Tag Archives: chocolate packaging

Solstice Chocolate

Scott Query’s Solstice Chocolate in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the newest kids on the bean to bar block. His five all organic bars make a handsome present in their brown paper envelopes with wonderful wire closures enabling you to keep your chocolate neat and fresh. Each 2.5 ounce bar is divided into 8 squares and has an attractive stylized sun stamped in the middle. They are beautifully tempered to a shiny, crisp, audible snap. The 70% bars hail from four different provenances: Sambirano from Madagascar, San Martin from Peru, Amazonas from Venezuela, Palos Blancos from Bolivia, and a blend called Wasatch.

There are three levels of color to this chocolate flight. The lightest are from Peru and Madagascar. The darkest is from Bolivia, and the two medium ones are from Venezuela and Wasatch.

The Bolivian bar is just fabulous: thickly textured, full of dark fruit flavors, with a nice slightly dry medium finish.

The Venezuelan bar has a touch of leather, that same slightly dry finish, and a hint of citrus.

Wasatch had a more complex texture, almost chewy, that was wonderfully different, though still very refined. It, too had a slightly dry finish.

The Peruvian was a bit creamier, with a heady combination of flavors from lychee to banana, and an elegant, lingering finish.

Madagascar was velvety, a bit less complex, but very appealing in its gentler flavor profile and more subtle finish.

All five bars are incredibly satisfying. One square is a complete chocolate experience unto itself, and the slightly dry finish most of them sport is like a big period at the end of your chocolate sentence.

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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.

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.

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.

JTruffles

Art Deco inspired shapes in dark and milk chocolate encase various ganaches (and one salt caramel center) that will lure you with their appearance and reel you in with extreme lusciousness. Each one is a mini dessert from J. Truffles, part of the Seattle Chocolate Company.

Before we explore the chocolates, let me tell you about the presentation. A square clear box, with a white base and a luxurious wide navy silk ribbon speaks to both men and women.  I have never addressed this issue before, but the unisex appeal of this design got me thinking of how many packages are targeted to women.  With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, this gift would be welcomed by all chocolate lovers, regardless of gender.

The truffles are quite large, about five bites for me, though their pyramid shape makes them easy to eat, as each corner and the top provides a “way in” without getting chocolate shards all over you.

There were eight flavors in  my selection, each one well-tempered, rich, and satisfying. I was especially taken with the Salt Water Caramel, even though it was in milk chocolate (not usually my first choice), since the caramel was just perfect: not too chewy and not too soft.  I enjoyed all the milk chocolate truffles because I thought of this collection as dessert. For me, a dessert can be a bit sweeter than the dark, high cacao content chocolates I typically eat. Once I made that cognitive shift, I enjoyed every one of these little pyramids.

The Savory Hazelnut had almost-ground nuts mixed with dark chocolate ganache.  A slightly crunchy Gianduja experience that appealed to both the adult and inner child. Pura Vida Cafe, made with Turkish ground Espresso beans was as creamy as the best cappuccino, without any harsh or bitter coffee notes. Limoncello sported a white chocolate ganache infused with lemon zest. I am partial to this combination, especially when it is paired with dark chocolate, as it was here. They claim the lemon is intense.  I found it flavorful, neither too mild nor too acidic.  Creme Brulee had vanilla custard ganache on top of a thin, crunchy layer of caramelized sugar in a dark chocolate shell. It was a wonderful, whimsical and delicious surprise. Cherry Praline houses dried cherries ground with roasted pecans. For me, the predominant flavor was dark chocolate ganache with nuts.  I enjoyed it, but found the cherry notes a bit elusive. Their signature truffle, Magma, is made with 65% chocolate and was the richest of the assortment.

If you like a large truffle with a thicker chocolate shell that makes a visual statement, this is for you.