One of the hallmarks of a fantastic chocolate is its seductiveness. Just as a semi-clothed woman is typically more erotic than a naked one, mysteriousness also makes chocolate more irresistible. As much as I want to be bowled over by the initial taste, texture, aroma, snap, and finish, I also want to be a little perplexed. Just a soupçon of inscrutability makes me want another bite so I can discern, and possibly unlock, the bar’s secrets. What exactly is that scent? How did they get that texture? What flavors am I tasting? The best bars are those that engender myriad questions, tantalizing my senses and challenging my mind.
I like to think my palate isn’t so jaded that I can’t appreciate something innocent and plain, but that may be wishful thinking. The truth is, chocolate has become so sophisticated in its provenance, production methods, and sheer creativity, that I, like most of you, am spoiled. There are many who share the responsibility for continuing to raise the bar (pun intended), and one is Shawn Askinosie.
I just tasted his Cortés Honduras chocolate, and chocolate hazelnut spread. Both are out of this world. The spread is very different from Nutella, just in case an image of that ubiquitous jar came to mind. It has a hint of sweetness that marries well with crisp pear or apple slices, is excellent on your favorite bread topped with sliced banana, or served as a warm dip, like a mini fondue. If you like to play in the kitchen, you might want to sandwich it between thin butter cookies and them dip them halfway in dark chocolate. I can also imagine it blanketing some mango slices on a bed of Angel Food cake. For someone like me who has always been drawn to Nutella but never buys it because it’s just too junky, Askinosie’s spread is a welcome pantry staple.
The Cortés bar is sweetened with organic cane juice, has a glossy shine, audible temper, and the adorable alphabet letters spelling “Askinosie Chocolate” Shawn stamps on all his bars. From the first bite, this chocolate had my rapt attention. It fulfills all those hedonic desires I outlined above, and then some. I hesitate to say it’s earthy as that might lead you to think it lacks sophistication, which would be untrue. The earthiness is like a soft, grounding note that underlies Cortés’ character. I love finding chocolate in the 70% range that has a gentle flavor profile, while still being intriguing and complex enough to keep me coming back for more. Shawn and his crew describe this as being “bright and bold with intense notes of dried fruit and peppery tannins in the finish.” I couldn’t detect the peppery notes, though there is a dry finish.
The cocoa beans hail from a plantation in Cortés, Honduras, run by Fermin Arriaga. The area has a long history of cocoa farming that dates back to the Mayan civilization. Shawn has a relationship with each of the farmers from whom he sources beans. In addition, he guarantees them more than fair prices, open books and a share in their success. What this means is he personally goes back after a selling cycle of each bean buy and shares Askinosie’s financial statement with them. He explains the profit share calculation and then hands them cash. Sometimes each farmer will take a share, on other occasions they vote to pool the profits for the benefit of their group.
As impressive as that is, it is only pertinent because the chocolate is so delicious.