French Broad Chocolates

For those who care about the aesthetics of life, and I am firmly planted in that camp, French Broad Chocolates come in lovely pale blue boxes with an appealing cocoa pod graphic, their logo, and a wide dark brown grosgrain ribbon knotted into a perfect squarish bow. The whimsically elegant wrapping is reminiscent of Tiffany’s famous blue box.

Let’s start with the truffles. There are six collections: Buddha, Single Origin, Salted Caramel, Asheville Grown, Signature, and World. The Buddha grouping consists of 12 large vegan chocolates, two of each of the following.

Fig & Port, a swoon worthy duo, is rolled in 91% cacao and toasted almonds. Its ganache interior is a heady, yet balanced, fantasy of local figs, dark chocolate and port.

Pomegranate Ginger, another inspired combination, is infused with a pomegranate juice reduction and ginger, all encased in a well tempered dark shell.

Buddha, 65% dark chocolate ganache with coconut cream, is luscious, rich, and creamy.

Strawberry Balsamic, accentuated with a quick dip in roasted nibs, features local strawberries and Hawaiian dark chocolate. It’s a head-turning truffle offering a multi-level experience of silky, crunchy, fruity, bitter, and sweet.

Thai, a fetching tryst of flavors: coconut, homegrown lemongrass, lime, ginger, green chile is enrobed in 65% dark chocolate and adorned with toasted coconut.

Theros, a Greek inspired blend, contains orange, fennel, and extra virgin olive oil from Messinia, Greece. The olive oil is an amazing presence here, as it works to catalyze all the other flavors, bringing them together like the last movement in a Mozart symphony. Think of the sugared fennel seeds on top as a few quick flourishes of the conductor’s baton.

As if that weren’t enough, I sampled their Melange collection, aka Custom. Again, ingenuity and true craftsmanship rule the day.

Sorghum molasses, a basic Southern sweetener recently lauded in the New York Times, takes their caramel to Margaret Mitchell’s Tara and back. Its rich, layered profile seduces with insouciant subtlety that slowly reveals depth beyond your first impression. This deeply satisfying complex sweetness has just enough bite to intrigue and mystify.

I found their Cashew Honey Caramel square more of a fudge than a caramel. Intensely nutty and rounded out with honey, it’s a very adult twist on a hypothetical cashew Reese’s cup with dark chocolate.

Fresh Raspberry wasn’t exaggerating. A super fresh raspberry puree in dark ganache tastes as if it had been made today.

Earl Grey is a laid back, gentler version of this tea-enhanced ganache in milk couverture.

Masala Chai is similarly restrained, which, considering its array of spices: clove, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, vanilla, and Darjeeling tea, is a good thing. All nicely complemented by a dark shell.

Cafe Au Lait uses Counter Culture coffee in a ganache of dark and milk chocolates for a lovely mocha profile.

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel, featuring Knob Creek bourbon in a 55% dark truffle is velvety textured, well balanced, and not overly alcoholic. Like all their truffles, it has the perfect amount of couverture, not too thin nor too thick.

There are other truffle offerings that sparked my interest, like Indian Kulfi with rose, pistachio and cardamom, a Canela Picante with cayenne, and Mole Negro with spices, nuts and chiles. I suggest you check out their full line if you like flirting with temptation.

French Broad also offers a quartet of dark bars. Each 60-62 gram organic slab has 20 bite size rectangular pieces that break cleanly and sport a mini company logo. Again, I loved the wrapping: pale blue paper, a strip of that lovely ribbon with some magic glue that makes opening and closing a breeze, and a minimal amount of printed matter.

My first taste: their 77% from the CIAAB Cooperative in Alto Beni, Bolivia. An interesting bar with bite, earth, just enough sweetness, and a dry, lingering finish.

70% Pure Nacional from Marañón Canyon, Peru, has an even drier finish, with a shorter duration, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s just a different chocolate experience, and one I kept going back to out of gustatory curiosity. The bean’s provenance is a genetically unique cacao strain that, until a few years ago, was considered extinct. Dan Pearson and his son, Adam, rediscovered it on a farm in the remote Marañón Canyon of the San Ignacio province of Peru, near the northern border with Ecuador. After identification, father and son worked with the farmers to an exacting fermentation and post-harvest handling process. apparently, the first batch was almost all sent to a Swiss chocolate maker, and has been sold under the name Fortunato No. 4. The Pearsons sold French Broad a small amount of that first harvest, which they offer in this limited edition bar.
(You can read more about this exciting cacao find here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/dining/12chocolate.html?_r=1.)

Le Red Cooperative from the Dominican Republic, like all their bars, is hand-sorted, roasted, cracked, winnowed and stone ground in-house, and contains only cocoa beans and organic sugar. Imported by Taza Chocolate, with the recommendation of a long, 8-9 day, fermentation the beans take on a distinctive acetic, winey note. I found the red fruit predominated.

This chocolate is also available with Dobra Tea, Lapsang Souchong & Sea Salt. The smoked black tea leaves sprinkled with sea salt on the underside of the bar impart added dimensions of visual appeal, flavor and texture, while still retaining the essence of this very eatable bean.

In addition to their embarrassment of riches, French Broad Chocolates also makes four different types of brownies. Pretty soon, they will have a chocolate factory in downtown Asheville, where offerings will undoubtedly increase, so keep an eye on them.

You can learn more about the company’s founders, Jael and Dan, here: http://frenchbroadchocolates.com/articles/family-resume; and read about their philosophy here: http://frenchbroadchocolates.com/articles/manifesto.

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