Tag Archives: artisan chocolate

Desiderio Chocolates

Artisan, gluten free, organic, local, fair-traded, and vegan chocolates from a great new chocolatier in Grand Rapids, Michigan: Vanessa Metalli Dionne.

Vanessa grew up in Rome, studied Industrial Design, and apprenticed at her parent’s Italian restaurant making desserts and breads. That’s the kind of credibility I find appealing: the interplay between modern with ancient, and discipline with creativity. All of which allows Vanessa to explore every aspect of the chocolate kingdom that piques her interest.

Her sleek looking chocolates, pure little rectangular bars or square caramels presented in the simplest wrappings, beguile you with their unadorned clean lines. Vanessa wants the focus on her delicious treats, not their trappings.

I sampled four small bars from her collection and the Salted Caramels. All are enrobed in a well-balanced dark couverture, and sport two layers: an infused ganache with a topping of gooey caramel. There is no discernible olive oil or coconut milk flavor, though their richness is easily detected.

Whiskey & Smoked Caramel Bar has a marked whiskey taste offset beautifully with textural interest from both the ganache and caramel. Of the four bars, this one has the most pronounced alcohol flavor.

Stout Caramel Ganache is simply divine, as its beery presence mixes with a hint of whiskey. Little bursts of Celtic Grey Sea Salt sprinkled on top provide a perfect gustatory counterpoint to the velvety interior.

Gourmellow :: Vegan Marshmallow Bar has a heaping layer of home made super-fluffy marshmallow on top of that incredibly chocolatey ganache.

Pumpkin Pie Caramel Truffle is a real gem. Redolent of pumpkin, spices, caramel, with a taste that bursts out of its chocolate confines, a truly memorable treat.

Salted Caramels :: Vegan Caramella with Himalayan pink sea salt is a rich dessert in two bites. Fabulous with tea or espresso, they come in a box of six and would make a great stocking stuffer.

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Baruzzo Chocolate

One thing I love about Italian chocolates is the ubiquity of hazelnuts. Here, in America, our fondness for these rustic, meaty little orbs is often limited to Nutella. Baruzzo’s Piemontese hazelnuts are lightly roasted, coated in gianduja (chocolate hazelnut paste) and dusted in cocoa powder. Each sphere is a little planet of delight: crunchy, rich, and creamy.

Lest you be misled, Baruzzo is Italian chocolate made in the United Kingdom. Raffaella Baruzzo, the founder, says: “Chocolate repres­ents to me a universe where history, philosophy, chemistry, art and sensuality can meet. I seek to offer everyone an experience of an app­reciation of beauty with every enticing bite.” Raffaella achieves her goal. Each of her chocolates melds artistry and high quality ingredients into a sensuous experience for the true chocophile. The texture of her diminutive pralines and truffles is the apotheosis of silkiness, and the flavors balance at the fulcrum between gentle and intense. Couverture is applied with a light touch.

I also sampled her Cape Gooseberries from Ecuador coated in white chocolate. The super creamy white is a good choice for the sight astringency of the chewy berries. A new marriage of flavors that could easily stand the test of time.

Socola Chocolatier: Winter and Signature Collections

These chocolates should be X-rated. They are so delicious and so adult, you may want to eat them in private to fully languish in the experience. I found myself audibly reacting to the Guava Pâté de Fruit resting on its oh-so-perfect layer of dark ganache. Just superb. If you had told me I would adore that particular combination I would have been highly doubtful, so it’s always important to keep an open mind. This particular little delight is adorned with a white winged alpaca, their mascot and guardian angel.

Before I regale you with the other seven flavors I was lucky enough to try, let me tell you about the Lieu sisters who co-founded Socola Chocolatier. In 2001, when Wendy was 19 and Susan was 16, they began experimenting with chocolate. Within a month they had a farmer’s market stall right in front of their parent’s nail salon in Santa Rosa. They named the company Socota because it means “chocolate” in Vietnamese. After Susan finished her degree at Harvard, she went to Vietnam to work on sustainable cocoa development with USAID. Meanwhile, Wendy studied pastry arts. In 2008 they returned to the kitchen and began concocting their unique truffles.

On to the truffles:

Vietnamese Coffee is typical of the sisters’ deft work. The ganache is ultra-creamy while the thin shell cracks from perfect tempering. On a riff of the classic Vietnamese drink, espresso is mixed with condensed milk and dark E. Guittard chocolate to the benefit of all three.

Rogue Brewery Shakespeare Stout (5%) has the same great textural counterpoint of all their truffles with the lovely addition of stout.

Burnt Caramel may be an homage to Vietnamese Flan. It’s almost a misnomer to call it burnt, as whatever extra caramelizing went into this ends up adding another layer of flavor, rather than standing out in any way you might associate with the word “burnt.”

Pumpkin Burnt Caramel has strong pumpkin flavor and a touch of salt which seems to make the truffle’s finish linger.

Chai Baba Chai is delicately enhanced with chai spices, which balances the flavors, rather than overpowering the chocolate.

Champagne tastes of dark chocolate and is a good counterpart to the three other flavors in this Winter Collection.

Hazelnut Praline is also gently flavored. This restraint prevents the hazelnut flavor from predominating.

Unlike some high-end chocolatiers, the Lieu sisters do not produce a bitter truffle. Theirs are bittersweet. It’s an important distinction, as the lack of sugar is appropriate in an 85% bar, but sorely missed in a truffle.

My two jewelry sized boxes, each containing four small truffles, were an appealing combination of aqua and brown with a thin brown ribbon asymmetrically placed at one end. What a poetic presentation for someone who loves serious chocolate.

TerraSource Gourmet Chocolates

I do adore it when someone cares enough to use the best quality ingredients and source their cacao from places that treat workers with respect and pay them a fair wage, so I was already predisposed to like Josie Pradella’s vegan chocolates. For those of you who think “vegan” means vaguely edible, these truffles will astound you.  They have a crisp, thin shell, phenominally intense flavors, and silky centers.

The ganache is made with coconut milk and coconut oil. You may have read the bad rap these products received in the past, but that was before anyone researched coconut oil. We now believe these products are quite healthy. You can access newer information on coconut oil here: http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-oils/organic-coconut-oil/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.html.

I tried five of the tea infused chocolates.  These are not for the kiddies, unless your child has been blessed with an adult palate. All were heavy on flavor, but tasted light. You might think that would make them less gratifying.  Au contraire, the texture, richness, perfect level of sweetness, and flavor profile produced a deeply satisfying experience.

The Masala Chai was as real and authentic as could be. A gustatory symphony embodying the essence of Chai.  Lavender Tea is only for true lavender devotees as it was far from a whiff of those lovely purple flowers. I felt as if I had tumbled into a field of lavender after just one bite. Jasmine Green Tea was also a heady experience. I tasted the flowery jasmine as well as the slightly astringent tea, and they married well in that wonderful ganache. Scarlet Tea was more gently infused with berry flavor. My favorite, Caramel Rooibos Tea, was the essence of red bush tea paired with caramel notes—just divine.

Some of Josie’s other flavors, like: Brandied Pear, Pecan Praline, Balsamic Strawberry, and Cranberry Walnut are calling my name as I write this.

Amano Artisan Chocolate: Montanya 70%, Jembrana 30% milk, & Ocumare 30% milk

I am a big fan of Art Pollard’s chocolates (see other reviews).  This new dark bar, Montanya, made with beans from northern Venezuela, in an area only accessible on horseback, is delicious.  It’s tempered to a satisfying snap, the bar is scored into perfect bite-sized pieces, and last but not least, the flavor is deep and complex.  There are notes of tobacco and plum, with just a hint of acidity to balance out the richness of the chocolate.  On the box, it says the dominant flavors are apricot and marshmallow.  I disagree. That description might lead you to think Montanya is wimpy, but it’s not.  This chocolate makes a big statement, which is why a little goes a long way.  A good thing, as Art’s bars are all two ounces and retail for $8.95 each.  One of the reasons I adore his wares is that a few pieces really sate my chocolate cravings.

The artwork on all three boxes, two paintings by Carie Henri, and one by Alexander Selytin, is so appealing against the shiny color-saturated backgrounds that you’d have to be made of stone to resist buying one of these on the visuals alone.  

As for the two new milk bars, I must confess, when I saw that each was made with 30% chocolate I almost let out a disappointed sigh. Immediately, I recollected all the other bars I had tried that were cloyingly sweet and vapid; but, these were Art’s babies so my optimism was stoked.   The Ocumare has more of a crisp texture than is typical with most milk chocolates, and, happily, the flavor of the beans still comes through.  It isn’t cloyingly sweet, making it an excellent choice for adults who want a more sophisticated, but still milky chocolate. The Jembrana is milder.  It would be interesting to have a milk chocolate tasting with the Ocumare, some of Slitti’s Lattenero (see review), and the Seeds of Change 43%.  It certainly seems as if there’s a strong trend towards higher cacao content milk bars, and Art is bucking that with two 30% options.