(Note: I reviewed two of these bars on November 1, 2008, the plain 34% white and the 70% dark. Since I had the opportunity to taste all six of Shawn’s offerings I thought I’d re-review those two with the four new ones.)
Shawn Askinosie is the first small batch chocolate maker to produce white chocolate from the bean. His 34% White Chocolate with Pistachio bar is made from Ecuadorian San Jose Del Tambo beans enhanced with goat milk powder. For those of you who can’t get enough dolce de leche, you will find this bar reminiscent of those incredibly satisfying, fully rounded caramel flavors. Its creaminess is offset with pistachios. In my experience, unless you caramelize pistachios they don’t have a particularly crunchy texture. This might ordinarily be an issue, but the strong caramel flavor of the chocolate marries well with the texture of the nuts. It’s all one smooth experience.
Shawn’s other white bar, Nibble, is accented with roasted cacao nibs. I was totally smitten with this rendition, as it affords all the novelty of a goat milk enriched single origin bar with the lovely crunch of roasted nibs. This is truly a unique experience, and would make a fantastic addition to a chocolate tasting.
Rather than do a flight tasting, starting with the least intense to the strongest, I went immediately for the 77% bar made with Trinitario beans from Davao in the Phillippines. Another eye opening experience, as the sublimely tempered chocolate has a remarkable combination of subtlety and earthiness. You might think a 77% bar would be a bit challenging, but it affords the opportunity to taste the essence of the bean. I found myself taking one more bite to try and parse out the flavor profile, with its slight tobacco notes, plummy richness, and incredible complexity.
The 70% Nibble Bar, made from Arriba Nacional beans from San Jose Del Tambo, is a spectacular combination of crunch, creaminess, and depth. It’s one of the more satisfying bars I have had, and it manages to sing so sweetly with only 7 grams of sugar (that’s organic cane juice, by the way) per 42.5 gram serving. I would buy this again in a heartbeat. The same chocolate is available plain, but after my recent forays into nib-world, I gravitate towards their inclusion.
In the middle of these two poles of cacao content is Shawn’s 52% Dark Milk Chocolate made with Trinitario beans from Sonocusco, Mexico. Another beautifully tempered bar, this has the addition of Fleur de Sel, and a much higher sugar content (24 grams per 42.5 gram portion). I could taste the salt as it gently pushed the chocolate into another dimension. What surprised me was it wasn’t sweet. I would think that much sugar would be cloying, but it was still very adult. This bar also has goat milk powder. Between the single origin bean, goat milk, and fleur de sel this is one very different chocolate experience. If I close my eyes I would never dream this is 52%. Its intensity is more like a bar in the 65-70% range. Very surprising, and captivating. There are a wide variety of dark milk chocolates available now, but not one is like this.
Shawn also offers a “Rustic” bar with sugar crystals and bits of vanilla bean that I would have loved to have tried, but it’s out of stock.
The packaging is delightful: butcher paper envelopes that keep your chocolate neat and undisturbed, tied with twine that’s as echt as the bar inside.