Tag Archives: artisanal chocolate

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is a Hungarian bean-to-bar chocolate maker that produces some of the most beautifully packaged and delicious chocolates on earth.

Not only do they know their beans, sourcing organic Madagascan trinitarios and criollos from Åkesson’s and Venezuelan cacao from the Franceschi family in San José de Guaribe, but they offer a wide variety of chocolates for both the purist (single origin bars), and wildly experimental types (seasonal bars).

The company was started by Zsolt Szabad and his wife, Katalin Csiszar, in 2004. Their first products were a line of chocolate bonbons and some seasoned bars. All bonbons were created by Katalin in their small workshop. Over time, she learned the tricks of the trade from a few master chocolatiers (Lionel Gauvin in France, Roberto Catinari in Italy and Michael Recchiutti in San Francisco). Initially, she ran most of the operations, as he still had a full-time job that he later quit to open their first (and still only) shop in downtown Budapest. It was then they started to make their own bean-to-bars. They already had a good relationship with the Franceschis, having visited their plantations in Venezuela where Zsolt studied bean varieties, quality assessment, cultivation, and fermentation practices. From 2008, they gradually introduced their bean-to-bar chocolates. Currently, they produce eight different single-origin tablets, more than 40 bonbons, 20 seasoned tablets, dragees, and other products to tempt every segment of the chocolate loving world.

This year, they won two awards from the Academy of Chocolate. In the seasoned bar category they took a bronze medal for their amazing Olives and Bread bar, which is made with trincheras chocolate, toasted olives, bread and a little hint of olive oil. And, another bronze in the packaging category for the 95% Trincheras.

Frankly, I would give them a gold award for almost all the packaging, as it is both whimsical and elegant. The square bars themselves deserve more accolades for their artistic bas relief designs. Even their stickers are adorable, drawn with a funny little hat askew on a heart sprouting arms and legs. According to Zsolt, the logo has many meanings; among them: “chocolate with love.” The valley shape that the heart is standing on symbolizes Rose Valley (Rózsavölgyi in Hungarian). This where they live, and where the business started. Katalin has degrees in animation and illustration from Manchester Metropolitan. Her artistic flair is evident in everything they produce.

I sampled a variety of their bars, 70 grams each, both single origin and seasoned, and a box of their candied Bergamot in dark chocolate.

Trincheras, is a 70% Venezuelan square slab, which, like all other single origin bars in their range has only three ingredients: cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, and cocoa butter. It was awarded a Silver Medal by the Academy of Chocolate in the “Bean-to-Bar Best Dark Bar” category. These cocoa beans from Trincheras, Venezuela are roasted at very low temperatures to preserve every bit of their natural taste. It is beautifully tempered to a high gloss and firm snap. the flavor is almost Criollo-like with some slight leathery notes and plenty of plum. Its creaminess is balanced by a slightly dry finish.

Criollo 71%, from the Åkesson estate, was a lovely, smooth, lighter chocolate with a wonderful undercurrent of hazelnut. It tasted more complex to me than other criollos. This particular bean is a rare and wonderful find from the Sanbirano Valley of Madagascar.

Madagascar 72% is an Åkesson Trinitario bean from that same valley. It is far edgier than its criollo cousin and looks darker. Again the addition of cocoa butter makes for a silky texture allowing the chocolate to linger longer on the tongue. In my experience, this bean has often had a more pronounced flavor profile than the one from Åkesson’s plantation which had a dry finish and a more gentle, yet still interesting, taste.

Olives and Bread is a stellar 77% bar with roasted green olives, toast, and olive oil. The texture is truly amazing: bits of smokey, chewy olives, and slightly crunchy toast are deliriously happy in their creamy dark chocolate home. This bar seamlessly blends all the flavors while allowing each to have its moment in the spotlight. Though made with 77% chocolate, it is like no other I have ever tasted. Perhaps, spiking it with olive oil gives it such a dreamily smooth texture. The toast crumbs add interest without being hard or too crunchy, and the barely briny olives intensify the whole experience. Truly memorable, wildly original, and an Academy of Chocolate Bronze winner this year.

Cardamom is another in this category of “seasoned bars.” They come in thin cardboard boxes adorned with back and white prints of cacao pods, leaves, vines, birds, with the sweetest little face in the middle. That’s just the beginning, inside you find another insanely beautiful bar with a bas relief that is reminiscent of heraldic designs or crests, breaking into 12 lovely angular shapes, with a circle in the middle. The warm cardamom flavor permeates 77% chocolate without overwhelming it, while a long finish allows you to savor this combination.

Caramelized Lavender with Star Anise is a 40% milk bar that will wake up your taste buds, even if milk chocolate is not typically your first choice. The caramelized lavender is a tour de force of slight crunch, light caramel notes, and a soupçon of anise. Just as the caramel lulls your taste buds into a gentle stupor, star anise kisses them awake.

Pistachio Gianduja, 77%, comes wrapped in another highly adorable, lovely green paper painted with flowers and birds. I especially appreciated this bar’s firmer texture, as many giandujas are somewhat soft. Here, 77% chocolate takes a backseat to intense pistachio flavor. Fabulous.

Venezuelan 72% dark chocolate covered matchsticks of candied bergamot are called Sailor Mustache. They are incredibly fresh, chewy, and complimented by this very dark chocolate. The fruit is harvested by local farmers from January to March on the sunny hillsides of Calabria. A Sicilian confectioner personally picks the best bergamot for candying, which is then cut into mustache-sized slices and dipped. Bergamot is different from candied orange peel. It is a bit more citrusy, has a slightly sour edge, and goes well with their super creamy dark chocolate.

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is certainly one of the best new chocolate companies I have come across. Their attention to detail, originality, careful provenance of ingredients, and truly beautiful molds and packaging promise a bright future filled with worldwide appreciation.

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Ethereal Confections

The dictionary lists celestial, heavenly, and spiritual as synonyms for ethereal. Delighting in chocolate’s gifts can bring spiritual joy, and a heavenly sense of bliss; so, I can see how sisters-in-law Sara and Mary Ervin chose Ethereal for their chocolate’s brand name. At the same time, chocolate is a very grounding substance. As a matter of fact, I would actually suggest eating a piece can root you in the moment as well as a Zen koan. All that notwithstanding, Ethereal’s chocolates are divine.

The packaging is just as appetizing as the chocolate. Whether it is the cellophane windowed sleeve that shows off strawberries, rose petals, and pink peppercorns in one of their Artisan Dark Chocolate Bars, or the beautifully painted cardboard wrapping of their Meltaway bars, the attention to detail and aesthetics is obvious before your first bite.

I sampled three of their offerings, starting with a French Vanilla & Salted Almond Meltaway bar. This looks like a flat, scored 66% dark chocolate bar, but it is far from your typical experience. Inside is a celestial, silky firm mousse of roasted almond olive oil, vanilla balsamic vinegar, organic coconut oil, sea salt, and organic chocolate. While that combination may sound more spacey than the Wrath of Khan, it works incredibly well. The beautifully tempered dark chocolate shell melts into the velvety center as all the flavors coalesce, each working seamlessly with its partner for a riveting effect.

Their 66% Artisan Dark Bar with Strawberries, Rose Petals, and Pink Peppercorns is a joy to behold, and a completely different experience from the Meltaway bar. Here, each ingredient holds its own, yet overlaps with the others like a gustatory Venn diagram. I loved the punch from the peppercorns, the tart sweetness of organic freeze dried–yet still soft–strawberries, amped up with floral notes from the rose petals.

After tasting these bars I immediately went to their website and ordered a variety of other treats.

My last Ethereal exploration was their Peanut Butter Nom Noms (1.25 ounces), which provided an intense hit of peanut butter, dark chocolate, and sea salt. Think of a bon bon with a fairly firm center enrobed in glossy, crisp chocolate, with a sprinkle of sassy, crunchy salt crystals on top.

If you derive joy from perusing chocolate websites that cater to people with somewhat jaded palates, I would strongly suggest you meander around Ethereal’s. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though, Sara and Mary’s creative combinations may have you reaching for your Visa card.

Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier

If you are looking for culinary cred with your bonbons, Master Chocolatier Jean-Marie Auboine has it in abundance. His curriculum vitae includes Alain Ducasse’s famous restaurant Le Louis XV where he assisted in earning them Michelin’s highest honor: three stars. Chef Auboine continued his distinguished career at several other Michelin-starred restaurants which included Chateau de Mercues in France, Hotel Beau Rivage in Geneva, and La Pyramide Vienne in France.

So, it was not a shock to find Jean-Marie’s confections sublime in their purity, packaging, and, most importantly, gustatory appeal.

Two of his newer confections are called Chocolate Fingers. These dark chocolate enrobed ganache rectangles, each about four inches long, are supremely delicious. The mint variety was redolent of fresh mint, while the banana nutmeg with crunchy bits under its couverture, was like a chocolate meditation. In my experience, banana can be a very tricky flavor because of its inherent sweetness. Here, however, the nutmeg added complexity and piquancy to the fruit’s richness. A truly memorable experience.

Next, I sampled the assortment of boxed chocolates, each in a perfectly tempered thin chocolate carapace.

Torroncino Praliné, adorned with a micro dot of pale yellow fondant on its almost black shell, was a delicately crunchy delight.
The Raspberry & Jasmin Tea’s flavors were seamlessly balanced, with the fruit’s acidity playing off the tea’s fruity edge.
Organic Vanilla, also enrobed in dark chocolate, was a purist’s dream in a super dark ganache.
Unique and immensely satisfying, the Coffee and Mascarpone Cream had two layers of filling. With its contrasting colors, slightly different textures of ganache and cream, and faint cheese undertones, it was a decadent surprise.
The sweetest and most subtle morsel in this group was the Accacia Honey dark chocolate ganache in a milk chocolate couverture.
Kalamansi Jelly and Earl Grey Tea Ganache was another layered affair, perfectly chewy, yet melt-in-your-mouth jelly played against a velvety dark ganache.

(Kalamansi Jelly is made with a fruit called Calamondin or Calamansi, native to the Philippine Islands. It is also known as the calamondin, golden lime, panama orange, chinese orange, acid orange, calamonding, or calamandarin in English. It is believed to originate from China and has spread throughout Southeast Asia, India, Hawaii, the West Indies, Central and North America. The plant is characterized by wing-like appendages on the leaf stalks and white or purplish flowers. Its fruit has either a spongy or leathery rind with a juicy pulp that is divided into sections.The fruit is available year round in the Philippines and is usually seen in its unripened dark green state, but if left to ripen it turns a tangerine orange color. Calamansi is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.)

The Dark Chocolate Double Sea Salt Caramels were unlike anything I have ever had. A chocolate caramel square sat on top of a buttery one, both bathed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. The texture was a little chewy and a little soft, with just the right amount of sweetness and salty presence. Immensely satisfying.

Blueberry Pearls came in a pretty red box with a window on top revealing red and white spheres with a luminescent sheen. If you love white chocolate and berries, this is for you.

I also tried an adorable slightly free-form Dark Chocolate Marshmallow Teddy Bear, and a cornucopia of other non-chocolate treats including:

Assorted Caramels which contained an absolutely divine Vanilla Hazelnut with large pieces of super crunchy, roasted nuts in a creamy-chewy caramel with smokey undertones.

The Strawberry and Vanilla Marshmallow Bar was a long rectangle of pink and cream colored marshmallow that reminded me of cotton candy with its airy texture and innocent sweetness.

Soft Honey Nougat was studded with candied orange, almonds, hazelnuts and infused with organic honey.

The chocolate covered caramels and ganaches were boxed in lovely brown and orange hard cardboard jewelry-type boxes with magnetic closures, just adding to the elegant Jean-Marie experience.

Cacao Prieto Organic Bean to Bar Chocolate

In this day and age, when chocolate shops dot the landscape like poppy seeds on a bagel, it’s a huge challenge to create a new artisanal line that not only gets people’s attention, but also merits multiple return engagements. Daniel Prieto Preston has achieved both. The large bars he produces are lovely and delicious, with their scattering of fruits and nuts on a base of seductively glossy super dark chocolate.

The company was founded by Daniel, an inventor and aerospace engineer, whose family has been farming organic cacao in the Dominican Republic for more than 100 years. The Prieto family owns Coralina Farms with over 2000 hectares in the Nagua area of the Dominican Republic. They provide all the cacao for Cacao Prieto’s chocolates. Coralina Farms is also the center for long range experiments in self-sustainable and organic farming methods, and the repository and preservation center for Dominican Cacao biodiversity.

The five bars I sampled were all 72% cacao and weighed 4.2 ounces. Each came adorned with a lovely retro-looking postcard that could easily be removed for mailing.

The flavors were: Hazelnut and Raisin, Cashew and Cranberry, Almond and Salt, Pistachio and Apricots, and Pecan and Sour Cherry. At first glance, I thought the chocolate had more sugar than other dark bars with a similar cocoa content; then, I read the label more carefully, and saw it was for a 55 gram portion. Most bars suggest a 40 gram portion and their sugar content would be about 12 grams. Here, it’s 16 grams for a heftier amount. The sugar is organic and also sourced from the Dominican Republic.

I loved all their flavor combinations. The super fresh crunchy nuts and slightly chewy fruits married beautifully with the perfectly balanced intensity of their chocolate. This is a refined intensity with fruity notes, a touch of terroir, enough edge on the finish to keep your interest, and a captivating shiny crisp temper.

They also create a lovely array of 72% Criollo bars from various vintages starting with June 2010 through December 2012. Apparently, these are produced from some of the oldest and finest criollo strains on their farm, the genetics of which date back to those brought to the island by Christopher Columbus.

Le Belge Chocolatier

There is something psychologically scintillating about approaching a beautiful box of chocolates. Just gazing at an artistic presentation can catalyze and tantalize taste, touch, and smell with its promise of delicious, aromatic delights to come. Such is the case with La Belge Chocolatier. Their dark chocolate colored oval boxes, trimmed in spring green, and adorned with grosgrain ribbon of the same cheerful hue, sets the stage for an assortment of classic Belgian chocolates.

I sampled a lovely red, dark chocolate heart filled with raspberry gelate on a bed of dark ganache, another dark couverture filled with sea salt ganache, Key lime infused white chocolate ganache in a pretty swirled dome of lime green colored white chocolate, a decadent milk chocolate hazelnut praline layered over cinnamon scented ganache, Chai tea infused milk chocolate ganache in a milk chocolate shell, and a passion fruit ganache in white chocolate. All were very desserty: sweet, creamy, fresh, and extremely satisfying.

I also tried their two ounce chocolate bars in four flavors: 72% dark with nibs, 72% fleur de sel, milk chocolate with hazelnut and almond pieces, and a plain milk bar. The two dark bars were tempered to a crisp, ebony shine and delicious. The milk bar with nuts was everything you would want: super creamy and scattered with crunchy nuts.

They also make other artistically wrapped three ounce bars with more daring combinations that I didn’t have the opportunity to try, like a 54% Himalayan sea salt with strawberry 54% and a 72% Mediterranean sea salt with lemon zest. A boxed assortment of five of these can be had for a modest $20, and would make a beautiful gift.

Le Belge Chocolatier will sate your cravings, whether you are are looking for a beautiful box of Belgian chocolates or a variety of bars.

Gearhart’s Chocolates

Artists, whatever their medium, have an uncanny ability to take a fairly straightforward material, whether paint, stone, or chocolate, and express its essence in a new way. Tim Gearhart, the mastermind of his eponymously named company, has a knack for elevating chocolate, caramel, toffee, and nuts, into the stratosphere of gustatory pleasure. Eating his Chai Spiced Pecans reminded me of Perigord Walnuts from France, an exquisite sun-dried nut with a thin coating of bittersweet chocolate. Here, super crunchy pecans are infused with Chai Spices that enhance both the chocolate and the nut. I could live on these.

All the chocolate is Venezuelan Criollo, a nuanced, deeply captivating bean that doesn’t compete with the addition of nuts, liquors, spices, or caramelized sugar.

I also sampled some of Tim’s chocolates, which are larger than most artisanal fare. My favorites were Maple Pecan, a maple and milk chocolate ganache studded with nuts and enrobed in dark couverture; Maya, a bittersweet ganache infused with cinnamon, Ancho chili and orange, a divine balance of flavors; Raspberry Zin, an intriguing semi-sweet raspberry ganache with raspberry Zinfandel conserves; and Almond Mocha a truly innovative combination of espresso ganache, marzipan and a whole roasted almond. Other delights in this range I didn’t try include: Apricot Brandy, with cognac soaked fruit; Kauai, a blend of coconut, rum, white chocolate and macadamia nut; Michigan Cherry, enlivened with Kirsch; and, Taj, bittersweet ganache with candied ginger, cardamom, and rose in a dark shell.

If you hanker for a dark chocolate caramel (yes, the actual caramel is dark), heightened with a touch of balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper, dipped in dark chocolate and finished with smoked sea salt, Gearhart’s will sate your craving. Consistency is always the sticking point, so to speak, with caramel. These have a softer, but not runny, texture. Smoked sea salt boosts the flavor profile significantly and marries beautifully with the dark chocolate’s depth.

Tim creates a Pistachio Toffee enrobed in dark chocolate that couldn’t be better. The generously nut-studded toffee is friable. Its alchemy allows for a variety of textural shifts that astound. First, there’s the tender crunch. I know it sounds oxymoronic, but it really is tender and crunchy at the same time. If you are mindful and aware, there are more layers of subtlety awaiting, as it next morphs into a melty-crunch. Like caramel, toffee is a matter of personal taste. I like mine loaded with nuts, not too sweet, and not requiring a dental consult. These were brilliant.

Tim Gearhart achieves a level of sophistication and artistry with his confections that is worth your time and money. Speaking of which, Gearhart’s offers a flat rate two-day shipping of $7.50, with a minimum order of $20. Quite an incentive to succumb to all their chocolate charms.

Arrowhead Chocolates

Are you someone who loves a classic box of bonbons but would welcome some new flavors? If so, Arrowhead Chocolates out of Oregon has your number. Their lovely assortment of creams, toffee and caramels has an old-fashioned feel, but plenty of modern culinary influences.

Erica, and her parents, Wendy and Bruce, left their respective fields in art, biology, math, education, and counseling to found Arrowhead chocolates. Frankly, I can see how all those skills would be useful in the chocolate trade.

I sampled almost 20 of their confections. The stand-outs were:

Hazelnut toffee in dark chocolate, was a super crisp rendition teeming with nuts and butter, but not too sweet.

Alder smoked caramel, adorned with Alder smoked sea salt, was divine. Chewy, and elevated to caramel heaven with those twin shots of smokiness. The Caramel with Bali sea salt in dark couverture was also delicious, as was Lime caramel with habanero sea salt.

If you love cream centers, they offer a plethora of choices: Oregon raspberry, Columbia River Gorge cherry, Chocolate Vanilla, Lemon cream, Organic Oregon blueberry, Peanut Butter, Orange cream, Vanilla bean, Huckleberry, Masala chai, Espresso, and a lovely two-layered Tiramisu. Each silky center was a lovely vehicle for all those fresh flavors.

Coconut was enhanced with coconut milk, which actually makes it a bit lighter than those made with heavy cream.

I enjoyed the quality and balance of intense and subtle flavors in this assortment.