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.

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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.

A Salty & Chocolatey Valentine’s Manhattan Cocktail

Here’s a Valentine’s Day Chocolate Manhattan recipe that upholds all the ideals of the classic cocktail, but with a complex chocolaty twist. This is for anyone whose perfect Valentine’ Day involves wooing their loved one with a top-notch cocktail that harbors within it an irresistible threefold seduction.

As with any recipe, the quality of each ingredient makes all the difference.  Here we call for the fabulously herbaceous Vya Sweet Vermouth–the most luscious of readily available of sweet vermouths (Carpano Antica is a more pungently delicate alternative)–and Robert Lambert’s Dark Cherries soaked in Merlot–the best around.  Choosing the bitters for this cocktail is a tougher task.  Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters is a passable option, but Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters is profound and stirring. Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters is opulent and lush, Bitter End’s Mexican Mole Bitters is spicy and a bit wild.  This recipe calls for my own Chocolate Fleur de Sel along the rim to set a sizzle of saltiness against the lips.

Ingredients for one serving:
2 oz Bourbon or Rye (approximately one shot)
1 oz Vya Sweet Vermouth
3 dashes Chocolate Bitters
1 Robert Lambert Dark Cherry soaked in Merlot, plus a few drops of the cherry juice

Bitterman’s Chocolate Fleur de Sel for the rim

To prepare the glasses:
Chill each glass
Dip the rim in vermouth and coat with chocolate salt
Place one cherry in the bottom of each glass

To mix the drink:
Mix the bourbon, vermouth, bitters and cherry juice. Stir, then immediately pour and serve; be sure to breathe in deeply, savoring the chocolate-spice aroma before imbibing. Prepare for an outbreak of adoration.

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.

Taza Chocolate Floods, Calls for Support

The makers of Taza Chocolate have called out to their loyal fans ask for support. (We sell some of their bars at The Meadow, so now’s a good time to try them if you haven’t already!)  Taza chocolate here>>

If you live in the Boston area, you saw how much water dropped suddenly from the sky last Saturday afternoon. Traffic ground to a halt as streets flooded out just minutes after the rain began.

Windsor Street River

Around 3pm, Taza’s Director of Manufacturing (i.e. Head Chocolate Making Guy), Mike Schechter, thought maybe he’d pop by our newly renovated, first floor chocolate factory for a quick look, just to be safe. He arrived to find Windsor St. more river than roadway. And once inside, he found water pouring unchecked into the factory via a breach in our building’s front exterior wall, and bubbling up from the drains in the floor. The new chocolate production facility, where we’d turned out our first batch of Mexicanos just last week, was already sitting in an unwelcome lake several inches deep, and the water was still coming. He grabbed his phone and started dialing, letting any Taza employee he could reach know that it might be a good idea for them to come by the factory, pronto.

Now, 72 hours later, we’re taking stock. A dedicated, non-stop weekend bail-out, mop-up, and salvage effort by many of our amazing Taza staffers, on their own time, has cleared the way for recovery and rebuilding to start. We’ve hacked out the bottom 16 inches of drywall on every wall in our entire facility, carted ruined office cubicles to the dumpsters, and relocated our laptops to apartments and cafes until we have a functional workspace. Our chocolate production capacity will be shut down for at least a week, and cash flow will be a big challenge as we find a way to finance the repair of the facility we just made a major investment in upgrading. The silver lining? Our stockpile of bars, Mexicanos, and other Taza goodies is still stored on the second floor of our building, and remains safe, dry, and delicious.

Retail Store

Taza has always been a scrappy crew of chocolate fanatics, and we’re determined to get back to the important business of making excellent chocolate as soon as possible. You have all shown us terrific support and love over our first 3 ½ years in business, and we ask for your support now – if you can, buy some Taza Chocolate (we also think you’d look great in a Taza t-shirt). Shop our online store, come out and see us at the farmers’ markets, or find us at your local retailer. With great customers like you, we’re going to keep on making the Taza Chocolate you love, come hell or high water.

Watch video from Channel 5 about Taza and the Somerville flash floods here>>

Buy their chocolate from The Meadow here>>

Bon Bon Buddies Acquires Kshocolat

There are great chocolates and there are fun chocolates.  Both are successful when they recognize what they are after from the get-go, and d0n’t filly fally around trying to be something they’re not.  Kshocolat burst on the scene based almost entirely on the idea of making a package look beautiful and fun, and making the chocolate fun and, how shall we say it… “yummy.”  It is not great, not serious, not complex, not even actually all that much concerned with being chocolate at all.  At The Meadow we’ve sold Kshocolat since they burst on the scene in Scotland, importing it ourselves and hoping for the best when the giant cartons of product arrived–sometimes inexplicably at our home address.   Sadly, supply has always been a challenge, and over time we’ve had to give up even trying to get more and now our entire inventory is more or less gone (a few tubes of Strawberettes remain on the shelves, nothing more).  But now, it looks like we’ll have one of our “funnest” chocolates salvaged, and cross your fingers, perhaps on the shelves again in time for the holidays!

Press release: Following their recent entry into administration, certain assets and intellectual property of Kshocolât Ltd and Brand 1602 Chocolate Ltd have now been acquired by Bon Bon Buddies Ltd, Europe’s leading character licensed novelty confectionery and biscuit company.

The Kshocolât and Hot Choc brands encompass a range of premium boxed chocolates and confectionery, chocolate bars and drinking chocolate, with award-winning contemporary designs. These luxury products sell in a variety of UK premium retailers and enjoy a strong international presence in over 20 export markets.

Bon Bon Buddies will now invest in the brands to further develop the existing product range, build the brand profile and increase distribution. By maximising the marketing and market opportunities for Kshocolât and Hot Choc, Bon Bon Buddies plans to further enhance and complement its successful confectionery portfolio.

Chris Howarth, Managing Director of Bon Bon Buddies, said: “We are delighted to have completed this excellent acquisition against strong competition. The Kshocolât and Hot Choc brands will allow us to extend our market presence into the premium chocolate market in the UK and Europe with this exciting premium confectionery range”.

Bon Bon Buddies are currently holding in-depth discussions with Kshocolât’s existing supplier base and hope to re-launch the range at the earliest opportunity. However all future orders will only be made to customers within the Retail trade. For further information please view our Terms & Conditions

In readiness for the re-launch of the Kshocolât range, we are strongly encouraging existing Trade/Retail customers to contact Paul Stanton at Bon Bon Buddies, in order to obtain both the Account Application Form and Terms & Conditions.

Once these forms are returned to us, our Finance Department will then take up all relevant credit applications and references and process the applications accordingly. Once established, notifications will be sent indicating your Account Information and, if applicable, credit limit.

Bon Bon Buddies are enthusiastic to grow both the Kshocolât and Hot Choc brands within all markets and are excited to expand its already successful client base with Kshocolât’s previous customers.

In the first instance of for further information please contact Paul Stanton at paul.stanton@bonbonbuddies.com

We look forward to receiving your applications in the very near future and establishing successful trading relationships with you.

About Bon Bon Buddies

Bon Bon Buddies is a privately owned market leading business specializing in design, sourcing, manufacturing and marketing character and branded confectionery and biscuits.  Bon Bon Buddies head office is in South Wales, UK with additional sales, marketing and logistics offices in France, Benelux, Denmark and Poland.

Bon Bon Buddies license the intellectual rights for kids entertainment properties from the major global brand owners, working with their most popular character properties, including: Disney – Princess, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Cars and Toy Story; Nickelodeon – Spongebob; Marvel – Spiderman and Ironman; Sanrio – Hello Kitty; Lucas Film – Star Wars; and, BBC – In the Night Garden and Dr Who.

Bon Bon Buddies were winners of the Licensing Industry Awards for ‘The best food or drink range’ in both 2008 and 2009.

The Ultimate Salted Caramel Recipe

Last night was the second of two salted caramel classes with David Briggs of Xocolatl de David.  We tasted Flor de sal de Manzanillo fleur de sel, Bali Rama Pyramid Balinese sea salt, Rosemary Flake sea salt, and Iburi Jio Cherry smoked Japanese sea salt.  Fantastic, and fun.  At the previous class we tried a similar format, but tasted Pangasinan Star Philippine fleur de sel and Grigio di Cervia Italian sel gris, as well as the wild and unexplored crunchy wierdness that is Takesumi Bamboo, one of my favorite new salts.  Below is a re-posting of David’s recipe originally posted here in 2008.

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For the last month or so we have offered a class on the making of salted caramels at The Meadow.  Our friend and master confectioner David Briggs of at Xocolatl de David led us through the various stages of caramelization and saltiness.

Below is the Ultimate Salted Caramel Recipe as perfected by David Briggs of Xocolatl de David.

The format of the salted caramel class was the usual: Attendees (we had over 32 last night!) were given a glass of wine to help keep their palates lively as we moved through a somewhat rigorous tasting format.

  • Mark Bitterman gave the selmelier’s mini-lecture on the four types of sea salt currently used in the assorted salted caramels offered in the shop.
  • Halen Mon Gold oak smoked sea salt from Wales – oaky and warm and mellow with hefty filo dough like flakes
  • Iburi Jio Cherry cherrywood smoked deep sea salt form Japan – heady and bacony and silky at the same time
  • Amabito no Moshio seaweed salt from Japan – a round and mild mineral-rich salt with lots of savory brothy (umami) flavors.
  • Pangasinan Star fleur de sel from the Philippines – brambly and warm and delicately sweet with outsized yet delicate white crystals.
  • The David Briggs talked about how he formulates the salt-levels of his caramels as people tasted:
  • Unsalted burnt caramel cubes
  • Lightly salted caramel cubes (the light is Briggs’s term, as the man loves salt)
  • Fully salted caramel cubes (whoa Bessy!)
  • Then Dave demonstrated how to make a salted caramel sauce (note: Dave declines to go by the title of caramelier either because he thinks a caramelier fellow in France will be offended or because he worries it might constrain future projects involving bacon or ice cream—or maybe both).
  • We took a vote and let the guests choose which salts to put in the caramels based on their tasting.  Every class has been different.  This time the choices were Halen Mon Gold and Pangasinan Star.
  • Last, Dave served up home-made chocolate ice cream and guests were allowed to ladle out the salted caramel sauce (or sauces) of choice onto the ice cream.

Jittery, maybe a little buzzed, the crowd at the end of the evening was slow to drift off, doubtless uncertain as to whether dinner, bed, sea kayaking, or something else would be the best outlet for their energy.

Recipe for the Best Salted Caramel Sauce
The first step is to make invert sugar to prevent the sugar in the caramel from spontaneously crystallizing.

Salted Caramel Invert Sugar
3 C          Sugar
1.5 C       Water
1/4 t        Citic acid OR juice of 1/2 lemon
Put ingredients in a non reactive pot and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Caramel Sauce
2 C  Sugar
1 oz  Invert Sugar
1.25 C   Cream, warm
1 oz   Butter
Fleur de sel

Put invert sugar and sugar in a wide high sided non reactive pot on high heat.  Every minute or so slowly mix in granulated sugar with some that is liquefied.  Eventually you will have a paste.  Warm Cream separately.
Continue to cook sugar until it begins to caramelize.  Using a candy thermometer monitor the temperature of the cooking sugar.  The classic caramel stage is around 330-350 degrees F.  You can cook it longer for a less sweet more bitter sauce.  Do not go above 390 F.

When your desired temperature is reached turn off the heat and slowly and very carefully add the warmed cream in small increments.  When the cream is fully incorporated, turn the heat on high and heat the caramel to 230 F.  This will go quite quickly.  Turn off heat and add the butter.  Stir until the butter has completely melted.  Add your desired amount of Fleur de sel or other sea salt.  Let cool.

It will store in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

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.

Chocolate and Salt Class with Michael Recchiuti and Mark Bitterman

Rosemary pistaccio bamboo salt palletteDoing an event with Michael Recchiuti is a little like surfing on the back of a dolphin.  Constant movement, sort of an ongoing momentum toward an unknown something or other, and a near constant rush.  Though “dolphin” isn’t very Recchiuti like.  There is nothing particularly aquatic about him.  But I want to hold on to the surfing metaphor.  Maybe surfing on the back of a beaver.  A marmot?

I was there to talk salt for a chocolate and salt class for 30 people at Recchiuti’s factory in San Francisco.  While there, I took it upon myself to assume the role of in-house naturalist.  Below are a handful of examples of my attempt to capture, with a cell phone camera, Michael Recchiuti in action.  For my own purposes, I also tried to soak up as much information, technique, and ideas as possible.  I’m still processing the experience, but this is sort of how it went:

Candied pistachiosMe just off the plane from Portland, he just out from a marathon morning at the chocolate factory, we meet at Piccino, share a bitter salad and a pizza with mildly junipery speck, chat and share a bite of burnt caramel ice cream (made by Recchiuti) with two beautiful women at the table next to us (who introduce themselves the moment the ice cream arrive), then race off to buy glasses for the salt and chocolate class, scheduled for the following day.

Returning to the factory, located in a huge industrial building in the uber hip Dogpatch district of San Francisco, I park my luggage at the door and am introduced to everyone in the “kitchen,” then everyone in the office.  The “kitchen” has mixers, temperers, coaters, conveyor belts, warm rooms, cool rooms, and giant kettles reminiscent of jet engine parts.

Michael Recchiut caramelizing apples in butter and sugar for tarte tatinWe survey the presentation area, chat over ideas about how to seat people, how to present salted caramels (there will be a flight of eight with six salts), where lights should go, where the tent went that was supposed to be here already, where homemade graham crackers can be set out alongside palettes of chocolate melting atop a Himalayan salt block, the general drift of how people will arrive, how they will dredge said graham crackers in said chocolate atop said Himalayan salt block and then find a seat.  How all their knees are going to be touching because the event is fully booked.

Then Michael starts disappearing.  He’s in the humidity controlled walk-in.  He’s rummaging for tubs under a worktable.  He’s grabbing something from a file.  He’s tossing a heavy cast iron pans on a counter top and pouring sugar over butter.  He is up on top of the giant walk in fridge fumbling with octopus plugs.  I intersect with him from time to time, busy either wondering what to do, brainstorming about something that will or will not happen, helping with some random task, photographing something.  We do this for two days together. Michael and his team had been working on it for a least a few days prior to my arrival as well.

I realize that somewhere along the line I’d started eating things.  Michael throws me a cherry bomb, I pluck a caramel-encrusted pecan from a tray, snack on a few real-mint-junior mints, dip my finger in some apricot, gouge a glop of sorbet from the spout of the ice Sel gris on crust of tarte tatincream machine, gouge a glop of sorbet from the spout of the ice cream machine after some egg white has been added, sprinkle some bamboo salt or sel gris or fleur de sel or smoked salt on each of the above and try them that way. (I’m also not 100% sure that it’s okay for me to be tasting things; this is, after all, a real factory, with spoken and unspoken codes of behavior, defined economies, ongoing production streams, etc.)  But I realize that I’ve already learned something from Michael: eat what you preach, and eat it often.  Which may be simplified as: eat.

(This is not to say that we relied exclusively on chocolate as a fuel source for the long days leading up to the salt and chocolate event.  Recchiuti has just bought a new espresso machine, and he is eager to try it out at every opportunity.)

chocolate salt cupsBut by now everything was coming together, which has a soothing effect on me and an intensifying effect on Michael.  Now he is almost impossible to see.  Suddenly spun sugar appears on a tray.  Tarte tatin appears in neat squares.  Marshmallows of flash frozen lime foam glow mysteriously on the counter.  The dish washing station is piling higher and higher with bowls, spatulas, knives, molds, beakers, trays.

I am taking pictures, still, and helping where I can.  I rim glasses for malted milk in powderized cocoa nibs and smoked salt.  I roll chocolate swizzle sticks in flaky salt.  I eat.

The guests arrive, we serve cocktails, and soon, the event is under way.

Menu:

Welcome Cocktail
Champagne Apricot Freeze made with Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, celery and radish juices, and a salted chocolate swizzle stick.

Dip-It-Yourself Breadsticks
Recchiuti’s housemade graham crackers and single origin chocolate on a Himalayan salt block.

A Classic Opening
Tarte Tatin baked with Sel Gris de L’ile de Noirmoutier and finished with a suspended animation sprinkle of Okinawa Snow salt.

“Palette” Cleanser
Single Origin “Ocumare” by Amano Chocolate. Topped with pistachios, rosemary foraged from Michael’s street and 3x Roasted Korean Bamboo salt.

Frosty Beverage
Chilled Chocolate Malt drink made with El Rey 41% Milk Chocolate and organic roasted barley malt from Oaktown. Finished with a rim of Iburi Jio Cherry salt.

Intermission
Recchiuti factory tour.

Salt Flight
A comparison of six artisan salt caramels: Pangasinan Star, Kona Deep Sea, Shinkai Deep Sea, Halen Mon Gold, Amabito no Moshio, Cyprus Silver.

One Last Dance
House-churned Burnt Caramel Ice Cream (the same one that elicited the attention of the two women at the restaurant the previous day). Garnished with a drizzle of Stonehouse Olive Oil and Haleakala Ruby Salt.

And to take home…
A box of salt caramels to share (or not) with friends.

Two articles I’ve found on (or relating to) the Recchiuti Bitterman Chocolate Salt event so far:

http://www.foodporn.com/pescygourmet/2009/05/recchiuti-salt-and-chocolate-tasting.html
http://www.thedinnerfiles.com/?p=1089

Hershey’s Dumps Artisan Chocolate Factories Amidst 31% Profit Increase

The Hershey Company announced net sales of $1,377,380,000 for the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with $1,342,222,000 compared to 2007.  Net income for the quarter was $82,155,000, compared with $54,343,000 for 2007.  For the full year 2008, consolidated net sales were $5,132,768,000 compared with $4,946,716,000 in 2007, an increase of 3.8 percent.   Net income was $311,405,000, compared with $214,154,000 in 2007, a 31%.  Not shabby in this economy.  It seems financial troubles find solace in chocolate.

Profits are a nice thing for a company.  What is not nice is when they come at the expense of brand integrity.  Hershey is winding down its “Global Supply Chain Transformation program,” which aims to increase shareholder value rationalizing and restructuring various operations.  To date the company has spent over half a billion dollars on the program.  Buried in all this financial information lurks an inconvenient truth:

“During the fourth quarter of 2008, the scope of the Global Supply Chain Transformation program increased modestly to include the closure of two subscale manufacturing facilities of Artisan Confections Company, a wholly owned subsidiary, and consolidation of the associated production into existing U.S. facilities, along with rationalization of other select items.”

Hershey, the nation’s second-biggest candy maker, owns Artisan Confections Company, which in turns owns Dagoba, Joseph Schmidt, and Scharffen Berger chocolate companies.  Those two “subscale manufacturing facilities” are bay area chocolate companies Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen Berger. 150 people in the area will lose their jobs.

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