A month or two ago, I ordered some chocolate from one of my favourite online retailers: The Chocolate Project in Victoria, British Colombia. I was ordering some Goodnow Farms chocolate and discovered they had the new Mexico-origin Bonnat dark-milk 65% bar. That started an email conversation with Stephanie, a chocolate connoisseur and a fellow chocolate maker who works at The Chocolate Project, about other Mexico-origin bars that they carry. She put a package together for my order, and I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it and found the Chocolate Naïve duo pack of Mexico origin chocolate bars.
The cacao used to make the chocolate in both bars is from the same small farm in Coahoatian, Chiapas, Mexico. But each bar was made from cacao of a different harvest time.
Why is the time of harvest so important? The climate at different times of the year can affect the flavour of the cacao. As we commonly know, warm countries where cacao grows (within 20 degrees of the equator), tend to have wet and rainy seasons and dry seasons, and these changes can affect the harvest. And although the flavours are very similar in the cacao, there are subtle differences that can offer the taster a unique experience with each bar.
Have you noticed this change of harvest with other chocolate bars? I have had this opportunity in chocolate tasting when I received a wonderful lesson from Fresco Chocolate once on harvest, by way of the Peru Maranon cocoa beans. Also, I've noticed that the most recent Dick Taylor Madagascar bar that I purchased tasted more of tangy raisin than the fresh red berry flavour that I recall tasting when I first bought it several years ago. You see this with cocoa beans when making chocolate, but opportunities for the average chocolate consumer to taste the flavour of chocolate made from different harvests is rare. Perhaps a dedicated chocolate connoisseur could devote a cupboard to buying and saving chocolate bars from the same craft chocolate maker over different years, but who has the time and patience (and self control with eating that chocolate!) to do that?
So Naïve owner and chocolate maker Domantas Uzpalis has given us this experience in one single chocolate package. And I think this is a fantastic idea.
So how did this Mexico-origin chocolate taste anyway? Both chocolates had that citrus tang that my own Mexico origin chocolate has, and that wonderful milky colour (even though it was dark chocolate with no milk in it) of Mexican white Criollo cacao mixed in. The flavours, however, were sweeter and calmer, with perhaps some more conching* to calm them down, or the specific farm and fermentation methods applied created a sweet and more delicate profile. Certainly terrior played a role, since the Finca la Rioja plantation chocolate did not contain all the hazelnut notes and leather that my chocolate and Goodnow Farms chocolate (both from the Tobasco region of Mexico) contain.
The package offered a wonderful tasting chart inserted inside it. Overall, the tasting notes really hit the nail on the head. Hay, cream and citrus were common flavour notes in each bar, however Harvest #1 offered more citric acid and coffee flavours, whereas Harvest #2 offered roiboos flavour notes. I found #2 to be much sweeter than #1, and low and behold there were also some charts below the flavour notes that I had noticed until I sat down to write this post, showing that Naive also found less bitterness in #2.
I loved all the charts and notes put into this package. Although it is trendy to place NO flavour notes on packaging these days, there are some bars where notes and charts are welcome, especially in such an innovative package as this, which offers the taster an amazing learning opportunity. The only downside was that the harvest dates were not printed or indicated on the package anywhere, nor was the % of cacao in the chocolate. It was about a 70% dark chocolate, although could have fallen just below perhaps to a 67% or up to a 72% dark chocolate (this is my best tasting guess :-) ).
Should you buy this chocolate? I encourage you to try this chocolate, if you can get your hands on it. Be warned: this is a Naive 'Nano Lot', which means it may be made just once and then never offered again. However, I hope this post will hint to Naïve to create more Nano Lots of chocolate just like this one, making two different harvests of chocolate in one package.
*conching refers to a process of heating, aerating, and cooling the chocolate while it is in constant motion over a period of time (sometimes up to 72 hours). This was invented by Rudolph Lindt...a long time ago.
There is one cacao that has suddenly popped up everywhere during the last year: Ucayali River Cacao. Chocolate makers are launching Ucayali-named bars everywhere, most staying within the 70% dark chocolate range, with just a few others venturing out beyond 70% cocoa solids. Last year, only a small handful of makers were producing Ucayali bars, including Sirene Chocolate (called the Tingo Maria bar) and Letterpress (Ucayali 70%), both winning international awards for their bars.
See all those award stickers? This origin - and the chocolate maker - is a winner!
Then this year, a slew of chocolate makers won Academy of Chocolate (AoC) awards in the 2018 competition, including Daniel Haran, owner of Chocolat Monarque in Montreal, who just won an Academy of Chocolate Gold for his 80% Ucayali bar. Goodnow Farms won an AoC Silver medal for its 70% Ucayali bar, Coco Chocolate Company of Kingston, Ontario and Letterpress of California won 2018 AoC Bronze for their 70% Ucayali bars, as did Lemuel Chocolate, and I can't even keep track of all the other Ucayali River Cacao wins. I did not submit any of my Ucayali dark chocolate bar experiments, because they are not a part of my product line-up, but seeing the list of winners, I wished I had because the flavour of the beans stand out above many other cocoa bean origins.
So why are the beans so darn good? Ucayali River Cacao (URC) lets the farmers do their farming thing, and URC takes care of the rest, so the cacao is treated with the same high quality fermentation and drying techniques across the board. A consistent product is produced from an inconsistent bean. URC works to produce the best cacao by picking up the wet beans from farmers in the region every 30 days, then centrally processing it for a consistent flavour and streamlined process. Often, if each farmer were to try to ferment their own beans, the results could be less flavourful, because many small farmers do not have enough beans to fill a fermentation bin at once, and therefore optimal temperatures can not be reached during fermentation for a good flavour profile. In addition, fermentation and drying are additional skills the farmer must learn, which reduces their time to concentrate on producing good cacao on the farm and increasing production. URC solves this problem for farmers and they pay farmers a price higher than market value to encourage future efforts in farming.
Experimenting with the beans... So starting last Fall and again this winter, I got a few 5kg bags of Ucayali River Cacao and experimented. The smell upon opening the bags, was that of pure cacao heaven. Each raw cocoa bean has its own aroma when you open the bags, and the Ucayali River Cacao had a wonderful aroma unlike any I have smelled before. I had to stop myself from entirely immerging my head in the bag to get a long, wonderful whiff.
The beans were beautiful, and nearly no strange bits in them. They were easy to sort and lovely to work with. And so, having heard the wonderful flavour of this cacao, and based on the look, a hand-done cut test and the smell, I decided to apply a very light roast to all the beans, because I really wanted the bean flavours to shine through on my first experiments.
I made a 70% immediately, and added a solid amount of cocoa butter just to ensure I made the same recipe as a few other chocolate bars that I had on hand, in order to get a good origin taste comparison. As chocolate makers, we all have our own 'cocoa butter philosophy' and I like the original French-style creamy mouth-feel for a 70% chocolate bar (although my philosophy on cocoa butter is dependent on the cocoa bean itself - after experimenting, if an exceptional beans shine, I usually try a new batch with no or less cocoa butter to feature more of the bean favours). In this 70% bar, where I applied a light roast, the fruity flavours were quite noticeable, with a lemon tang and strong cocoa notes, with some woody undertones. At 70% cocoa solids, it was certainly packed with a flavour punch.
Then I made a 100% with no cocoa butter added, just the beans refined for 2 days in the stone melangeur. Then I made an 85% Ucayali dark chocolate with 5% cocoa butter, and immediately followed that with a 90% Ucayali dark chocolate with 10% cocoa butter. My reasoning was that a bean with a lot of acidity might need a little more cocoa butter at a high percentage in order to calm down the acidity a bit, and give the taster a more enjoyable experience with less sugar. As many regular chocolate tasters reduce sugar from their diets, and turn to 90% and above dark chocolate, it can be difficult to find bars that are not so extreme and bitter in flavour. I wondered if the Ucayali could be a good option at a high percentage for that new-to-extreme-dark-chocolate person.
So if you've been following closely, you'll know that both the 85% and the 90% dark chocolate bars contained 80% beans, but just had varying amounts of cocoa butter and sugar. And I tell you, I was surprised by how different they turned out in favour.
The 90% turned out to be elegant, mild in flavour, creamy in texture and overall had that delicate feel of a Porcelana or Soma's CSB Chama bar, but with some after taste of bold fruit flavours. The added cocoa butter really softened the edges, giving the chocolate a palatability of something a little sweeter than the average 90% bar. However, it was less interesting than the 85%, which offered a bold fruitiness and strong notes of citrus acidity that hit the palate upfront, with cedar and wood notes also rounding out the flavour punch.
The 100% dark chocolate bar was a good solid-tasting unsweetened bar, which could have stood up to some of the best 100% dark bars on the market, with some fruit notes and a distinct taste of roasted cacao, BUT also oddly less interesting than the 85% and 90% bars. What I learned from the 100% was that the Ucayali River bean really shine when a little sugar is added to highlight the flavour. As chocolate makers, we are continually pushing the limits, but we must remember that sugar has always been used as a way to highlight cocoa bean flavours, and not be afraid to use a little more if it enhances the experience of the chocolate by the greatest number of people.
Finally I made a milk chocolate bar.... I also decided to make a 68% dark-milk chocolate bar, which had only 13% sugar in it. I figured it would highlight the flavours of the bean, while introducing a nice melt-in-your-mouth feature to the chocolate. The result was a very delicate, creamy milk chocolate, with not a strong 'terrior' flavour of the cocoa bean. The delicate nature of it was quite nice, and could be addictive, but I wondered if a 50 to 60%, light on the cocoa butter and strong on the beans, might have been a better composition.
This 68% Ucayali milk chocolate bar was more dark than milk, but with a delicate creamy mouthfeel and taste.
So what did I learn... I learned that a little sugar goes a long way when it comes to some beans. These beans are truly flavourful because they have been treated just right, and they taste great on their own, and made into a very dark and unsweetened chocolate, but their flavours truly shine when a little sugar is added, about 15% to 30%. With that, the chocolate comes alive and really begins to tell its story.
Find Ucayali origin chocolate bars and beans near you... You can find Ucayali River Cacao origin chocolate bars all throughout North America now, so just check the website of the producers for a chocolate maker in your area, at: https://ucayalirivercacao.wordpress.com/
Last weekend I attended the eGullet Chocolate and Confectioner Workshop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where confectioners and wanna-be chocolatiers gathered for a weekend of learning, improving their chocolatiering skills and bettering their bellies (I mean literally, we ate a tonne of chocolate!).
While at the workshop, one of the key presenters and 'teachers' was Rodney Alleguede, who is a chef and the owner of Goûter a Patisserie, Bouangerie and Chocolaterie in Toronto. All the attendees of the workshop agreed, after three full days of 'hard work' tasting Rodney's pastries, that he makes some of the best pastries we had ever tasted. For me it was all about the flaky chocolate croissant, or 'pain au chocolat' as it is properly called in France, where Rodney is from. Although I make a less flaky version at home (to keep the mess at a minimum), I love a good flaky chocolate croissant, with a crisp outer edge yet soft on the inside.
During the year that I lived in France, the word 'Goûter' was probably the most fascinating word to me. The French never walked around eating food in public, the way we might see us North Americans eating breakfast on the subway or on our way to work. But for some reason, the 4 p.m. snack time, goûter, as it is called, was the only time they seemed to be okay with eating outside and on their way home. Every day I would see French folks eating a Pain au Chocolat on the streets of Rennes, the city where I attended school. And every day it would inspire me to try a new chocolate croissant from a different shop, perhaps in hopes of becoming a croissant connoisseur one day, or just in increasing my waste line (you can imagine which goal I reached first that year). So Rodney`s Pain au Chocolat really brought me back to that time.
Blurry pastry selfie - it is blurry because I accidentally rubbed too much butter from the croissants on my phone`s camera lens.
The other croissant by Rodney that truly dazzled was the raspberry one (sorry, no chocolate here). It was full of rich raspberry puree or fresh jam, had a gorgeous colour and probably was the most delicious pastry I had ever tasted.
Goûter is also making a Nutella croissant, which I hear is delicious. So if you are in Toronto, you NEED to get over to Rodney`s shop to try it. Plus he has delicious gelato, chocolates and confections and other amazing pastries and breads, so go NOW! You`ll find Gouter at:
Announcing....Ultimately Chocolate's brand new look! That's right folks, we just launched new packaging. It feels like a real achievement since I took so darn long to work on it. Although we have launched retail-style packaging - with nutrition labels - before for my chocolate TOFFLE, this bean to bar chocolate packaging has the works, including bar codes.
I wanted to make sure we did everything right the first time. So admittedly I was a little slow working on this project. The design team that I worked with (Signature Group, Sudbury) was patient though and very good, and finally, I have just received all the new packages and they are amazing!
So what's the process to designing chocolate bar packages?
1. Hire a design team.
2. Work with the design team to come up with a concept (do you want something that goes with the industry norm or something completely different than everyone else? What materials do you want to use: clear packaging, boxes with windows, bags with windows, printed boxes, wrapping-paper?)
4. Gather and decide on your information, marketing style, and how you want to describe your products, company mission, etc.
5. Calculate your nutrition label or send your products off to a lab to get tested (the kind of lab that sends you back a nice graphic of the nutrition label is the best-yet-most-expensive way).
6. Get all your info translated to French (we must do this in Canada) with a professional translator or really smart French friends, and a group of friendly French-speaking proof-readers.
7. Send all the info to the designers. Let them do their magic and try not to get in the way of their artistry. Designers became designers because they are artistic and have a good eye, so be sure to listen to their ideas.
8. Source a printing company. I used a custom box company out of the Toronto area. Soopak offers great pricing when you buy in bulk. It is less economical if you want less than 1,000 packages though.
9. Proof-read, check it over and proof read again. Check the designers final files, then get a mock-up made from the printing company (which sometimes costs you), then get a team of people you know to check it all over again.
10. Place your order. It generally takes three weeks for your packages to arrive once you've paid and given final approval. Uline.ca has the little clear round sticky labels to seal your boxes or packaging, to ensure your customers that no one has tampered with the product.
That was my process. Yours may be the same or it may vary, depending on your team or ideas about packaging.
As for now, if you want to buy my new products, neatly in their packaging, you can e-mail me at info @ ultimatelychocolate.com, or visit My Mother's Place (gift & artisan food shop) in Sudbury, several Manitoulin Island retailers (including Loco Beanz in Little Current, Loco Beanz in Gore Bay, and Huron Island Time in Providence Bay) and at JoJo CoCo in Ottawa on Terry Fox Drive. Stay tuned for more retailer near you!
Last week I enjoyed the most amazing chocolate maker's experience: I visited Tomric Systems in Buffalo, New York. Tomric is Northern Ontario's only distributor of the Italian brand Selmi, which is a line-up of equipment for bean-to-bar chocolate-making.
As my business grows, I have been looking at the next steps in chocolate making, and I spent the day working with the Selmi equipment to see just how good it is at stepping up production capacity, while keeping in line with craft chocolate making. Every piece of equipment worked perfectly together to achieve that goal, from roasting, to cracking and winnowing the cocoa beans, to pre-grinding. After grinding the beans, the Selmi ball mill refines the chocolate until it is smooth in less than 2 hours, then the conching begins - either with the continuous tempering machine or a separate conche, which Selmi has developed and is soon on its way to Tomric. At the end of it all, tempering and moulding chocolate bars is fantastically easy with the continuous tempering machine, enabling moulding between 60 and 120 bars per hour by hand.
The Selmi Roaster with 5kg of cocoa beans ready to roast.
The Selmi roaster roasts 6 kilos of chocolate at a time, with the ability to set your
personal settings for each type of bean you work with: a light roast for that full-flavoured
coveted bean and a dark roast for that bean that needs a fuller roast profile.
The Selmi Winnower.
The Selmi winnower both cracks the beans and separates the husks from the bean pieces (nibs). It processes about 6 kilos in 10-15 minutes, quickly and efficiently. You can adjust the size of the pieces depending on the origin of the cocoa beans, since not all beans are the same. We needed to adjust the winnower one way for my Honduras beans and another quick adjustment worked great on my Mexico beans (which have stickier, heavier shells).
This is me. Watching the cocoa-grinding action.
The Selmi Grinder quickly pulverizes the cocoa nibs to a rough (gritty but wet) chocolate liquor. This liquor is then moved to the ball refiner where sugar and cocoa butter are added to make a dark chocolate, and milk and other ingredients like sunflower lecithin (if using) are added to make milk chocolate.
The Selmi Micron Ball Refiner uses small stainless steel balls to pulverize the chocolate.
A ball refiner does the same work as a stone grinder, only in less time. Although it does not aerate the chocolate the way a stone refiner does, the chocolate is then moved to the tempering machine or a conche to aerate and agitate it to remove any unwanted flavours.
The Selmi Ball Refiner (also called Ball Mill).
The chocolate then drains out of a spout from the ball refiner and goes immediately into the Selmi Virbo, which vibrates the chocolate through a sifter to remove the hard cocoa bean germ (it is like a little hard stem inside one end of the cocoa bean) and any husks that were remaining in the chocolate. This adds a consistent mouthfeel to the chocolate. It is surprising at how much grit the Vibro removes from the chocolate at this stage.
The Selmi Micron Ball Refiner drains from a spout into the Semi Vibro.
The Vibro collects and sifts any cocoa bean germ and other gritty bits that might still be in the chocolate.
The chocolate then moves to a Conche or to the Continuous tempering machine for overnight conching or immediate tempering (if you've chosen not to conche). Tempering is the most important part of the chocolate making process - without it the chocolate would not only be dull looking, but also streaked with white lines of cocoa butter and sugar bloom, and it would not hold together well. The continuous tempering machine does the work of hours and hours of hand-stirring, tempering over marble or ice. The tanks at Tomric fit 20kg, but Selmi makes machines that also fit 60kg.
Moulding chocolate bars is an easy task with this piece of equipment, and in order to do large quantities of chocolate bars, it is a must-have. It not only can melt the chocolate, but then temper it, and keep it in a steady temper (if you treat the machine well). By hand and bowl method, with all the melting and tempering, I can currently mould 40 chocolate bars over the course of a morning. With a Selmi, I could more than quadruple that number in the same time-frame. Potentially I can mould over 800 chocolate bars a day.
Overall, this experience at Tomric Systems in Buffalo was amazing. I could truly see and compare where I am today, and where I can potentially get to with a line--up of great equipment with the Selmi brand. Also, Tomric provides all the support and services a chocolate maker needs to use any piece of equipment, whether they buy the whole line-up or just a piece at a time as they grow.
If you are looking to step up your bean-to-bar chocolate production, check out Tomric Systems and the Selmi line-up of equipment at: http://tomric.com/bean-to-bar/. They also have the moulds you need to make chocolate bars and every other kind of chocolate you could imagine. Follow them on Social Media (@TomricSystems) for more information on what they supply.
Chocolate in Buffalo Also, Buffalo was a great city to visit. It had wonderful restaurants, and a variety of foods from around the world. And it also had The Chocolate Bar, which was a fun place to go for music, chocolate, dessert and wine. I enjoyed a chocolate mousse cake that was also part-crème-brulee, with the sugar topping fired up at my table.
The Chocolate Bar offered a wine flight with squares of dark chocolate.
The Chocolate Bar's chocolate mousse cake, with a Crème Brulee centre.
Are you in love with the taste of honey? Have you excluded cane sugar from your diet? If you said 'yes!' to both of those questions, then I have found the perfect chocolate treat for you. I was shopping at The Island Jar, a local favourite health food store here on Manitoulin Island, and noticed some new little packaged treats: Heavenly Organics chocolate honey patties. They came in three flavours: Double Dark, Ginger chocolate honey pattie, and Peanut (ahem, it's peanut butter flavour even if the package does not describe it that way).
And if you have been reading my blog regularly, you'll know that in the winter months, I try out all sorts of unsweetened, 100% and cane-sugar-free chocolate to tell you about here. Since it is still winter here on Manitoulin Island, with a wake-up call of -14ºC this morning, then I can still tell you about these fantastic no-sugar chocolate finds.
The Double Dark is my favourite, with just two ingredients: 100% dark chocolate and raw white honey. It has a mildly sweet centre of creamy (although not liquidy, more like a ganache texture) honey which is dipped in a very thin coating of 100% dark chocolate. Normally 100% dark chocolate can be off-putting, and nearly too bitter to palate for most people, but in this case, the honey and bitter chocolate combine in your mouth for the perfect combination. Only the after taste leaves a little bitterness, mixed with honey. It really is a perfect combination for a dark chocolate lover like myself, and for anyone who is trying to stay away from cane sugar, or overindulging in sweet treats. Even my six-year old son loves them, and hasn't seemed to notice they are made with unsweetened chocolate (although he likes dark chocolate, up to about 85% dark, so this wasn't surprising).
The peanut pattie was less sweet than the Double Dark, but if you eat natural peanut butter, this will be like breakfast for you. The peanuts and honey were mixed together with a touch of Himalayan sea salt for the pattie in the centre, and again this pattie was enrobed in 100% dark chocolate. I see this as more of a low-carb (no-grain) snack and afternoon healthy pick-me-up. This one won't appeal to a child, since it lacks both the creaminess and sweetness of the Double Dark treat, but it may satisfy your mid-day craving for protein and dark chocolate. It tastes great with a coffee.
The Ginger chocolate honey pattie was not my favourite at first, but it has really grown on my over time. The ginger taste is not over-powering, mild in fact, but the flavour is there. The honey centre is creamy and the after taste of 100% dark chocolate is very nice. I recommend trying this one too.
The brand, Heavenly Organics, can be found online at: https://heavenlyorganics.com/, where you can learn all about the company founder, Amit Houda. The patties are available in Canada on Well.ca in three-packs for only $2.49 Canadian, or in larger bags of about 12 for $8.99. They are made from certified organic honey and organic chocolate, fair trade certified and gluten free. Also, you will find only 50-60 calories per pattie, so you can indulge guilt free.
A few weeks ago my family visited the Hummingbird Chocolate Factory in Almonte, Ontario. We were on our way to Ottawa for a few days, and I'd been wanting to get to Hummingbird since they started making chocolate several years ago. Their Dominican Republic origin chocolate bar - the 'Hispaniola' bar made with the coveted 'La Red' cocoa bean, was (and still is) a favourite of mine back when I wrote about it in 2012, and since then, it has won several awards, including the Golden Bean Award from the Academy of Chocolate.
The little company began with chocolate-making couple Erica and Drew and has grown into a full, yet still quaint-sized factory in Almonte with over 10 people working there. The cute little store-front rests in the newest shopping and entertainment district of Almonte, tucked in close to a fabulous craft brewery and an amazing coffee roaster & its eat-in café. So for my family, we were able to enjoy a Saturday morning full of food and drink, starting with Hummingbird's factory tour and chocolate-tasting in the store front, then a quick pick-up of Crooked Mile craft beer, and a rather enjoyable lunch at Equator Coffee Roasters.
Hummingbird's quaint storefront offers not only their chocolate bars, but gift packages, confections and seasonal treats.
During the tour, we learned that Erica and Drew have maintained the 'craft' part of chocolate making, by using a hands-on and hand-made approach. There are no wrapping machines, moulding machines or even new-age stainless steel winnowers on site. Nope, the original winnower which removes the husks from cocoa beans, is still standing in the factory and used regularly. Drew built it in the company's humble beginnings, with a few shop vacs, wood and some Plexiglas. I have a smaller version of this for my little workshop, so it was nice to see a chocolate maker who has built up a successful Canadian brand still using a homemade classic. And along with that, a team of people were buzzing around the space, doing the bar moulding, wrapping, and all the other work that comes with craft chocolate making.
This little tour was not about tasting chocolate (you can do that in the storefront), it was more about learning where the chocolate comes from, how it is made and the process Hummingbird goes through to make their craft chocolate. It only cost $5 per person and was fairly short and sweet (just long enough to get all the information, and just short enough so the children didn't lose interest and start some chaos in the factory). The kids had fun putting on hair nets and seeing their parents in the same silly get-up. And for my kids, who have watched chocolate making on a small scale, they were excited about the size of the equipment, the fact that the winnower looked like a giant version of the one their grandpa built, and the sheer volume of cocoa beans that were piled up in their bags in one corner. They were also excited to taste cocoa beans.
As for the goodies that we purchased in the store, there were some old favourites, like the 70% Hispaniola bar and its darker 85% version, and my new favourite, the Cap-Haitien, made from very fruity cocoa beans from Haiti. The Honduras 'Copan' bar is also a relatively new addition to Hummingbird's line, made from caramelly-flavourful cocoa beans that I am very familiar with, since I also make a few different chocolate bars from those beans.
Hummingbird also recently introduced a 60% dark-milk chocolate to the mix, which made my milk-chocolate-loving daughter very happy.
All in all, it was wonderful to see how Erica and Drew have grown their business over the last six years, from those first bars they sent me back in 2012, to the award-winning range of chocolate they now have available in FarmBoy stores across the Ottawa region, and many other retail locations worldwide.
Aging chocolate on the shelves inside Hummingbird's chocolate factory.
Chocolate moulds awaiting washing at Hummingbird Chocolate factory.
If you would like to see the factory, check Hummingbird's website at www.hummingbirdchocolate.com to book your tickets and a time, as well as find out where you can buy their delicious chocolate.
Although many of us have already abandoned our New Year's resolutions and are regularly skipping the gym in February, one thing we can try to maintain (because it takes no extra time), is to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets. Especially after a sweet Valentine's Day, it is a good time to adjust our palettes and get used to bitter flavours, and even start to like them.
So as I mentioned in one of my last posts, I like to push myself to taste only extra bitter, and completely unsweetened chocolate in the winter months. The newest line-up, which I was excited to see at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, was a full range of 100% bars by Fresco Chocolate. Most chocolate makers just make one 100% dark bar, but Fresco had at least three, if not more, at their booth at the festival. And knowing that Fresco always offers me an interesting taste experience, along with great learning experiences because they print the length that the chocolate was 'conched' (aerated and heated and cooled to reduce volatile flavours), as well as the roast length on the package, I bought them all.
I was not disappointed. All three bars offered a taste experience like no other for 100% dark chocolates. A long conche was applied to each chocolate, reducing acidity levels and volatile flavours, making the chocolate more palatable than baking chocolate and many other unsweetened chocolates that I have tasted over the years. My favourite was certainly the Guatemala, because I think it made 100% dark chocolate palatable for any taster. The most potent of the three was the Maranon, because of all that wonderful acidity that makes a 70% Maranon so interesting and tasty, but very intense when no sugar is included.
Below is a quick description of my tasting notes on each bar, and where you can find more information about each one on the Fresco website.
Oko-Caribe 100% Pure Chocolate, Limited Release, Medium Roast, Long Conche, 50 g Oko-Caribe is a cacao farming co-operative in the Dominican Republic, known for producing good-quality cocoa beans. The aroma of this 100% chocolate, made from Oko-Caribe beans, is wonderful; full of berries and floral elements. And the upfront flavour in the chocolate is very 'roasty'. The packaging lists a 'medium roast', but there really is a heavy roast taste to the chocolate (not burnt, just the flavour of roasted cocoa beans, or perhaps roasted walnuts or pecans). That is the upfront favour to me, but also there is some floral, some berry, some bitterness and a bit of earthiness and grass to the taste. A long conche was applied, which may have been a good thing. I could see how the raw cacao might have been too bitter for a 100% dark chocolate without the use of a long conche. For more information on this bar, visit: https://frescochocolate.com/collections/100-chocolate/products/oko-caribe-100-limited-release
Polochic Valley 100%, Guatemala, Light Roast, Long Conche, 50 g This chocolate is very interesting, with a lot of upfront fruit flavours. In fact, it is almost shocking that fruit flavour was not infused or added to the chocolate. In addition, it has extremely low acidity. The fruit is like grapes, real juicy purple grapes. And sometimes it reminds me of a merlot, other times a 'fruit & nut' chocolate bar. And even more surprising is the bitterness level: there is none. It is sweet in comparison to every other 100% dark chocolate that I have ever tasted. Overall, this bar was both surprising and fascinating for a 100%, taking unsweetened chocolate to a new level. I highly recommend tasting this chocolate bar. Learn more about it here: https://frescochocolate.com/collections/100-chocolate/products/100-polochic-guatamala.
Fresco Maranon 100%, Recipe 231, Medium Roast, Long Conche, 50 g This chocolate was the most acidic of the three, a real punch of bitterness and roast flavours. The acidity in the Maranon cocoa bean is what makes a sweeter chocolate taste so darn good, but yet at 100% it offers nearly a shocking punch. I wrote about this one before, which I had nearly forgotten about (about the same time of year in 2016), and looking at the post, I see my tasting notes are very similar. The difference now is that I have more experience with making chocolate. And I've learned that the most acidic 100% chocolates often make the best 70% bars. A Madagascar unsweetened chocolate, this Maranon chocolate, and the newly popular Peru Ucayali cocoa bean that I have been experimenting with at 100% versus 90%, versus a 70% chocolate. The best flavours can be brought out with a little sugar to offset the acidity levels. To learn more about this punchy chocolate, visit Fresco's website at: https://frescochocolate.com/collections/100-chocolate/products/maranon-231.
This chocolate-tasting exercise was a real eye opener. I enjoyed trying three 100% dark chocolates with long conches. The long conche brought out the good flavours of the beans while offering a palatable unsweetened experience. The higher roast on the Maranon and Oko-Caribe subdued some of the acidity, while the lighter roast on the Guatemala helped maintain all the wonderful fruitiness in the cacao beans. Fresco is certainly becoming a leader in the 100% category.
Several years ago, I started an annual tradition of eating only very dark chocolate and 100% dark chocolate in January and February. I look back at those early days trying out Lindt and Michel Cluizel chocolate bars, and I see a person who didn't think she could ever get used to unsweetened chocolate. Now I eat it all the time, testing roasts and batches of unsweetened chocolate after it has been in my refiner for 24 hours or more. I make 100% dark bars to see how the beans hold up as bitter chocolate, to check acidity levels and creaminess, and see what kind of 'cringe factor' it inspires (and by that I mean the instant reaction to a 100% dark chocolate, and whether or not it evokes the cringy-face a baby makes when eating a dill pickle), and I also now eat it because I enjoy it.
Since I first started writing about tasting unsweetened chocolate in 2012, more bean-to-bar chocolate makers have opened their doors (at a rather rapid pace, I might add). This led to more 100% dark chocolates being introduced across North America and the rest of the world. Not every chocolate maker makes a 100% bar, but some do, and it has certainly become easier to find a good selection.
I also think health trends have driven the introduction of more bars, and a lot of good education by bean-to-bar chocolate makers who are popping up everywhere, which is beginning to have an effect on customers, who are becoming more and more curious about the taste of pure cocoa.
In fact, no sugar chocolate has become a bit trendy. Zotter Chocolates of Austria made unsweetened milk chocolate popular a few years back, when they introduced their 'Milk Chocolate Dark Style' bar, where 70% of the ingredients list was cocoa solids (cocoa beans + cocoa butter/fat) and the other 30% of the ingredients was just milk powder. No sugar added. No alternate sugar added. It was - and still is - a melt-in-your mouth combination that takes just a moment to get used to, and soon enough you find yourself craving it. Then in 2016, East Van Roasters in Vancouver created an unsweetened chocolate bar with cashews ground into it, making a smooth combination that took the edge off of the acidic and fruity Madagascar cocoa beans they were using for the chocolate.
And now, I have discovered that Hotel Chocolat in the UK makes an 80% Supermilk Saint Lucia origin chocolate bar, which takes Zotter's no sugar-milk-chocolate creation one step further. So I thought I'd start the annual tradition with this one.
What I discovered is that perhaps this unsweetened milk chocolate trend can only go so dark. Hotel Chocolat's 80% Supermilk bar is more bitter than Zotter's, and unfortunately it is not quite as smooth. I think between it's texture and the bitterness level (and slight taste of earthy/soil/mould), it lacks the potential for me to go back to it again, in the way Zotter's does. Although I have to say the aftertaste that lingers is pure milk, which is a nice effect.
Another new one that I found at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November, was Zotter's Protein Kick, with 75% cocoa solids and 25% whey protein.
This too was not as inspiring to me as their original 70% dark-milk chocolate (with 30% milk). Granted, the texture is lovely, but the taste of the whey protein takes some getting used to. In fact, it took me about a week, and absolutely no sugar in my diet to get used to it. However, I can imagine that people who consume no sugar ever, can learn to like this bar. And although the whey flavour is a bit of a turn-off for me, I do like the idea of protein, and I think that people who lead a Paleo or no-sugar lifestyle, or perhaps weight-lifting-whey-eating folks, might like it as a post-workout snack.
I also tried Zotter's High-End dark chocolate with 96% cocoa solids, and 4% organic coconut blossom sugar.
This was interesting. Since I work with coconut sugar quite often, I know it is less sweet than regular white or organic cane sugar, and it has a detectable flavour. So the 4% coconut sugar offers a bitter-ish taste in this chocolate, and it really might as well be a 100% chocolate. I do like it better than the Protein Kick bar. And I can see a larger customer base enjoying this bar, since the low-acidity cocoa beans chosen for it and the lovely conching work Zotter has done on the chocolate, has made it so palatable. As far tasting the 'terrior' of the chocolate, there is not a lot of that going on. It is really just a straight up Peru, hints of floral flavours and a sweet bean profile. The lingering aftertaste is quite nice and cocoa-y.
In the next post, I will move on to some new pure 100% dark chocolates, including Soma's newest Arcana 100% bar (yup, it's a blend and it changes seasonally with a Venezuela Porcelana as the base cocoa bean), along with Fresco's line-up of three different single origin 100% bars, and Sirene's Tanzania and Ecuador 100% chocolates. Happy Chocolate Eating!
If there are 'giants' in the craft chocolate world, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate is certainly among them. And it has less to do with their fantastic packaging and more to do with taste. Dick Taylor consistently delivers on taste and flavour design.
During a 'blind' tasting led by Chloe Doutre-Rousell at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference, we all knew from the beautiful design on our tiny pieces of broken chocolate bars, a well as the powerful, wonderful fruity flavour punch of the dark chocolate, that Dick Taylor's Madagascar bar was among the line-up of chocolates. The gorgeous mould may have given it away, but the wonderful flavour confirmed it.
My first taste of the Northerner Blend, a DT chocolate bar that I've heard a lot about the last year, was a few weeks back. I excited opened my stash from the NW Chocolate Fest and found the Dick Taylor bars that I had forgot were among my purchases. I've been peeking in the virtual window of Dick Taylor's shop (ahem, that pretty much means stalking the business on Instagram) and seeing this 'Northerner Blend'. As a customer from 'Northern Ontario' who considers herself a Northerner, I have trouble imagining such a name could be applied to anything in sunny California. But regardless, the name spoke to me, and I had to taste this bar.
In craft chocolate terms, a blend is a bar that has been made of carefully chosen bean from different growing regions. It is a chocolate makers art, and perhaps an expression of their ideal flavour composition. In the case of the Northerner Blend, it immediately reminded me of the Madagascar chocolate bar by Dick Taylor. Full of fruit flavours, potent, and a real punch of flavour. The blend was no different. It had all those flavour components of the Madagascar cacao, and some fruit from the Brazilian cacao that the Madagascar was blended with. The chocolate makers noted honey and dried apricot as tasting notes, but the flavour elements seemed much richer than those two things. Perhaps a rich, dark honey, and there were definitely some acidic fruity notes. It is a bold chocolate that makes a statement. And it quite addictive.
At the Festival, I also picked up Dick Taylor's other relatively new release: their Brown Butter, Nibs & Sea Salt chocolate bar. I quickly learned that this chocolate delivers a powerful punch of flavour upon first bite. Made using the 73% Northerner Blend, this fruity chocolate offers a potent flavour kick, with some upfront acidity that makes way to creamy, buttery notes and texture. The crunchy nibs and salt leave an after taste of pure cacao that lingers, and bursts of salt that quickly melts away.
The Brown Butter chocolate bar is easy to eat quickly, thinking that with each bite you'll figure out its complexity, and be able to describe its flavour with a simple word or phrase. Soon enough, the bar is gone and you are left wanting another so you can fully understand it. Perhaps that can never happen, even if you eat 100 of them. But you'll enjoy every single one.
With nibs in every bite, this bar I complex - is it buttery or crunchy? Tart or sweet? Fruity or just plain cocoa-y? And look at the beauty of that chocolate mould pattern!
In a later post, I will tell you more about the Dick Taylor's limited edition Solomon Islands chocolate bar: a special release bar that changes each year, depending upon a contest held among cacao farmers of the Solomon Islands. The best cacao is chosen by chocolate makers like Dick Taylor and Madre, and a few others. I picked one some at the 2016 NW Festival, and in 2017 I bought Dick Taylor's, along with a Madre's and Zokoko's. What a treat to experience how different chocolate makers approach cacao from the same region, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.
For now, here is more information on the bars that I wrote about today:
Brown Butter with Nib & Sea Salt in a 73% Northerner Blend Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California www.dicktaylorchocolate.com Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar*, butter*, fleur de sel (Cacao solids: 73% minimum). *Organic. Contains dairy. May contain traces of nuts.
Northerner Blend, 73% Dark Chocolate "A balanced blend of Madagascan and Brazilian Cacao." Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California www.dicktaylorchocolate.com Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar* (cocoa solids 73% minimum). *Organic. May contain nuts and milk.