my preconceived notions were wrong. If you’re already a chocolate-lover, I don’t have to sell you on the fun of a chocolate tasting. (If you want advice on how to put one together, ask Nancy.) But if you’re skeptical of how fun—and unpretentious—a chocolate tasting can be, take a look at my attitudes before and after the event:

Before: Only a bunch of phonies would throw or attend a chocolate tasting.

After: That depends entirely on whom you invite.

At office parties, wedding receptions, and other semi-obligatory “celebrations,” alongside people whom I care nothing for, I become a total phony (and you do too; don’t try to deny it)—it’s much more acceptable to be insincerely interested in others than to sincerely not care. End result: room full of phonies.

But, if you’re with real friends, who have other real interests, then a chocolate tasting can just be something fun and new to try among people whom you already like and have pre-screened for phoniness.

Before: A chocolate tasting has to be snooty.

After: Not so.

If snootiness is your thing, then snoot away. But Nancy’s party was very informal, with baseball caps and jeans, and guests sitting on the carpet. The chocolates were passed around on mismatched plates. And we all felt right at home.

Before: Chocolate is chocolate; it all tastes the same.

After: Unless you compare them side-by-side.

In a big factory where cacao from everywhere all gets mixed together, the end result is homogenized taste. But hi-end chocolates very often use the cacao beans from a single plantation, or at least plantations from a single area. Whatever distinguishes those plants from other plants also distinguishes the taste of the chocolate.

When you have chocolates made entirely from specific plantations, and you cleanse your palate between tastes, then anyone can tell the difference between the chocolates. Some people at the party said they tasted vanilla, or fruit, or something specific in the chocolate. I’m kind of skeptical about anyone who claims to identify specific flavors, except for cocoa and sugar, in two-ingredient chocolate. But I’ll admit that the different chocolates did taste different.

Before: Nancy is a chocolateusse.

After: Actually, I don’t think there’s a naming convention on chocolate experts yet. This isn’t really a judgment like my other accusations were. But you can use this musing to out-snoot another guest should the need arise.

A chocolatier (the feminine version would be chocolateusse) is someone who makes chocolates. But Nancy’s expertise has become something more similar to what a sommelier, or wine expert, does. The New York Times has used the term “chocolate sommelier,” (and Nancy too, and she speaks French) but linguistically, I don’t think the term makes sense.

When it all comes down to it, it’s just inconsistency with what the French terms imply. I say we abandon French and switch to Spanish (chocolate comes from South America anyway): chocolate aficionado.

Before: Sitting around talking about chocolate is going to be lame.

After: That depends on what you enjoy.

If you can’t pull yourself away from SportsCenter for an hour then you probably won’t enjoy a chocolate tasting. Same goes for your X-Box, PlayStation, stamp collection, or other antisocial addiction. But, if you like spending time with friends, then how bad can it be if you spend time with your friends, and eat chocolate at the same time?

There you have it. If I haven’t convinced you that you would enjoy a chocolate tasting, then it’s your own fault for missing out. Wives, if this hasn’t convinced your husbands to go to the chocolate tasting, maybe you’ll have more fun with just your girlfriends.

Thank you, Nancy, for the great chocolate tasting, and for my time on Dark Chocolate Daily.

Thank you, Nate! I really enjoyed reading your take on chocolate.

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