Archive for the 'Chocolate Musings' Category

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.


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.

Xocolatl de Davíd Dinner at Park Kitchen

I really have nothing against chocolate.  In its bar form, in fact, it is something I enjoy with all the savor and associations of great wine.  In it’s bar form I probably eat half a pound a day, or maybe more when the stars are in alignment.

But chocolate as a theme, as a concept, as a pattern, a fashion, a mode — no.  Nay.  I do not like it.  My initial, invertebrate response when my personal friend and professional chocolate supplier David Briggs said he was making a chocolate dinner was to recoil into a dark crevice somewhere, staring through the briny depths of my eyes with octopus horror.  Sucking cold brine through my gills, my brain is reduced to its bivalve origins.  Chocolate, my dear friend, is a food.

But immediately after that my knowledge of Dave, who owns and operates Xocolatl de David and is also Sous Chef at Park Kitchen, returned to assure me.  Mr. Briggs’s unassuming manner cloaks a sophisticated palate, unflinching creativity, and an ever-expanding set of skills .  So why not?  A seven course chocolate-based meal paired with seven beverages, served at Park Kitchen, one of Jennifer and my favorite restaurants in town, and a place we freely recommend to out of town visitors and locals alike who visit The Meadow.

If Jennifer had qualms she didn’t express them; she just grabbed my hand and dragged me to Park Kitchen where 14 people (two cowardly louts failed to honor their reservation) were seated with the preliminary awkwardness that inevitably attends such public-private group encounters.

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The Vila Gracina Odyssey: Michel Cluizel Chocolate

Edging my rental car through Barcelona’s rush hour traffic at eight in the morning, a light mist is falling, my window is down, and the roaring freeway air carries the distinctly European aroma of diesel exhaust blended with two-stroke exhaust, cigarette smoke, and urine.After the 16 hours of travel it took me to get here from Portland, the snug, stylish seat of the Leon 2.0 TDI car hurts my rear, which has already suffered enough abuse after successive transcontinental and transatlantic flights.I remember the bar of Michel Cluizel chocolate the bag beside me.

I’ve not yet eaten the Vila Gracinda chocolate, which Michel Cluizel recently substituted in for the Tamarina bar as its representative for the company’s São Tomé origin bar.Chocolate’s intrigue for me is bound up in its power to surprise, and in the way it enlists the sensualist, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet in us to taste and make sense of it.The importance of a chocolate bar is not in its flavor, but in the experience it evokes in us.A good chocolate bar is travel, sex, and mescaline in a foil wrapper; it imparts exotic knowledge, alerts our bodies, and exalts the mind.Through our experience of chocolate we trace the lineage of our private and collective histories.

Vila GracindaTired, suddenly strangely lonely, but with the metallic tingle of adrenaline from the abnormally rough 767 landing just half an hour ago, I pull Michel Cluizel’s Vila Gracinda from its black box, peel back the foil, and snap off a piece.The gray sky above fades. The smell of fennel pollen and alkaline rock, the palm of one hand pressed hard into the vanilla-flaked bark as I climb along the vast trunk of a fallen oak. Eight years old, I leapt toward the small gray lizard with a blinding flash ofBluebelly Lizard optimism; the beasts, warmed by the early afternoon sun, were fast, like self-firing bullets invented by some once-famous but now long-forgotten Chinese firework master, a reptile blend of charcoal, sulfur, and salt peter.Dispersed among the toppled wreckage of ancient oak trees, these dragons in miniature were the proud sentries of the valley oak savannah where I conducted reconnaissance virtually every day of my childhood.

The lizards and I shared an uneasy relationship.We probably desired a similar notion of peace, or at least détente–but at the time their reptilian cortex and my boyish fixations were unable to merge sufficiently to establish the proper metaphysical framework for advancing such a union.As the years passed, I became skillful at hunting these reptilian projectiles–which is to say that I did in fact occasionally catch them, as I did this day.Under my hand, the animal struggled madly, but once lifted in my palm, it calmed, cocking its head, and looked at me with its eagle eyes.

The pursuit of lizards was the chief solace I found in the cruel span demarcated on one side by the day I realized (at the tender age two) of my mother’s breast was now irretrievable reserved for my baby sister, and on the other by the day my alert fingers discovered the intriguing parts of the first, miraculous female who agreed to be my girlfriend.

I recall my sister’s ascension with perfect clarity: on vacation, our wood-paneled station wagon trundling through the desert toPalm Springs, my little legs dangling from the vinyl bench seat, unable to reach the floor, an Oreo dissolving on my tongue.My father had just bought me–probably at a truck stop–a fabulously long armed, white furred stuffed monkey whose arms I was wrapping in knots around the head of my baby sister, who was sitting beside me.This blissful moment tormenting my sister with monkey love was interrupted when my mother reached back and lifted her to the front seat.My brother, who was younger than me by a year and older than my sister by as much, said he wanted to go up front, too.My mom had replied, “Mommy is for baby now.”The scales fell from my eyes.Baby sister snuggled to my mother’s bosom, little brother rebuffed and stunned with a paste of Oreo cookie crumbs around his trembling mouth, myself, forgotten.The clammy lagoon of time yawned open, and into it I plunged, left to struggle in murk until my little legs grew long enough to reach bottom.

I was allowed at a blessedly early age to set out alone with my dog, patrolling the fields that ranged from the back yard garden to swaths of coastal sage scrub and ceanothus chaparral.In the purple dusk coyotes would flicker like shadows, killing cottontails.In the morning bobcats would perch on rocky outcroppings, keeping a weather eye out for the puma that occasionally came down in search of water—a massive animal that had once sized me up from a distance of no more than 30 feet.I was wild then, for moments.

Warm air filled with mustard flower and the fragrance of thirty species of drying savanna grass, moist cool air emulsified with chanterelle spores, loam, and wet rocks: these were the climates in which my animal senses waged their long, unsuccessful insurrection against the formidable contours of logic, psychology, and even pathology which, even at the tender years of my life, gripped me.Given their way, the mountains would have had me emerge a sage or a prophet, but I had issues.Tant pis.

Still, the universe of arid silence, the tactile cappuccino laying of thermals rising from the sea, the stern hues of avocado and olive, the yeasty flavor of a stem of helicopter grass–this was the brew on which my senses were honed.The warm scale of my lizard captive, his iridescent blue belly, the surprisingly strong musk–all ineluctable pleasures of predatory boyhood.Had his not smelled so bad, I might have tried to eat him: his blood driving me to madness, I would have gone feral, fashioned myself an elaborate headdress of mud, sycamore leaf, and peacock feather, the wolf-boy ofSanta Barbara.Biology had other ideas.The transformation of my ascetic sensibilities into the more fecund desire to dally in drugs, sex, and food took place with the discovery of the female.

The unexpected import of these beings was revealed to me a few weeks after I met a girl who, dark eyes and pale skinned, beautiful as stained glass, was playing Space Invaders at the video arcade not far from my house.I cannot remember a single word we ever spoke to one another, but I remember her body like a terse poem.Her oblivious parents would feed me chili dogs whenever we emerged from the bedroom.My sense of those days consists principally of her female taste and the smell of Hormel wafting in from the kitchen.We spent a year together before I grew arrogant, and ended it in the delusional belief that my lonely lizard-hunting years were behind me, and that I was now free.

The brake lights refracted in pellets of moisture on the windshield go abruptly silver.The elaborate camphor of licorice and fermenting fruits and baking spice dissipated by the Vila Gracinda chocolate bar dissolve past decades into the present.Traffic is letting up.My sore butt returned to me, suggesting some walking, and when I get out of the car at the next rest stop, the arid landscape ofCatalonia carries the smell of sagebrush and almond blossoms.