Archive for the 'Dark Chocolate' Category

Drinking Chocolate with Taha’s Vanilla Salt

Dark Chocolate is every bit as complex and satisfying as wine. Each cacao bean reflects the unique genetic heritage, terroir, growing conditions, and horticulture of the Theobroma cacao tree, and every cacao farmer and cacao buyer has a gastronomic perspective and level of skill that hugely influences the resulting chocolate. For this reason, eating a dark chocolate bar is one of the purest, most satisfying ways to experience the unbounded intricacies of chocolate itself.

Another way to experience the power and revel in the versatility of chocolate is to drink it. The history of drinking chocolate dates back to the deepest shadows of pre-civilization; for hundreds of years, and possibly for thousands, French, Spanish, Aztecs, and Olmecs have consumed it as a drink. When melted down, superbly crafted dark chocolate reaches its fullest expression. It is complex and stimulating; an entire jungle of Theobroma cacao chocolate trees spring up from your taste buds, revealing before you unexpected textural dimensions and infinitely varied flavors.

Choosing the bar is your opportunity for adventure. Let your imagination run free and your personal tastes deliver you into the wild. Nothing is off limits here; use your favorite dark or milk chocolate. If you crave intense red fruit and berry notes with a pleasant tartness, try the bold, ripe flavor of Dandelion Madagascar 70% Dark Chocolate. If you’re in the mood for intense red wine and tobacco flavors, use the agile Dick Taylor Dominican Republic 74% Dark Chocolate. Melt it down, stir in a finishing salt, like Taha’a Vanilla or Halen Mon Gold, and taste the beautifully deep flavor your favorite chocolate was destined for.  It’s your turn to explore.

 

Drinking Chocolate with Taha’a Vanilla Salt

Recipe adapted from the “Drinking Chocolate with Taha’a Vanilla Salt” recipe in Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes.

Serves 2

 

1 1/2 cup hot water

6 oz dark chocolate, such as Dandelion Madagascar 70% Dark Chocolate or Dick Taylor Dominican Republic 74% Dark Chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces

Two 2-finger pinches Taha’a Vanilla Salt, plus more for rim

 

Heat the water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the water begins to steam (you don’t want it to boil), add in the chocolate and stir until melted. Remove from heat, let thicken for  5 minutes, and then stir in salt. If desired, rim glass or mug with additional salt, then serve.

 

You can also try The Meadow’s recipe for Hot Cocoa, or find a sweet selection of drinking chocolates from Guittard, Askinosie, Cafe Tasse, and Michael Recchiuti at The Meadow’s online shop.

 

Madecasse Sea Salt & Nibs

Cacao from Madagascar has inspired some of the great chocolate makers due to the unique combination of tree genetics, climate, and terrain. Perennial favorites like Patric Chocolate, Dick Taylor, Dandelion and Woodblock know this well, and use cocoa from Madagascar to create some of the most bright and satisfyingly lush chocolate on the market.

Yet one of the only companies committed to sourcing, making, and packing chocolate exclusively in Africa is Madecasse, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Madagascar. Roughly 70% of cocoa comes from Africa, yet only 1% of chocolate is made there. Fueled by their Peace Corps experiences in Madagascar, Madecasse founders Brett Beach and Tim McCollum set out to make chocolate on the island. What they discovered along the way was some of most flavorful cocoa, vanilla and spices, all hidden on the remote countryside of Madagascar.  By partnering with local farmers, chocolatiers, and package manufacturers, Madecasse created a sustainable model that benefits the local economy of Madagascar.

Each Madecasse Sea Salt & Nibs bar is made with cocoa from Madagascar, truly some of the best in the world made only better by heirloom ingredients, like cocoa, vanilla, and spices and sustainable farming techniques.  This is a complex, rich, and smooth 63% bar for lovers of dark chocolate with a crunch. A dusting of sea salt opens up the acid and fruity complexity, and the cocoa nibs add an intense crunch to an otherwise smooth finish. The bar is hand-packed in a 100% recyclable paper wrapper and finished off with a tie of raffia. A great tasting chocolate bar and a better life for those who make it.

 

A Sweet Note from Madecasse:

“No one made chocolate in Africa, they said it was too hot or no one was skilled enough locally. But living there, you realize it’s not true. You can make chocolate with love and energy, and Peace Corps helped us realize that. So, by making and packaging the chocolate in Madagascar, we go beyond Fair Trade and enter the realm of Equitrade.”

 

You can find Madecasse Sea Salt & Nibs and other Madecasse Chocolate at The Meadow’s online shop.

 

Pralus Mini Pyramide des Dix (10) Tropiques

High quality chocolate is not just for the connoisseur, it’s for anyone who appreciates the resonance of quality products, or who on principle eschews food processed on vast industrial scales, or who simply enjoys lots and lots of flavor.  Anyone who knows they like chocolate, and many people who believe they don’t because it is too sweet or too cloying, will appreciate craft chocolate, and turning such people on to it is one of the most satisfying parts of my job. Yet one of the most common misconceptions among regular folks who don’t consider themselves chocolate connoisseurs is that they are “not sophisticated enough” to appreciate the subtle differences between origins.

I’m sympathetic with them.  I’ve eaten several thousand different chocolate bars and more than a hundred different origins along the way, and I still don’t know what to expect when I eat an origin.  Someone asks, what does Ecuador taste like, and I have to resort to pretty gross generalizations as I try to lump the coastal Manabi region in with inland El Oro or any number of other regions or new powerhouse producers like Camino Verde.  Rather than stumble my way through a complicated explanation to a complicated tapestry of cacao flavors, I hand them the Pralus Mini Pyramid of the 10 Tropics, and let them suss it out for themselves.

This mini version of the half-kilo Pralus Pyramid is comprised of ten Neapolitan-sized squares of single origin dark chocolate, bunched together with a bit of twine.  The bundle invites you on a world tour of many of the different origins produced by Francois Pralus.

There may be chocolate makers whose approach to chocolate making is more suited to exploring the differences of different origins.  Domori, for one, has a lighter roast profile and in general seems to find higher peaks and valleys of flavor. American makers like Rogue or Dick Taylor or Dandelion or Woodblock or Mana really hit it out of the park when it comes to underscoring the differences between origins, yet they don’t have enough origins to take you on a tour all under the umbrella of a single maker.  Other makers like Chocolate Bonnat offer many origins, but they don’t offer a package deal for tasting them, so you’d need to buy ten full-sized bars to take a proper tour. Pralus is unique  in thinking things through for the end consumer and assembling a sampler that costs about ten bucks.

Launched in 2003, the Tropical Pyramid has become Pralus’s flagship product. Embark on a trip to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Sao Tomé islands or Trinidad, Venezuela, Tanzania and also Ghana, Madagascar, Colombia and Ecuador.

Perfect for pure, quick, personal pleasure. These mini pyramids are 75% cocoa, so there is nothing but goodness in each bar.

About François Pralus:

Pralus Chocolatier is one of France’s four remaining bean-to-bar chocolate makers (along with Michel Cluizel, Valrhona, and Bonnat), a true chocolate aficionado. Proprietor Francois Pralus is hunts the world around cacao beans in search of flavors and other qualities of interest.  Pralus roasts his cacao darker than some chocolate makers, making for a denser style of flavors. The hard work, ingenuity, and palate of François Pralus have been rewarded with the most prestigious National and International awards — Pralus won the Grand Prix d’Excellence International du Chocolate in both 1996 and 1997.

 

You can find these mini pyramids, the big Pralus Pyramids and more Pralus chocolate at The Meadow’s online shop.

MarieBelle Aztec Original Hot Chocolate

What I love about MarieBelle Aztec Original Hot Chocolate is that it is actually a damn fine drinking chocolate that whips up like a glass of Nestlé Quik.  It is definitely easy to prepare.  Just mix with boiling water to create a full-flavored cup of European-style hot chocolate.  And it is definitely satisfying: lush, rich, bold, and balanced.  I don’t think it’s the most sophisticated drinking chocolate in the world–for that you need to go to a quality single origin bar or a very fine blend of a higher grad cacao, and make the drinking chocolate yourself.  But not everyone needs the most sophisticated drinking chocolate in the world every day.  I drink seven cups of drinking chocolate a week in the winter and three or four a week in the summer or when I’m travelling, and the vast majority of those I’m just looking for satisfying sustenance with solid flavor.  MarieBelle easily fits that bill, and then some!

Another way to use MarieBelle Hot Chocolate is to mix it with milk to make a more traditional American-style hot chocolate.  It can also be used as an ingredient.  Make the the European version of the drinking chocolate and refrigerate it for a chocolate filling or additive for pies (pecan is super) or drink it as a dark Creme de Chocolat.

Voted Best Tasting Hot Chocolate by Business Week (whoever they are!), MarieBelle Hot Chocolate is made from single origin Colombian Cocoa (63%) and contains no cocoa powder.

Recipe:

Iced Chocolate

Chocolate powder to 1/4 C of boiling water. Stir until smooth and well melted. In a blender, mix melted chocolate with 2 Cups of ice. Blend until ice is well grounded, serve at once. Makes 16 oz.

 

MarieBelle Drinking chocolates and a smattering of their other chocolate goodies, such as the beautiful (to look at) and quite tasty (to eat) MarieBelle White Chocolate Macha is now available for sale at The Meadow.

Patric Chocolate’s Red Coconut Curry

The basic rule of thumb is that a chocolate bar infused with flavors is not as impressive to serious chocolate lovers as a straight up dark chocolate.  Alan Patric McClure of Patric Chocolate disproved that rule some years ago when he introduced his first flavored “OMG” bars such as Mint Crunch and Mocha and PB&J (another rule of thumb is that blended chocolate bars are not as impressive as single origin chocolate bars.  McClure blew that rule out of the water as well with his immaculate  blended bar, but more on that another time).

McClure continues apace with his latest additions such as the limited edition oatmeal cookie chocolate, the most brilliant has of which is the Red Coconut Curry chocolate bar.  Marketed as “coconut, spice and everything nice” it is actually something more than that, not merely a goofy holiday treat. It is refined, complicated, subtle as hell despite the shavings of coconut on the back.

The chocolate bar is a blend of chiles de arbol, ginger, and lemongrass essence. Toasted Thai coconut “chips” lend a chewy crunchy salty fruity faintly umami sweetness.

Additional Info from Patric:

This palate-pleasing bar is made from smooth dark chocolate with chiles, ginger, sea salt, and hints of lemongrass and lime then topped with crunchy, salty-sweet toasted coconut that is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. It’s a one-of-a-kind bar that will make your taste buds sing and dance for more.

The idea for the Red Coconut Curry bar originated from the four hardworking, spice-loving folks that make up Patric Chocolate. This bar was originally formulated to be a limited-edition bar, which is a fun and delicious outlet that keeps our creativity flowing and continually challenges us to bring you the most exciting, new flavors. While chiles and spices aren’t exactly groundbreaking in the chocolate world these days, it’s a tried and true combination that we love, and it was time to take it to the next level.

It didn’t take long, after some serious rounds of taste testing, to decide that Red Coconut Curry was the winning combo. However, figuring out how to convey such complex and distinct flavors through chocolate took a lot of time. Part of the challenge of creating such delicious bars is sourcing the best ingredients that enhance and highlight our incredible chocolate (and lucky for you, we weren’t about to dump a bottle of fish sauce into our refiners).

A large part of our ingredient search was for the coconut. First we tried toasting our own. Then we ordered a bunch (emphasis on the bunch) from other companies. We ordered shredded coconut, coconut chips, raw coconut, toasted coconut, sweetened and unsweetened coconut – we even tried blending coconut oil into the chocolate. Nothing excited us. But then, we struck gold: coconut from a company called, “Dang.”

We went with Dang coconut, because it was the tastiest coconut we had ever put into our mouths. “Dang” is a new company based in San Francisco, and also happens to be the name of the owner’s mother, who grew up in Thailand. This flavorful Thai coconut is gluten-free, perfectly sweet, and has a wonderful crunchy texture from its light roast with just a hint of salt. The crunch of this coconut is the perfect match for the bite of this bar.

We know that you’ll enjoy our latest blend of dark chocolate, Dang coconut, spicy chiles, ginger, and pure lemongrass and lime essences in this chocolaty version of a Thai favorite. When tasting our Red Coconut Curry bar, you’ll probably even exclaim, “Dang!”, yourself.

You can find this and all other Patric Chocolate bars for sale at The Meadow’s online store.

 

Åkesson’s Chocolate Sweeps Up at the Academy of Chocolate Awards

At his family’s plantation in Madagascar, Bertil Åkesson of Åkesson’s chocolate grows cacao and pepper and turns them both into delightful chocolate. Three of his bars recently won awards at the Academy of Chocolate Awards in London. He faced some of the world’s greatest chocolatiers and came away with a hat trick. Congratulations to Bertil! Here are the descriptions for his winning bars.

Brazil 75%

Our Brazil 75% bar  is made with an astonishing forastero variety of cocoa called “parasinho” that grows in Brazil’s Mata Atlântica – the wild forest with the highest biodiversity on earth – where we purchased a 120-hectare plantation. This chocolate is very smooth and has very expressive notes that evoke wood, autumn scents, and the local pitanga fruit.

Bali 45% milk chocolate & fleur de sel

Our 45% milk chocolate bar is the first Balinese single-origin bar ever made in Europe. This chocolate holds a caramelized flavor resulting from the use of natural sugar produced from the juice of coconut blossoms, harvested by gently slicing the flower. Once collected, the nectar is kettle-boiled into a thick caramel and ground to a fine crystal. With a very low glycemic index, this sugar is a great and healthy match for our Balinese fleur de sel. The cocoa is produced by the Sukrama family on seven hectares in the Melaya area in the western part of the island.

Madagascar 75% Criollo cocoa

Our Madagascar 75% bar has a very expressive cocoa aroma with subtle fruity-sweet tartness and pleasant flavor notes that evoke citrus and red berries, the true taste of the very best cocoa beans from Madagascar. Our 2,300-hectare family estate in the Sambirano Valley in northwestern Madagascar has produced world-famous aromatic cocoa since 1920. Besides 300 tons per year of trinitario cocoa, a very limited production of criollo cocoa – two tons per year -is harvested separately

Åkesson’s produces several other bars, including one with voatsiperifery pepper, a wild pepper that grows on creeping vines up to 20 meters (that’s 65 feet!) up in the tree canopy. All of Åkesson’s chocolates are available online from the Meadow and in both of our shops.

Don’t forget to like The Meadow on Facebook to keep up with our latest events, products, and news!

Patric’s 75% Sambirano Chocolate – An Interview with Alan McClure

Patric 75% SambiranoCacao from Madagascar has inspired some the great chocolate makers for years now. Most famous of all is the Sambirano River Valley, located on the northern tip of the island. Sambirano’s unique combination of tree genetics, climate, and terroir make for chocolate that is both warm and acidic, with lush cherry flavors that spend themselves like dark lucre in a fruit market of citrus.

Alan “Patric” McClure of Patric Chocolate, one of Missouri’s two bean-to-bar chocolate makers (what is it about Missouri and chocolate?), is a big fan of Madagascan cacao. He makes two different plain Madagascar bars and one with nibs, each one a distinct showcasing of this phenomenal bean. He and I exchanged some emails recently regarding his Patric 75% Sambirano bar, which he says was his “attempt to push the limits of the cacao in terms of balance.”

“I felt like the cacao I was using was so mild in terms of bitterness that if I was able to handle the roasting and conching just right, I’d end up with a concentrated, interesting, delicious and balanced chocolate.  Someone once called the bar the espresso of Madagascar chocolates, and I really like that.  I think it is just the right description for something so full of flavors and yet still so balanced.”

Alan also makes a 67% Sambirano bar, and I was curious how he thought it stood apart from the 75%. Aside from being a bit sweeter, and therefore more accessible,

“…there are also flavors in that bar that are quite clear—more so than in the 75%–even though there is a higher percentage of those flavor compounds in the 75%.  It seems contrary to reason, but what it shows is how sugar can actually have a positive impact on chocolate in terms of allowing certain flavors, specifically juicy berry-like flavors, to shine instead of simply adding sweetness or detracting from the chocolate.”

My brother – a gourmand if there ever was one, and a wine collector who snuffs around Los Angeles like a sort of oenophilic wild boar – considers the Patric 67% Sambirano the best chocolate bar on the market. His single-minded obsession with this one bar guarantees that we run out of stock periodically when he unexpectedly decides to replenish his supply. I had a similar obsession with Patric’s 100% Sambirano chocolate discs, which sold like wildfire from a jar in our store. That chocolate, alas, has been discontinued (send Alan a letter and beg him to put that back into production).

Patric also makes a 70% blend and a Dark Milk, for which he uses his Sambirano beans, some Rio Caribe, and two other origins that remain a trade secret. His view of blend versus single-origin chocolate bars refuses to take a side, as one would expect from a man who understands the whole process of turning those seeds of the brightly-colored cacao pod into the shiny dark slabs we’re all familiar with.

“I am not a proponent of single-origin bars over blended bars or the other way around. Theoretically, a single-origin bar can tell the consumer more about the terroir of the cacao in the chocolate, but often the post-harvest processing and chocolate making changes the flavor so dramatically that it is hard to argue that one is getting an extremely clear picture of the impact of the terroir. Additionally, even if one does, that doesn’t make the chocolate any good. It is a rare bean that can make a delicious chocolate by itself.”

The Meadow has a selection of Patric bars in our shops and online, available to ship nationwide.

Artisan du Chocolat’s Vietnamese, 72% dark limited edition dark chocolate bar

Just off the docks and onto the shelves, a new chocolate maker arrives from Kent, England.  Artisan du Chocolat is one of the new generation of adventurous bean-to-bar chocolate makers keeping everything fresh in the chocolate world.  It was their much talked about tobacco chocolate and the selection of other playful-serious infused chocolate bars that originally led me to them.  When I discovered they actually made their own chocolate, getting the entire line into our shops in Portland and New York became a whole lot more pressing.  We missed the holidays, but they’re here at last.

This is my first experience with the bar that really caught my eye.

Only the last lingering traces of flavor remain now, a burnt caramel with a touch of spicy ginger.  That was preceded by raisins and treacle, and indeed, as the maker, Gerard, suggested, perhaps a touch of “biscuit.” The first flavors that greeted me upon opening, regarding, snapping, sniffing, and sucking the chocolate bar were something: what, maybe cardamom and/or turmeric with a bit of allspice.  It is remarkably sweet.  The bar is imperfectly crafted, with a mouthfeel that is not entirely decisive, embracing neither the contemporary daring lightness or the old world brooding silkiness.   But I have not tasted Vietnamese chocolate before, and I’m dang happy to have experienced this new creation.  Artisan du Chocolat’s Vietnamese, 72% dark limited edition chocolate bar is made with Trinitario seedlings from neighboring Malaysia and grown in Ba Ria Vung Tau Province, East of the Mekong Delta.  Complex and distinctive, I couldn’t ask for more, sitting here in the sun, still puffing and warm from shoveling snow off the sidewalk of the Hudson street shop on a Thursday morning.

Salt on Chocolate, Chocolate on Salt, Chocolate Fondue

block of himalayan salt with chocolate and strawberriesFruit and chocolate go well together, as anyone who has found themselves psychologically tethered to the chocolate fondue fountain at one of those random high-right institutional mixers we all seem to find ourselves attending, unexpectedly, at least once in a while.  Chocolate fondue fountains exist but for the purpose of getting us to eat something fresh with our chocolate.  Banana.  Strawberry.  Apple.  Fig.  Pineapple.  Dip a chunk under the curtain of chocolate cascading from the lip of a multi-tiered chocolate fountain and something inside says: “Hey mister, I’m really happy right now!  So don’t move.  Not even to fetch a glass of faux champagne.  Not even at the risk looking like a pig in front of ravishing women in diaphanous and clingy evening wear.  Don’t move.  Just eat.  Try the papaya.”

Sadly, some people don’t listen to their little voices, so setting up camp at the chocolate fondue area of the party makes for only the most fleeting of intercourse with others.  While that may have its advantages, I can’t shake the feeling that there is something failed in a chocolate fountain that doesn’t break down every semblance of the social façades that propel us through parties on unending undulations of stiflingly pedestrian conversation and gushy niceness.

What makes fruit taste better?  Salt.  What makes chocolate taste better?  Salt.  What makes fruit and chocolate taste better another?  What makes chocolate fondue something you might actually eat on a regular basis?  Stumped?  A Himalayan Salt Block.

First: My favorite salts for chocolate these days, or at least some of the artisan sea salts I’ve found myself returning to again and again when dabbling in salted chocolate are:
Grigio di Cervia Italian sel gris
Iburi Jio cherrywood smoked
Pangasinan Star fleur de sel
Halen Mon Gold oak smoked flake salt

Chocolate on salt blockMany, many salts work well with chocolate. Far fewer chocolates work well with salt.  I’ve tasted hundreds, and most leave me with a freaked-out feeling, which in itself isn’t so bad, but could be improved.  The beautiful, super-silky Cru Sauvage wild harvested salt from Bolivia, is just awful with salt.  Most of the more well-known all around crowd pleasers are good, but not perfect, perhaps because they are all about delicacy.  Michel Cluizel, for example… Not good.   The bigger chocolates take the salt much better.  Venchi is superb.  Claudio Corallo, magnificent.

Here’s bewilderingly delicious way to bring salt together with fruit and chocolate with ease, grace, and visual pizzazz.  First, warm a plate or brick of either tableware grade or cookware grade Pink Himalayan salt on the stove at low heat for about 3 minutes (go for 110, which is basically just a touch warm to the touch.  This is warm enough to melt the chocolate and also gentle enough on the salt block to permit use of less expensive Tableware Grade salt blocks).  Set the salt block on a trivet or plate.  Arrange chocolate bars on a slab of Pink Himalayan Salt.  Slice some fruit (any of the ones mentioned above will work) and arrange on the salt block alongside.  (You can also serve a platter of fruit alongside, and then just transfer a few piece at a time to the salt block.)  Serve with a dish of excellent finishing salt. Dip fruit in chocolate, or scoop chocolate onto fruit.  Eat some straight up.  Sprinkle some with salt and then eat.

salted chocolateThe thrill of serving fruit and chocolate on a block of salt and then sprinkling with some salt at your discretion is that the salt come into the field of play from two different directions and in two vastly different forms.  On the salt block, the luscious liquid heart of the fruit picks up a touch of salt, bringing out the sweetness, accentuating fugitive fruit notes, but interacting only in briny simplicity with your tongue because all the salt on the fruit is dissolved.  Because the chocolate is mainly fat, and salt is not fat soluble, the salt block bring zero salt to the chocolate.So, take a bite.  The salted fruit liquid is doing the salting for the chocolate.  Then drop a flake of salt on top of the chocolate and munch with a bite of the fruit.  Now you get brilliant sparkle of salt dancing off the chocolate, commingling with its dark richness, penetrating through all the way to the fruit.  The variations of salt and fruit and chocolate are geometric, crystal salt, liquid salt, salted fruit, salted chocolate, chocolated fruit and salt, fruited chocolate and salt, etc.  Summed up as: yum.

To clean up, rinse the pink Himalayan salt block under warm water, pat dry with a paper towel, and you’re done.

Busy Days of Chocolate Tasting at The Meadow

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about chocolate, and a lot has happened.

The main thing is that we have been eating (ahem, I mean tasting) a lot of chocolate bars.

Sahagun Salted CaramelsOur Meadow Salted Chocolates were back in stock for a short while!  But no, they are gone again, darn it.  If anyone knows a great, secret local chocolatier who can mold and package our salted chocolate, please do tell.

Also made locally, we now carry Sahagun Handmade Chocolates’ legendary fleur de sel liquid caramels, and an expanded collection of her lovely “barks.”  There is the Palomitapapa, the Pepitapapa, the Oregon Bark.

Michael Recchiuti fleur de sel caramels have also landed on the shelves, along with boxes of his wild and delicious chocolates.  I confess that part of the reason does not have to do with the fact that his caramels are ridiculously, annoyingly good.  Part has to do with the fact that we just love Michael and his wife Jackie so much, we want to be feel their presence in the shop.  (I’ll post something on a Japanese salt-festooned dinner we all shared at the Heathman not long ago on Saltnews.org sometime soon!).   Local chocolatiers include Sahagun, Xocolatl de David, DePaula Confections, and Lulu’s Chocolate!

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