Category Archives: Fermented foods: chocolate

Quintessential Chocolates

Many years ago, when I had energy to burn, I made a four layer dark chocolate rum cake covered in a blanket of white marzipan adorned with flat pink marzipan hearts. Just thinking about it evokes nascent yearnings. While I am not inclined to spend the good part of a day baking at this juncture, I still love the combination of alcohol and chocolate. So far, I have had to sate my cravings with some homemade ganaches infused with Benedictine or Nocello. Yes, there are truffles with Grand Marnier, Amaretto, and rum, to name a few, but the alcohol presence always seems fairly mild to me. Not so for the alcohol filled batons and truffles from Quintessential Chocolates. I recently sampled a few of their confections and was delighted with their intense flavor.

The truffles were appealing in their pretty Tiffany blue sleeve box with windowpane for viewing. Jamaican was deliciously rummy. The dark couverture with delicate white swirl was the perfect thickness to complement but not overwhelm its creamy center. MayaCaya, enhanced with cayenne, offered light heat and a hint of cinnamon. Fortunate No.4 Sea Salt Caramel had a smaller center and thicker shell. Here, though, it worked perfectly, as the sweet caramel was a excellent foil for the chocolate’s unique fruity-floral flavor profile. A wonderfully luxurious experience. Their Bittersweet Truffle was a classic dark chocolate ganache in a thinner shell. The sweetest of was a Belgian Milk Truffle.

Quintessential’s alcohol filled chocolates, six to a box, are encased in a sugar crust, which keeps the filling liquid, and coated in a thin layer of semi-sweet chocolate. Flavors included: Amaretto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Enchanted Rock Red Wine, Pecan Street Rum, Garrison Bourbon, and Republic Anejo Tequila. The boxes weigh 1.85 ounces, or 52 grams. I like the enclosed map of flavors so you know what you’re biting into, and I’m always a fan of variety. All of them were a far cry from the imported alcohol filled chocolates I have sampled from Germany with their cloyingly sweet, thicker chocolate shells. These were the perfect juxtaposition of chocolate and alcohol. Liquid, crunch, and silky textured chocolate all at once.

Quintessential also offers fruit nectar and coffee filled chocolates, and a wide variety of barks that look very appetizing. The truffles are only available in their Texas based store, but everything else can be ordered online.

Nuance Chocolate

Nuance. What a great name for a chocolate company. After all, nuance celebrates the subtle differences between similar things. Isn’t the awareness of different aspects of chocolate what we seek to discern and appreciate? What accounts for those differences that we gradually train our senses to notice? Is it the terroir, the bean’s handling, the phase of the moon when the beans were harvested (thank you, Rudolph Steiner for biodynamic farming), fermentation conditions, storage, shipping, conching, the addition or omission of vanilla, packaging, and other multifarious causes and conditions? Clearly, all contribute to the ultimate arbiter of taste: one’s own body-mind state when eating chocolate. Your internal conditions are affected by externals, like: climate, whether you’re tasting solo or in company, the aesthetics of your surroundings, ambient sounds, aromas, darkness, light, time of day, etc.

A Hershey bar might taste like manna from heaven in a prison cell, while the most beautifully packaged, carefully sourced, and perfectly tempered chocolate could taste like ashes if eaten after bad news.

The nuances are where it’s at. Kudos to Toby and Alix Gadd, creators of Nuance Chocolate, for coming up with such a fitting and inspirational name. Their bars are worth the time it takes to cultivate discernment. To eat this chocolate mindlessly would be sacrilegious.

Toby and Alix use premium cacao beans from ethical sources, which they roast in small batches and grind for up to three days. The dark bars I sampled had no added vanilla. If you’re looking for a super luxurious mouth feel it’s necessary to grind the beans a long time.

They have a huge assortment of bars on their website (www.nuancechocolate.com). Here are the ones I sampled:

Marañón 70% Peruvian bar, made from rare cacao from the Marañón River Canyon. I have tasted this bean on numerous occasions. It’s highly touted because of the fruity, slightly floral notes and gentle presence on your palate. Nuance’s rendition is velvety and full of those subtle layers of flavor that distinguish this bean from many others. When tasting something so refined I like a thinner bar, and that’s exactly how they made it.

Toby sent me a tasting flight of 16 gram batons with six squares each. I followed his suggestion for the order in which to try them:

Uganda 70% Dark, Forestero. Astonishingly good, I was struck with it’s creamy texture, beautiful temper, no acidity, and rounded flavor. If you’re searching for a 70% bar that doesn’t scream of soil, earthiness, coffee, or leather, this is it.

Next up was the 90% bar from Ghana, another Forastero, but far more intense with a much drier finish. If you’re exploring super dark chocolates I would suggest you give this a try. It had a definite presence from a long fermentation, and plenty of depth. I found the finish lasted for minutes and left me quite sated.

Number three was the 70% Fiji bar from Mataswalevu farm. Also Forestero beans, this one was fruitier with definite caramel notes and a very round finish. No bite or acidity.

Their 70% Criollo bean bar from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela had a creamy texture, nuttiness balanced with floral notes, and finished with a soupçon of acidic edginess.

The bar from Papua New Guinea, a Forestero, has beans that were dried over an open fire. This is quite unusual, as most beans are dried in the sun or on racks. I definitely tasted the smokiness, which surprised my senses but not to the point where I missed the ultra-creamy texture or complex layers of dark fruitiness and terroir.

The 70% from Cuyagua, Venezuela is a more assertive Criollo. It intermingles acidity, dark fruits, earthiness (atypical for a Criollo), and hints of nutmeg for a complex, intriguing experience.

The 70% Moho Valley, Belize Criollo/Trinitarion bar is fascinating. It’s full of cherry, lychee, and walnut. The lovely dry finish is perfect against the chocolate’s creaminess.

Dark Milk bars are the darlings of the current chocolate scene and for good reason. They take milk chocolate into adult realms. Nuance’s 55% Chantilly Cream bar with Forestero beans from Ghana, is made with heavy cream, not milk, and the result is just ambrosial. Lush, rich, balanced, and satisfying, it’s different from every other dark milk I have ever sampled. If you love dark milks, this will vastly expand your repertoire.

Nuance’s 55% Dark Zurich Milk bar, also a Forestero from Ghana, evokes Dulce de Leche with its creamy caramel flavors and soothing finish. Here, the milk is full-fat from Holland. Both these dark milk bars have vanilla beans added for an extra layer of interest.

For you mocha lovers, they offer Bean Cycle #1, a collaboration bar of Ethiopian coffee beans and Trinitarian cacao from Madagascar. Unlike many other coffee and chocolate combos, Nuance’s rendition is smooth as silk. Coffee here is a presence, not a crunch. Different and delicious.

This is a company to watch. Their exacting standards, ability to coax a bean’s personality from its natural state, and know when to mix things up, makes them respectful of nature but also creative chocolatiers.

Endorfin Foods Chocolate

Years ago, when I was raising my children, we belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program). It was a wonderful experience that brought us closer to the farmers who grew our food. Apparently, the idea appealed to bean-to-bar maker Brian Wallace, founder of Endorfin Foods, and the world’s first Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) box. Just like a CSA, it creates a relationship between the grower and the consumer. Brian’s program sends out a box of chocolates every month with your subscription. These are a combination of products made exclusively for the CSC, like: chocolate covered exotic fruits, truffles, barks, their whole bean drinking chocolate, and a couple of bars from his regular range. Of course, you don’t have to belong to his CSC to enjoy his chocolate as it can be purchased any day from his website.

Brian’s beans are never roasted. They are: fermented and dried on site, then cracked and winnowed, crushed, and stoneground with coconut sugar and coconut mylk before being milled, tempered, then molded into bars.

Like other bean-to-bar companies, Endorphin Foods is trying to be the change it wants to see by paying farmers higher rates for their beans and working only with cacao grown by small farmer cooperatives and estates in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Madagascar. This, as you know, bypasses the slavery and child labor used by 70% of cacao farmers in Western Africa.

I sampled five of Brian’s bars, all of which are sweetened with coconut sugar, dairy free, soy free, gluten free, agave free, and GMO free.

From the 80% single origin line I tried the Madagascar bar. Made from Criollo beans, its creamy texture enhanced a dark, fruity flavor profile.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate, 56%, is sweeter with a melt in your mouth texture. It’s a completely different experience from traditional milk chocolate as it has a higher percentage of cacao solids. The coconut milk does not taste like coconut but somehow creates a milkier bar.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Coffee and Cardamom, 60%, is a delicious combo of warm spice and coffee.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Ginger and Rose, 56%, woke up my palate with its lovely gingery edge and floral essence. Unusual, creative, and very satisfying.

Dark Chocolate Coconut Mylk with Anise and Wormwood, 70%, used a darker base to balance out the heady flavors found in Absinthe liquor: Grand Wormwood, Anise, Sweet Fennel, Melissa (Lemon Balm), and Mugwort. The resulting bar is complex, rich, and slightly addictive.

At the time of this review, you can use the discount code “farmtotable” to get 30% off the first month of your own subscription box at http://www.endorfinfoods.com/subscriptions

K’ul Chocolate II

I am truly smitten with the single origin Farm to Bar offerings from K’ul. The four bars I sampled would make a fabulous addition to any chocolate tasting with their combination of depth, character, beautiful tempering, and subtlety…assuming I wouldn’t scarf them down before the guests arrived.

Their Marañón River Peruvian Fortunato No.4 (also known as Nacional) made from the world’s rarest white cacao beans is just sublime: fruity, fresh, with a hint of acidity, it showcases the nuances of this special bean.

Fazenda Camboa, Bahia, Brazil is another wonder. Actually, I have had my share of Nacional and always love it. This organic Forester bar was more of a revelation: super creamy texture, caramel undertones, and a lovely finish.

Hacienda Limon, Los Rios, Ecuador is another delectable treat made from heirloom cacao. Like the Fazenda, it delivers its buttery rich flavors in an über creamy base.

Kafupbo, Petit Bourg, de Borgnes, Haiti is an organic chocolate with complex licorice undertones perked up by red fruits in a velvety texture. It could easily become my new favorite. Super luscious and satisfying.

In the realm of K’ul’s add-in creations is the Electrobar, beguiling me with bananas, evaporated coconut water, toasted coconut, electrolytes, and Cyprus sea salt. Its crunchy, chewy, immensely satisfying and rejuvenating. When K’ul adds ingredients, they do it with a very generous hand. This bar is chock full of flavor and textures, making each bite a slightly different gustatory adventure.

Their hand-roasted Marcona Almond bar in 70% dark chocolate is also easy to scarf down and great for an outdoor adventure.

I strongly recommend you get on their email list as they offer various promotions throughout the year, and you can keep up with their new products.

Georgia Ramon Bean To Bar Chocolate

While Keats once said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” when it comes to chocolate it’s all about the ephemerality of the experience. Perhaps, the beauty that fades quickly is precious because of its fleetingness. When I eat a piece of amazing chocolate and know the flavor, texture, and aroma are with me for only the briefest moment, I can savor them with a different kind of attention. Chocolate from Georgia Ramon reminds me how great chocolate can bring me fully into the moment. The visual joy of their packaging, the tactile and auditory pleasure of the reclosable interior cellophane sleeve, and the quality of their beans all invite a gustatory reverie.

Georg Bernardini and Ramona Gutmann founded Georgia Ramon in 2015, but this is no novice chocolatier. Bernardini has over 27 years experience in chocolate, patisseries & confiserie. His career has taken him from Bonn and Munich to Paris and Toulouse.

In 1992 he and Oliver Coppeneur founded Confiserie Coppeneur et Compagnon. While there, he set up the company’s bean to bar chocolate line. Ramona spent two years working at Confiserie Coppeneur in Bonn as a shop manager.

Georg wrote the definitive book on artisanal chocolate: “Chocolate – The Reference Standard.”

Georg and Ramona value sustainability using many organic ingredients and beans sourced from cooperatives, or plantations Georg has been working with for years.

Before I even tasted any of the eight bars they sent me, I was captivated by the flat, rectangular cardboard envelopes adorned with unique designs that went from an insanely beautiful Dia des Muertos themed painting on their Haitian 80%, to a floral hippie-inspired pattern on the 100%.

Each bar is 50 grams, but the packaging, flavor intensity, and lovely bas relief of Mondrian-like squares made me think it was larger.

Let’s start with the wildest chocolate combo I have ever eaten: Broccoli and Salted Almonds in White Chocolate. This khaki green beautifully thin slab is conched with de-oiled almond flour and air-dried broccoli powder. Then, they add Sicilian roasted and salted almonds. There are 42% cocoa solids. It tastes creamy, green, fresh, and comes studded with tiny bits of crunchy nuts. If you have a curious palate I would highly recommend experiencing this unique vegan bar.

At the opposite end of the cacao spectrum is their 100%, Mountains of the Moon. Made with a combination of Forastero and Trinitario beans from the Congo, it is well-tempered and incredibly intense. The earthy flavor redolent of coffee, spices, and leather.

Georgia Ramon’s 80% made with Haitian Trinitario and Criollo beans is crisply tempered, almost black, rich, and balanced. I am a fan of the 80% range and find products differ greatly. This one is so satisfying that even a small rectangle sated my craving for an exquisitely smooth chocolate with flavors of fig, roasted nuts, and cognac.

Their 70% dark from the TCGA Cooperative in Belize is a gentle, sweeter bar. Like its siblings, it’s beautifully tempered. The flavor is earthy and more straightforward with a slightly dry finish.

If you love the combination of dark chocolate and sea salt, Georgia Ramon offers a 70% with sea salt flakes from the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. It has the same amount of added sugar as the plain 70%, but a vastly different flavor profile. The salt is subtly added, achieving the exact right balance. Enough to perk up the essence of the beans while not overwhelming them.

Super finely ground coffee from the jungles of Ethiopia and cocoa nibs infiltrate every bite of their 55% bar. Unlike many others in this cacao content range, it is not particularly sweet, with 13 grams of sugar in the whole bar. An inventive, perfect combination that once tasted seems as if it should have been ubiquitous for years.

38% white chocolate never dreamed it could embrace beetroot and coconut, but it all deliciously comes together in this bar. The dark ruby-amethyst color looks amazing while the flavor and texture surprise your taste buds. Crunchy-chewy coconut pieces are a perfect counterpoint to the beetroot’s sweetness and ultra creamy texture.

Their 66% Brazilian Trinitarian dark milk bar was delightfully deep, full of terroir, and ground but not conched. Its mildness combined with memories of the bean’s earthy origins, making it another original from Georgia Ramon.

Eating Evolved Primal Chocolate

I love gustatory experimentation, so when a few coconut sugar sweetened bars from Primal Chocolate came across the transom, I was intrigued. Coconut sugar is touted by some for its lower glycemic index than table sugar. Other nutritionists say it’s on a par with honey, though vegan. Regardless of the conflicting theories, it is an alternative sweetener that comes from the sap of the coconut palm.

Eating Evolved’s motto is: Chocolate: It’s food, not candy. I completely concur. At least, the chocolate I usually gravitate towards that is lower in sugar. As a matter of fact, dark chocolate is one of the 15 superfoods and chock full of phytochemicals, healthy fats, fiber, iron, etc.

I tried three of their bars:

Their signature dark rolls in at 72% and is a very satisfying, earthy bar with a creamy texture. Easy to eat and quite satisfying. Crunchy Caramel is 85% cacao, yet it has the same 7 grams of sugar in a 28 gram portion as the signature dark. Both have a dry finish. Almond Sea Salt, my favorite of the trio, also has 7 grams of sugar per 28 gram serving with the addition of slivers of almond and a sprinkle of sea salt. The added dimension of flavor from the almonds and sea salt made this bar the most interesting and flavorsome, while the nuts provided a lovely crunch.

K’UL Chocolate Bean-to-Bar

I love innovation. Not for innovation’s sake, but when it truly improves something. K’UL (pronounced cool) Chocolate is definitely innovative. Founder, Peter Kelsey, calls his bars Superfood and I can see why. Chock full of nuts, seeds, anti-oxidants, and supplements each bar is its own little powerhouse of nutrition. It’s food, not candy. Vegan and gluten free.

K’UL Chocolate travels to the cacao farms, selects the beans and imports them. Then they roast, winnow and grind the beans. They make it their mission to improve the lives and environment of the farmers. Luckily, this kind of ethical agenda drives more and more chocolate companies.

The bars are designed by athletes for athletes. If you are into endurance sports or big adventures, K’UL Chocolate has a bar for you. The packaging itself is water proof and pocket sized. This means that even if you are hiking the Amazon and your chocolate melts, you can still neatly squeeze out its soft goodness.

I sampled a few and found them brimming with add-ins. My favorite was the Maca & Fruit bar. Maca is an ancient root that is used for energy, but it does not contain caffeine. (Here’s a link to more information on its benefits: http://draxe.com/top-5-maca-root-benefits-and-nutrition/) The combination of cherries, cranberries, raspberries and pomegranate is divinely chewy, and plays beautifully with the 70% chocolate.

All the chocolate they use is 70%. The pure bar has an earthy profile with a slightly dry finish and undertones of dark fruits, like raisins and plums. While I liked it, I was a bigger fan of the bars with add-ins, and not just for their added nutritional punch, but for their visual appeal. The fruits and nuts are mixed in so you can still see them peeking though the chocolate, quite beautiful.

Saltsensation, with sea salt flakes, was delicious. That little bit of sodium really amped up the chocolate’s flavor giving it a multi-layered, nuanced taste.

Peanuts & Currants was very satisfying, and a perfect choice for a hike or a briefcase.

Endurance, enhanced with Pumpkin seeds, Guarana and cranberries had a marvelous combination of crunchy and chewy textures. Guarana is like caffeine on steroids, so be warned if you are sensitive to its effects. On the other hand, if your body thrives on that extra burst of energy, this bar’s for you.

The folks at K’UL are always creating new combinations, so keep checking out their website for new temptations.

NOTE: They have a special introductory offer on their website where you can buy a variety pack of four bars for $11.99, including shipping.