Tag Archives: Artisanal chocolates

David Bacco Chocolatier

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

As Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” I usually agree; however, there are times when perfection alights. As fleeting as they are, their blissfulness reminds us of what it is to be human. The perfect kiss, most beautiful sunset, or heartfelt smile take us into realms of joy and awe that raise the quotidian to the extraordinary. Like many of you, I find chocolate a fairly reliable catalyst for gustatory nirvana. My latest fix is David Bacco’s Noisette Madagascar. It is a truly perfect 64% Trinitario/Criollo dark chocolate with roasted hazelnuts. The temper is incredible, the shine like a mirror, and the juxtaposition of insanely crunchy nuts against a backdrop of fruity chocolate, with mesmerizing tones of fig and wild berries, is not to be missed. In addition, the bar’s construction: a three ounce square divided into a mosaic of trapezoidal shapes of varying sizes, makes it visually interesting and wonderful for those times when you want a smaller or larger piece. In this case, god is in the details.

David’s background as a pastry chef and chocolatier of almost two decades is no surprise, nor is his award in 2011 for “TOP ARTISAN CHOCOLATIER” title at the LA International Chocolate Salon show and competition. One bite of that dark hazelnut bar and you will be convinced, too.

Another bar I found swoon-worthy was his Olive Oil and Sea Salt in 74% bittersweet chocolate. Here, organic Grand Cru Hacienda chocolate from the Dominican Republic tangoes with more than a hint of fleur de sel. In my experience, most chocolates with salt are on the mild side. While this is still gentle on the palate, it has enough salty presence to really arc the flavor, especially when it has been paired with the rich creaminess of fruity olive oil.

David’s Milk Chocolate 40% bar with smoked sea salt is a dark milk chocolate with a super creamy texture enhanced with fleur de sel cold smoked over Chardonnay oak chips. If you are an aficionado of dark milk bars you will want to add this to your repertoire.

I also had a chance to sample his 68% Fortunato #4. Dubbed the world’s rarest chocolate it is a white pure Nacional bean renowned throughout the chocolate community. It had disappeared in 1916 when struck by disease, and was recently rediscovered in a remote Peruvian area. I have mentioned this chocolate before and its extremely mellow layers of fruit and floral flavors that are complemented by a wonderfully rich, creamy texture.

David’s chocolate ganaches and bonbons are also noteworthy. Each little gem is unique and intensely flavored. I was completely enamored with his marzipan and apricot layered square enrobed in dark chocolate, the caramelized almonds and cinnamon in milk, Caribbean spices in bitter ganache, the exquisitely flavored lime, and the red dome of passionfruit infused ganache. (I always wonder why more chocolatiers don’t offer passionfruit chocolates, as the combination is simply celestial.)

These bonbons are packaged in a serene looking black cardboard box with a bright spring green silk ribbon. The chocolate bars come in minimalist white boxes that open neatly on the side and reveal a re-closable cello sleeve which keeps everything tidy.


Patricia’s Chocolate

National Public Radio, one of my absolute favorite things on earth, had a fascinating story recently on how ritualizing something actually increases our enjoyment of it. To make their point, the researchers used a ritualized way of eating a chocolate bar. They asked subjects to refrain from unwrapping it, to break the candy bar in half, then unwrap one half, eat the candy, unwrap the other half, then eat the other half. The other group of volunteers were told to eat the candy bar exactly as they would like. Researcher Francesca Gino said there was a huge difference in the experience of people who had performed the ritual. (Incidentally, it wasn’t only true for chocolate, but carrots.)

Rituals seemed to increase anticipation and make people more mindful of what they were eating. To get the enhancing effect, you had to actually perform the ritual yourself, and it couldn’t be something random, like just swinging your arms in the air. Not only did you have to follow a very specific script, you had to engage in the ritual every single time. That is what gave the ritual its power.

Francesca Gino found when people engage in rituals, even very simple ones, what they tasted was more flavorful, they savored it for longer and they would be willing to pay a higher price for what they just ate. As the National Public Radio story showed, some things simply deserve to be made into rituals, and chocolate is clearly among them.

I have found the simple act of being grateful before eating ritualizes my food. When I forget to be thankful I notice my repast is not as exquisitely delicious as it would have been had I taken the time to stop and assess how lucky I am to be eating something delicious.

All of this is to say that certain foods, especially artisanal chocolates, merit one’s full attention.

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of sampling a few truffles and Peruvian Fortunato No. 4 Porcelana chocolate from Patricia’s Chocolates in Michigan. The Fortunato bean is of the Nacional variety, and has been mentioned on this site before for its complex and utterly toothsome floral fruit flavors. It is the grandparent of all cacao, and had been thought to have been extinct until 2007 when 23 trees were found in a remote river valley in Peru. Some of the pods contained both purple and white beans, while others (Porcelana) only white ones.

Patricia’s 68% Grand Cru Porcelana mini-ingots came packaged in a simple, lovely black box with a gauzy ribbon. Ten little rectangular blocks lined up like soldiers waiting to be savored, each adorned with a curvilinear cocoa pod design. This extremely delicious chocolate begs for involvement of all five senses. The scent is nuanced, but noticeable, the look artistic, while their lovely temper makes them firm and slightly glossy. The flavor is rich, complex, but not intrusive. This Nacional is more redolent of terroir and coffee than others I have sampled, which makes it feel a bit more adult.

I also tried six of Patricia’s truffles and caramels, each of which came enrobed in a thin coating of dark chocolate. Though it may sound like an oxymoron, her Madagascar Vanilla had a bold, rich vanilla bean flavor. No wonder it has been paired with chocolate for ages. Here, it highlighted the three dark varieties she uses: 58%, 64% and 72% chocolate. The Ultra Dark with Cognac was seamlessly balanced, with neither cognac nor chocolate predominating, yielding a super silky almost enlightened chocolate experience. Michigan Blueberry with dried Michigan blueberries and Maine wild blueberry wine, was creamy and delicate. Pear Caramel was another not-too-sweet delight infused with a hint of Black Star Farms’ pear brandy. Mint, a dark ganache with mint leaves, had just enough herb to wake up my palate without overwhelming it. Strawberry Balsamic Caramel was soft, but not runny with an undercurrent of smokiness, giving it added depth and interest. I liked all of these. There are 22 other flavors available, including Passion Fruit Mango Caramel, Mandarin Ginger, with Mandarin orange puree and ginger, Tawny Port Raisin, Blood Orange, and Habanero & Chipotle. The quality was wildly fresh, the execution evolved, and the taste like a haiku: subtle and lingering.

I love Patricia’s line about her wares: “Art that melts.” It so pithily conveys the ephemerality of all beautiful experiences, encouraging us to savor them while we can.

Black River Single Origin Chocolate

What is it about opening a beautiful box of chocolates that is so enticing? When they’re from Black River, the answer is twofold. First, there’s the elegant black fabric box with its magnetic closure just begging to be repurposed as a jewelry box. Then, there’s the tempting array of chocolates made with single origin beans from Jamaica.

I sampled 16 different bonbons, including Black River’s luscious emerald pistachio with almond paste, to a natural hazelnut praline that just melted in my mouth. In between, there was a praline of burned cream reminiscent of the charred exterior of a fiery marshmallow, a praline with coffee that gently nudged the chocolate-nut mixture into mocha, and a praline with roasted whole hazelnuts. I loved the passion fruit ganache, its superbly creamy texture redolent of the tropics, and the little surprise of candied orange peel in the middle of the silky interior of praline with orange confit.

Every chocolate tasted as if it had just been made. The shells were a perfect thickness, not so thin as to have no presence, and not so thick they overwhelmed the fillings. This attention to detail made each morsel a gustatory experience to savor.

Black River Chocolate also offers a 100 gram bar and 5 gram Napolitans all made with the same Jamaican single origin beans. In their purer state, it’s easy to see how seductive this complex chocolate is. The slightly dry edge, beautiful crisp temper, earthy profile, dark fruit notes, hints of charcoal-smokiness, and creamy texture were incredibly satisfying.