Friday, September 30, 2016

Truffle Basket - Traditional Chocolate Truffles - Sept. 30, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Truffle Basket
Traditional Cocoa-Dusted Chocolate Truffles
Good +++
Weight: .91 oz. (26 g.) / 1.76 oz. (50 g.) in total package
Calories: 150 calories (per label) in 4 pieces
Cost: $4.95 for 1 package of 9 pieces
Purchased from: Draeger's Market, Los Altos, CA

Bienvenue a Day #7 of French Chocolate Week.

Today's Traditional Cocoa-Dusted Chocolate Truffles from Truffle Basket were similar to yesterday's Xtra Dark French Chocolates (truffles) from the same company, except yesterday's were made with an "all-butter" (clarified butter) recipe. These truffles were made with vegetable oils (coconut and/or palm kernel).

Both versions were good and, other than butter vs. oil choice, very similar. Today's Traditional truffles had a subtle dark chocolate and bread aroma, and an ultra creamy chocolate ganache, that could be paired (it was suggested) with a "delicate bubbly (Champagne), gutsy red (wine) or light roast (coffee)."

"Made in France since 1931," these cocoa-dusted truffles were imported to the U.S. by Bon Courage Enterprises, Inc. (Four Oaks, NC).

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Truffle Basket - Xtra Dark French Chocolates - Sept. 29, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Truffle Basket
Xtra Dark French Chocolates
Good +++
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 1.76 oz. (50 g.) in total package
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) in 4 pieces
Cost: $4.95 for 1 package of 7 pieces
Purchased from: Draeger's Market, Los Altos, CA

Bienvenue a Day #6 of French Chocolate Week.

Today's Xtra Dark French Chocolates were from Truffle Basket. These truffles were a "Product of France" and imported into the U.S. by Bon Courage Enterprises, Inc. (Four Oaks, NC).

These small, dark truffles had a dark chocolate aroma with notes of citrus and coffee.

The lush, "all-butter recipe" contained plenty of cacao and clarified butter that created a creamy truffle with a very satisfying melt. (The kind of bite that left teeth marks as if I'd bitten into a stick of lovely butter.)

These truffles were GMO free with no tropical oils or trans fats.

The attractive packaging was designed to look a bit like a wicker basket ("used to hold the other kind of truffle (the prized fungi that grows in the ground)").

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Comptoir du Cacao - Tablette Tour Eiffel 72% bar - Sept. 28, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Comptoir du Cacao Paris
(France Cacao)
Tablette Paris Cacao - Tour Eiffel - Dark Chocolate 72 percent bar
Weight: .94 oz. (26.6 g.) / 2.82 oz. (80 g.) in total bar
Calories: 156.6 calories (per label) in 1/3 bar
Cost: $8.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Draeger's Market, Los Altos, CA

Welcome to Day #5 of French Chocolate Week.

This Tablette Paris Cacao Tour Eiffel Dark Chocolate 72 percent bar was made in France by Comptoir du Cacao (France Cacao) (L'Anche, Bazoches, France) and imported to the U.S.

The packaging bears a quintessentially French scene. A young woman with long brown hair is riding a bicycle in boots and dress (with her small dog in a basket in front), wearing red lipstick, and a red scarf around her neck. She glances at us while she rides through the park on a sunny day, with the Eiffel Tower rising up in the background. Ahh, to be walking through the park in Paris on a spring day.

And, what about the dark chocolate inside this lovely package?

The well-tempered tablette was made of 10 easy-to-separate squares, and had a pleasant bittersweet chocolate aroma. The melt was smooth and mouthfeel slightly creamy. The texture and flavor were very uniform. And the bar had a clean finish with no off notes.

Comptoir du Cacao (literal translation is Cacao Counter, but I don't think this does the name justice) is a family-run business that has a Chocolate Factory in Bazoches, and two shops in Paris.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

XOX Truffles - Lavender, Hazelnut, Cognac Truffles - Sept. 27, 2016

Chocolate(s) of the Day: 

XOX Truffles

1.) Lavender - Very Good
2.) Black and White - Good ++
3.) Hazelnut - Good ++ - Very Good
4.) Cognac - Very Good
Weight: 1 oz. (28 g.) (estimate) for 4 truffles
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) for 4 truffles
Cost: $1.00 each (quantity pricing for 20 truffles)
Purchased from: XOX Truffles, San Francisco, CA

Bienvenue a (Welcome to) Day #4 of French Chocolate Theme Week.

Today I sampled the last truffle flavors from my recent XOX Truffles (San Francisco, CA) purchase.

The team at XOX offers truffles in the true French style, and they are creamy, authentic and delicious.

The Lavande (Lavender in French) truffle was suffused with beautiful lavender flower flavor. If you like lavender and dark chocolate, you'll love this one.

The Black and White truffle was a dark chocolate truffle covered in white chocolate.

The Hazelnut truffle had authentic hazelnut flavor (a great blend with chocolate) and was rolled in hazelnut bits.

The Cognac truffle was boozy and marvelous. I had tasted this one a few years ago, and decided to re-taste it with the others today, as I remembered it fondly. And while I may occasionally forget other details about life, I felt gratified to find that I wasn't wrong about this truffle.

Monday, September 26, 2016

XOX Truffles - Raspberry, Coconut truffles - Sept. 26, 2016

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

XOX Truffles
1.) Raspberry truffle
2.) Coconut truffle
Weight: 1 oz. (28 g.) (estimate) in 4 truffles
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) in 4 truffles
Cost: $4.00 for 4 truffles (when bought as part of a 20-piece assortment/box)
Purchased from: XOX Truffles, San Francisco, CA

Welcome to Day #3 of French Chocolate Theme Week.

The consensus seems to be that the French invented the chocolate truffle in the 1890s.

The word truffle is now applied to many different types of chocolate confection and/or filled chocolate or bar. But, to enjoy a true chocolate truffle in the original French tradition, I recommend paying a visit to XOX Truffles (San Francisco, CA).

Today I'm featuring two more truffle flavors from XOX Truffles: Raspberry and Coconut.

These authentic-tasting, hand-crafted truffles were made in the French spirit ("created with French attitude") by Chef Jean-Marc Gorce and team. The truffles are hand-formed and rolled in high-quality cocoa powder and have a wonderful buttery, creamy center. No two are exactly the same shape.*

Gorce and his partner and wife Casimira N. Tobilla, founded XOX Truffles several years ago. Their truffles can be found in a small shop in North Beach (San Francisco).

*Chocolate truffles were named after a prized fungi that grows in the ground, due to their similar shape and appearance. Dogs and pigs are sometimes used to help hunt for truffles because of their more acute sense of smell. (Truffles give off a certain smell when they are ready to be harvested.) Fortunately, chocolate truffles are ready to eat and enjoy at any time.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

XOX Truffles - Honey Vodka, Amaretto truffles - Sept. 25, 2016

Chocolate(s) of the Day: 

XOX Truffles
1.) Honey Vodka truffle - Very Good
2.) Amaretto truffle - Very Good
Weight: 1 oz. (28 g.) (estimate) for 4 truffles
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) in 4 truffles
Cost: $1.00 per truffle (20-piece quantity price)
Purchased from: XOX Truffles, San Francisco, CA

Welcome to Day #2 of French Chocolate Theme Week.

Today's two chocolates from XOX Truffles (San Francisco, CA) were not from France, but they were "created with a French attitude" and were French inspired.

Chef Jean-Marc Gorce (formerly of Fringale restaurant (San Francisco, CA) and partner Casimira N. Tobilla founded XOX Truffles. Their tiny shop in North Beach, contains a display case full of different truffles, some flavored with alcohol (champagne and cognac truffles are popular choices).

True truffles may appear a little rough hewn and humble on the outside (like their namesakes that grow in the ground); but these had great chocolate flavor and a fabulous creamy, buttery melt.

The Honey Vodka truffle had a sweet, boozy lilt, and the Amaretto truffle's nutty flavor unfolded into an almond-flavored liqueur trip. Bon voyage.

Valrhona - Noir Guanaja Nibs bar - Sept. 24, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Noir Guanaja Eclats de Cacao (Cocoa Nibs) bar
Good ++ - Very Good
Weight: 1 oz. (28 g.) / 2.99 oz. (85 g.) in total bar
Calories: 168 calories in 1/3 bar
Cost: $8.95 for one bar
Purchased from: Fog City News, San Francisco, CA

Bonjour, and welcome to the last day of Nibs Theme Week, and Day #1 of French Chocolate Theme Week.

Today's Noir Guanaja* Eclats de Cacao (Dark Cocoa Nibs) bar was from Valrhona (Tain l'Hermitage, France). This 70 percent cacao bar was smooth in taste and texture, and had a faint, intriguing aroma with subtle hints of chocolate, smoke, fruit, earth. The melt and mouthfeel were luscious and delightful, and the nibs added contrasting texture.

Today I also had a great time celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Chocolate Banquet with a group of friends by having a "bring your own item to dip in solar chocolate fondue" party. Very fun! Thank you all for bringing such a perfect selection of items. Sliced plums and fruit fresh from a farmers market, homemade peanut butter cookies, bacon slices, gluten-free pretzels, banana slices, raspberries and strawberries, corn chips...all good.

Tomorrow I'll try some toasted squares of pumpkin bread with the leftover fondue; or I could just eat French-inspired truffles.

*Guanaja is an island off the (Caribbean) coast of Honduras.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Taza - Organic 55% Chocolate Covered Nibs - Sept. 23, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Taza Chocolate
Organic 55 percent Dark Chocolate Covered Nibs
Good ++
Weight: .8 oz. (22.4 g.) / 2 oz. (56 g.) in total package
Calories: 128 calories in .8 oz. (22.4 g.)
Cost: $5.50 for 1 package
Purchased from: SweetE Organic, Mill Valley, CA

Welcome to Day #10 of Nibs Theme Week.

Taza Chocolate (Somerville, MA) was an early player in this century's new wave of American chocolate makers.

Not insignificantly, the founders also sought to build relationships directly with farmers and co-ops to bring organic chocolates to the market, including more "rustic" stone-ground chocolate (and drinking chocolate). The less processed style is more flavorful and granular, and was new for many people in the U.S. (except perhaps those who had spent time in Mexico and Central America).

Today's 55% dark chocolate covered nibs from Taza were a bit sweeter than their 67% dark chocolate covered nibs I remember tasting in 2012. They were still good, but I'd love to taste an even darker 70+ percent version.

The challenge with more added sugar (which reduces the percentage of cacao) is that it's harder to taste the subtle cacao flavors in the nib (pieces of cacao bean). Some may like the sweetness. (Today's nibs were far better than some overly sweet, commercial dark chocolate offerings.)

Thank you to SweetE Organic for providing a range of organic sweets and chocolates such as the Taza line (as well as expertly-curated gifts).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

ChocXO - Organic Milk Chocolate 37% Cocoa Nibs bar - Sept. 21, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Organic Milk Chocolate 37% Cocoa Nibs bar
Good ++
Weight: 1.4 oz. (40 g.) in total bar
Calories: 230 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $ missing information
Purchased from: missing information

Welcome to Day #8 of Nibs Theme Week.

Today's Organic Milk Chocolate 37% Cacao + Cocoa Nibs bar was from ChocXO (Irvine, CA*) was a milk chocolate version of yesterday's ChocXO Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao + Cocoa Nibs bar.

The dark bar had a great nutty flavor that (assuming the cacao in the two bars was the same) seemed to fade with the addition of milk powder in today's bar. However, this wasn't bad for milk chocolate. The nibs added from texture and cacao flavor and helped balance the sweetness.

*The company's Irvine Chocolate Factory works with a sister company in British Columbia (Canada) to encompass all the steps in bean-to-bar chocolate making. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ChocXO - Organic Dark 70% bar with nibs - Sept. 20, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao + Cocoa Nibs bar
Good ++ - Very Good
Weight: .7 oz. (20 g.) / 1.4 oz. (40 g.) in total bar
Calories: 122.5 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $ missing information
Purchased from: missing information

Welcome to Day #7 of Nibs Theme Week.

This Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao + Cocoa Nibs bar was made "from the bean" by ChocXO (Irvine, CA).

The aroma was a complex blend of earthy, nutty, fruity, and floral, and something pleasant that I couldn't pin down. The bar was relatively thick, and had a smooth texture with some crunchiness from the embedded cocoa nibs.

The flavor was pleasant, even, and less acidic than I expected from the aroma (not a bad thing). It had a pleasing earthy nut butter flavor to it.

The finish was mild, with only one very tiny hint of ammonia from one nib. And here I must leap to the chocolate makers defense. This ChocXO bar did not suffer from this tiny offender, but other bars occasionally do.

Nibs - The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

When a chocolate maker, or chocolatier, includes nibs in a bar, the homogenized chocolate in the bar might be wonderful, but it is very difficult to isolate every possible nib that might be less than stellar. It's a bit like buying a gigantic sack of peanuts in the shell. There is bound to be one or two that you end up tossing aside. When peanuts are processed into peanut butter or when nibs are all ground up together and made into chocolate, it may be impossible to taste one "off" nut or nib. But, unprocessed or a la carte nuts or nibs are a different story.

I have a great deal of respect for chocolate makers that cultivate good relationships with farmers; they need to be able to trust they'll receive great beans from them. This usually helps diminish the time, but does not avoid the process of, having to spend hours inspecting trays of tiny nibs trying to hand pick out lower grade pieces.

Thank you all who are providing nibs in bars and confections. It's worth the risk!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cocanu - Nibs, Pop Rocks bar - Sept. 19, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Cocanu Chocolate
Moonwalk - Dark chocolate, cacao nibs, Pop Rocks(R) bar
Good +++
Weight: .4 oz. (12.5 g.) / .8 oz. (25 g.) in total bar
Calories: 60 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $5.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: The Meadow (Mississippi location), Portland, OR

Welcome to Day #6 of Nibs Theme Week.

Today's Moonwalk bar from Cocanu Chocolate (Portland, OR) was a dark chocolate bar with cacao nibs "dreaming of walking on the moon." A few days ago we had a gorgeous full, pumpkin-colored moonrise, that a friend and I observed from a hilltop in San Francisco, so this Moonwalk bar had special appeal.

Normally, nibs pep up a bar all by themselves. However, the Nacional nibs from Ecuador in this 65% dark bar received a subtle boost from some embedded Pop Rocks. The tiny edible bursts were not enough to break out of earth's orbit, but provided a bit of subtle concept fun.

The bar's dark chocolate base was crafted from Venezuelan Criollo cacao and had a complex, balanced and subtly sweet, almost smoky, earthy, fruity aroma and flavor. The chocolate had an even melt and relatively creamy texture. There was one tiny off note, perhaps from a nib.

The Pop Rocks yielded a few small sweet, crunchy bits, but may have lost some of these sizzle during the long flight to the moon.

The finish lingered in a pleasant way for about 20-30 seconds after the last bite. And now, thanks to this Moonwalk bar, I'm leaving for a chocolate-powered walk, here on Earth.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ritual Chocolate - The Nibs Bar 75% cacao - Sept. 18, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Ritual Chocolate
"The Nibs Bar" 75% Cacao
Weight: .53 oz. (15 g.) / 2.12 oz. (60 g.) in total bar
Calories: 79 calories (estimate) in 1/4 bar
Cost: $7.50 for 1 bar
Purchased from: SweetE Organic, Mill Valley, CA

Welcome to Day #5 of Nibs Theme Week.

Today's dark chocolate bar was made with cacao beans from the Toledo district of Southern Belize. "The Nibs Bar" from Ritual Chocolate (Park City, UT) had a faintly sweet, earthy dark chocolate and coffee aroma, and a fairly strong coffee flavor with a hint of dried and/or citrus fruit.

This two-ingredient bar was made from cacao and organic cane sugar. I knew this, and yet I found myself re-checking the ingredients, to make sure the cacao nibs weren't coffee nibs. If you like coffee, you'll like this bar.

The bar's packaging (and bar) were very well designed. Every side and surface contributed to the company's story, from the mountain peak motif and the sparkly stars above*, to the cacao pod nestled in the middle of a diamond shape.

*The company crafts their chocolate in the mountains at 7,000 feet (2,133 meters). While it can be difficult to make chocolate in a hot climate, making chocolate in the snowy mountains (despite a temperature-controlled inside) must also require some re-calibrations for altitude, relative dryness, and weather. Fortunately, the team at Ritual has had practice. They moved to Park City, UT from Denver, CO.

Creo Chocolate - Ecuador Arriba Nacional Cacao Nibs - Sept. 17, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Creo Chocolate
Ecuador Arriba Nacional Cacao Nibs
Good +++ - Very Good
Weight: 2 TB, 1 oz. (28 g.) / 8 oz. (226 g.) in total package
Calories: 125 calories (estimate) for a 2 TB serving
Cost: $10.00 (estimate) for 1 package
Purchased from: Creo Chocolate, Portland, OR

Welcome to Day #13 of Ecuador Chocolate, and Day #4 of Nibs Theme Week.

Sometimes it pays to go back to basics with foods and sweets.

Chocolate is made from fermented and dried cacao (or cocoa) beans. In almost all cases*, these beans are then roasted, winnowed and then ground into smaller pieces called cocoa nibs. And, nibs are the basic component of chocolate that we're focused on this week.

Today, my chocolate of the day is...a handful of Ecuador Arriba Nacional Cacao Nibs from Creo Chocolate (Portland, OR) eaten plain, and over vanilla ice cream and other items.

These nibs were smooth and even, with no off flavors. They had a nice soft crunch with earth, chocolate, fruit, and wine flavor notes.

These were eaten straight out of the bag, over vanilla ice cream and over Nutella brownies. I can highly recommend all three choices. (Thank you to Julie for the tasting help!)

*In some cases, chocolate makers and chocolatiers are using unroasted or partially roasted beans either to make "raw" chocolate or chocolate with a different nutritional/flavor profile.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Creo Chocolate - 73% Ecuador Nibs and Sea Salt bar - Sept. 16, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Creo Chocolate
73 percent Ecuador Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt bar
Good ++ - Very Good
Weight: .875 oz. (25 g.) / 1.75 oz. (50 g.) in total bar
Calories: 131 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $8.00 (estimate) for 1 bar
Purchased from: Creo Chocolate, Portland, OR

Welcome to Day #12 of Chocolate and Ecuador Theme Week, and Day #3 of Nibs Theme Week.

Today's 73 percent Ecudaor Cacao with Nibs and Sea Salt bar from Creo Chocolate (Portland, OR) was made from Heirloom Arriba Nacional cacao, a fine-flavored cacao from Ecuador known for its floral flavor.

I purchased this bar earlier this year while on a trip to Portland; and I was able to visit some makers, like Creo, in person. With only a few days in the city of roses, I barely scratched the surface of the chocolate making scene there.

Creo, a word that translates into both "I believe" and "I create" is an apt name for a craft chocolate maker.

And these chocolate makers have created a 73 percent cacao dark bar containing a bouquet of aromas and flavors that I associate with Ecuador: slightly earthy, green, floral, sweet marshmallow, nutty, slightly woodsy, and a very small, pleasant, wine-y note in the last bite I had.

Nibs added tiny windows of unadulterated (unsweetened) cacao flavor, and crunchy texture to the smooth dark, well-tempered chocolate that had a nice, even melt. And for those that like a bit of salt, you'll get that some sparkles of that too.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Jordi's Chocolate - Dark Chocolate Cacao Nibs 63% bar - Sept. 15, 2016

Chocolate of the Day: 

Jordi's Chocolate
Tmava Cokolada Dark Chocolate (bar with nibs)
Good +++ - Very Good
Weight: .88 oz. (25 g.) / 1.76 oz. (50 g.) in total bar
Calories: 132 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $ difficult to calculate - part of subscription box
Purchased from: Cocoa Runners (UK)

Welcome to Day #11 of Ecuador Theme Week, and Day #2 of Nibs Theme Week. But who's counting, right?

I was delighted to try a dark chocolate single origin bar from one of the first (this century at least) Czech Republic craft chocolate companies, Jordi's Chocolate (Hadrec Kralove, Czech Republic). The company opened a chocolate parlour in the summer of 2010, and expanded their operations with a chocolate manufacturing facility in 2012.

I was able to obtain this bar thanks to a subscription from Cocoa Runners (UK), an outfit similar to a wine club that searches the globe for craft chocolate bars. Their selection philosophy: "Many are tasted, few are chosen."

Back to today's dark chocolate Academy of Chocolate Bronze Award winner in 2015.

This 63% cocoa solids, two-ingredient bar (cocoa beans and sugar) bar was crafted from beans grown in Ecuador. The tasting notes printed on the bar's packaging read:

"Dark chocolate with cocoa nibs. Smooth tones of coffee and red fruit. The result is quiet and live chocolate at the same time."

The bar had a very pleasant chocolatey, almost woody aroma and flavor with slight fruit lilt. This chocolate was deceptively subtle; it was more complex than the first bite would indicate. (It reminded me of my first sip of Kona coffee - deceptively mild and very good.)

The bar held up well as I re-tasted the bar throughout the day. And the nibs added depth and texture and a pleasant crunch, with well-balanced flavor, helping to balance the sweetness nicely.

The inside packaging contained the story of the company and a brief description of two other bars (a white chocolate bar and a milk chocolate bar—also adorned with the image of a wild animal).

The meerkat peering out at us on the front of the package lives in South Africa. These engaging and curious animals, seem to be always scanning the horizon, on the alert for predators, and planning food forays into nearby areas. Sounds like certain chocolate hunters I know.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SOMA Chocolatemaker - Little Big Man bar - Sept. 14, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

SOMA Chocolatemaker
Little Big Man bar
Very Good
Weight: 1.1 oz. (32.5 g.) / 2.2 oz. (65 g.) total bar
Calories: 167 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $12.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #10 of Ecuador Theme Week, and Day #1 of Nibs Theme Week.

I can't think of a better bar for Chocolate Banquet's 10-year anniversary week. This Little Big Man bar from SOMA Chocolatemaker (Toronto, Canada) has so many great stories to be told.*

First, I feel very glad to be living in a world with so much great craft chocolate. Second, while a trip to Canada would be beautiful this time of year, there's a place right down the street from me where I can buy SOMA and other chocolates from dozens of different places. This still amazes me.

The chocolate makers at SOMA (David, Cynthia and team) have consistently been making creative and high-quality offerings as long as I've been writing about chocolate. Several years ago, I remember parking myself in their shop inside an old, brick whiskey factory, and buying pine-infused and olive oil truffles, and working with a very kind and patient employee at the counter to create a custom sundae, probably with nibs, and finally buying other chocolates that they carried from around the globe. I only left because they were closing.

Today's bar, sealed in a silver pouch, had its own unique story. On one side of this 73% dark blend bar (made with cacao beans from two continents: Ecuador and Madagascar) was a map of the Toronto waterfront that could serve as a treasure map for walkers. You've reached your destination when you arrive at SOMA. (Both walking and chocolate are both close to my heart.)

The bar's relatively low sugar content allowed for great cacao aroma and flavor to shine through: earthy, dark and very slightly nutty, with some surprise licorice (liquorice) sparkle.

But, wait, we're not done yet. On the other side of the bar was a smattering of cacao (or cocoa) nibs, bits of cocoa bean, that added crunchy texture and another dimension of cacao flavor.

*Little Big Man is also the name of a stage play and movie about storytelling.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ritter - 35% Milk Chocolate Arriba Cocoa Ecuador bar - Sept. 13, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Ritter Sport
35% Fine Milk Chocolate with Arriba cocoa from Ecuador bar
Good ++
Weight: .575 oz (16.25 g. ) / 2.3 oz. (65 g.) in total bar
Calories: 86 calories in 1/4 bar
Cost: $9.99 for 1 box of 14 bars
Purchased from: Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #9 of Ecuador Chocolate Theme Week.

Today's 35 percent Fine Milk Chooclate bar from Ritter (Germany). was made with Arriba cacao from Ecuador.

This fairly thick bar could be broken into pieces to share. The milk chocolate had a relatively creamy melt and an aroma of sweet milk chocolate. The bar had a cooked milk cocoa flavor (more caramel than fruit), with a slight nutty flavor note.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Top 10 Places to Find Chocolates - Sept. 12, 2016

How Did I Find 3,600+ Chocolates?
September 12, 2016

People often ask me where or how I found a different chocolate to eat every day for a decade.  In honor of Chocolate Banquet's 10th Anniversary, I'm sharing a list of the top ten places where I've found chocolates. There are some overlaps between categories, and this list is not all inclusive by a long shot, but it does explain where most chocolates on Chocolate Banquet have come from.

1.) Curated Chocolate Shops
2.) Bean to Bar Makers, Chocolatiers
3.) Specialty Shops, Bakeries
4.) Grocery Stores
5.) Airports
6.) Conferences, Shows, Salons
7.) Farmers' Markets
8.) Online retailers
9.) Museums
10.) Friends and Family

Curated Chocolate Shops
I was able to find 3,650+ chocolates this past decade from 1,100+ different chocolate suppliers/sources worldwide. However, I owe a special debt of gratitude to five carefully curated chocolate shops in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live.

The Chocolate Garage (Palo Alto, CA), located a few miles from my house. The Garage is open limited hours to the public, but Sunita de Tourreil and team offer a tasting room, a sense of community, and an excellent selection of craft chocolate bars from around the world—with the occasional hazelnut spread or confection. Sunita has helped set standards for high-quality chocolate that also has a "clean," transparent supply chain back-story. No to child slavery and dicey sourcing. Only Happy Chocolate.

In the North Bay, Elana Turchon at SweetE Organic (Mill Valley, CA) provides her customers with higher-end organic, allergen free and raw chocolates, many of them fair trade and local as well. She also carries other healthy sweets and quality gift items.

Since I appreciate great chocolates with flavor inclusions that are also gluten free, Elana has been an invaluable source. My daughter has a life-threatening peanut allergy, and has experienced severe symptoms from eating foods cross-contaminated with peanuts. So, it's a relief that Elana specializes in finding sweets suitable for everyone.

Two other shops in San Francisco have also provided an excellent source of new chocolates, just when I thought I might be running out in the early years.

Adam Smith has been managing Fog City News (San Francisco, CA) with a small team of dedicated staff for as long as I remember; and he always has a new chocolate, just when I think I'm running low, or need one more bar for a given theme week. The shop on Market Street in the Financial District also stocks an impressive array of magazines, foreign periodicals and gift cards.

But, if I'm looking for unique chocolates, I visit Jack Epstein and team at Chocolate Covered in Noe Valley (San Francisco, CA). During one of my last visits, his small shop was stocked with 950+ different chocolate items, along with handmade cyanotype decorative metal tins adorned with San Francisco street names and other images. Epstein claims not to be a chocolate expert, but he knows and works with dozens of chocolate companies from around the globe. If you want a camel's milk bar, or a bar with brisket, this is the place to go.

Alas, other shops, like CocoaBella Chocolates (San Francisco), have come and/or gone in the last decade. But, I continue to appreciate small shops that offer a selection of truffles, bon bons and bars from a variety of chocolatiers and makers here and abroad.

Local Bean-to-Bar Makers and Chocolatiers

Some chocolate makers offer retail outlets. If you can find bean-to-bar makers (large or small) who give talks or tours, you'll learn a lot about chocolate, and may come away with a greater appreciation of the challenges involved. The first step is to obtain high-quality fermented cacao beans from farmers to be able to make great chocolate. Great beans are essential, and roasting, conching, tempering (and all other steps) are critical in making good chocolate as well.

Tours continue to come and go. For example, in the Bay Area, Scharffen Berger used to offer a great tour in the East Bay, but that facility closed after the company merged with Hershey. TCHO is working on offering tours again, following their move from San Francisco to Berkeley.

Ghirardelli still offers some tours in San Francisco (e.g. as part of their Chocolate Festival). And Dandelion Chocolate (San Francisco, CA) offers talks at their cafe + factory (production area with glass walls) so that customers can learn more about chocolate. Some of the largest bulk or wholesale producers of chocolate (or processors of cocoa) are not open to the public for tours, e.g. Guittard Chocolate Company (South San Francisco, CA) and Blommer Chocolate Company (based in Chicago, IL with a facility in Union City, CA).

However, the majority of chocolate shops are owned by chocolatiers (who buy bulk chocolate to melt and shape into their own bars and confections). And chocolatiers can be found in almost every mid-sized city. These shops (or tables at Farmers' Markets) in the Bay Area are a plentiful source of chocolates, ranging from high-volume local sellers such as See's Candies, to luxury truffle and filled chocolate companies (NeoCocoa, CocoTutti, Michael Mischer, Recchiuti Confections, etc.), to novelty shops like fudge-maker and candy and gift seller, Z Cioccolato (San Francisco, CA).

Specialty Shops, Bakeries

I've been surprised to find a variety of specialty shops that also stock chocolates. Bakeries are also a natural fit, but I need to find gluten free items, which narrows down the number of bakeries quickly on this list.

Miette Cakes LLC, with locations San Francisco, Oakland and Larkspur, is famous for their cakes, and also manages to stock a small assortment of interesting chocolates as well as a rows of glass jars filled with different gluten-free macarons, some of them with chocolate.

And local Bay Area gluten-free bakers at Mariposa Baking Company, Flour Craft Bakery, Flour Chylde, Zest Bakery and others, have enabled me to enjoy and feature chocolate cakes, cookies and other baked goods. (See also Farmers' Markets.)

Honorable mentions go to ZombieRunner (store in Palo Alto, CA), a retail store dedicated to trail runners that also offers a great latte, licorice, dark chocolate bars and other snacks; and to Recreational Equipment, Inc., aka REI, Outdoor Stores that carry energy and snack bars with chocolate and the occasional craft chocolate bar. Because if you run or walk, you can justify a bit more chocolate.

Grocery Stores
Whole Foods Market, Piazza's Fine Foods, Draeger's Market, Trader Joe's, New Leaf Community Markets, Andronicos, Paradise Foods...I thank you all. I've found many bars, truffles and gluten-free chocolate items at these stores over time. Even the larger chains like Safeway and Raley's have surprised me occasionally with some great finds, depending on the store.

And even economy-oriented Grocery Outlet Bargain Market (at least the location in Palo Alto) has stocked single origin chocolate bars and other chocolate items.

Airports, or more specifically specialty shops and retail outlets at airports that stock local bars or confections, can be a great source of chocolates no matter what country you happen to be visiting. If I'm lucky, I find some that carry smaller brands or hand-crafted chocolates and not just the big brands that I can find at home.

Chocolate Conferences, Shows, Salons, Festivals
These events can be great places to find new chocolates and find out more about chocolatiers and chocolate makers. Vendors often choose to launch a new brand, family or product line at a show. And, if you're fortunate, you'll be able to ask vendors questions. Or, a company founder may be speaking or conducting a tasting or demo at a conference or show.

Farmers' Markets
Like airports, I find farmers' markets great sources of new chocolates, particularly if I'm traveling to a new area, or am on vacation. While visiting farmers' markets in Hawaii I met a bean-to-bar maker and an outstanding chocolatier. Many of the companies may be small, and may not have a permanent storefront, but I may have a chance to speak with the owner or chocolate maker.

Online Retailers
In a word...Chocosphere. This site carries many different chocolate bars and has been selling chocolate since 1998.

There are, of course, many other chocolate retailers that sell online; however, the majority are selling just one or two brands. And that's fine if you're hunting for something specific. Search engines are marvelous for this. Not all international companies can ship to the U.S. (especially in summer when ice packs are required), but I enjoy reading about new places I may want to visit or contact.

Museums often have interesting gift shops. And sometimes museum stores or shops stock a few specialty or branded chocolate items. However, I've found museum cafes even more interesting, as they often carry a high-end, gluten-free chocolate dessert and/or beverage that I can eat.

And, for a special treat, try visiting one of several chocolate museums when you travel in the U.S. or abroad. I found ones in Cuba and Nicaragua in the past six years, and I've barely scratched the surface.

Friends and Family
Never underestimate your own circle of friends, be they next door or on Facebook. I've learned about several new chocolates, or have been fortunate to receive occasional samples from friends and relatives who they either picked up during recent travels (thank you Toni, Katy and Dave)—or, in some cases, made themselves.

Thank you to you all! I really appreciate your support.

Brasstown Chocolate - Ecuador 75% bar - Sept. 12, 2016

Chocolate of the Day:

Brasstown Chocolate
Ecuador 75 percent bar
Good +++
Weight: 1.12 oz. (32 g.) / 2.25 oz. (63.87 g.) in total bar
Calories: 169 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $ missing information
Purchased from: Chocolate Covered, San Francisco, CA

Welcome to Day #8 of Ecuador Chocolate Theme Week.

Today's Ecuador 75 percent bar from Brasstown Fine Artisan Chocolate (Winston-Salem, NC) had a subtle chocolately, fudgey, slightly green/floral and marshmallow aroma. The chocolate had an even, dark tasting arc, with a hint of cherry/fruit, and the strongest floral flavor notes of all the Ecuador bars this past week.

The organic cacao beans for this bar came from Manabi, Ecuador. The bar contained just three ingredients: organic cocoa beans, raw sugar and organic cocoa butter.

As noted in a previous post this week, cacao trees growing near the Equator have beans that are often "leaner" (contains less cocoa butter or fat) than cacao grown further away (north or south). And, since Ecuador is, literally, on the Equator, most single origin bars from this country contain at least some added cocoa butter.

On a hot day, this bar may have a rich, slightly oily/buttery finish. It always amazes me how much weather or temperature, and other factors like what you had for lunch, can influence how chocolate tastes.

This bar was a Good Food Awards Winner, and had no off notes or characteristics. I recommend it to people who are fond of the elusive floral flavors that can be found naturally in chocolate.

Brasstown Chocolate was founded by Rom Still and Barbara Price in Winston-Salem, North Carolina—a place, the founders and craft chocolate makers note, that has a strong artisan and crafts tradition.
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