Tag Archives: fair trade 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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Cocoa Loco Organic, Fair Trade, Single Origin chocolates

Just as some dishes become classics, along with tried and true presentations (think of Coquilles St. Jacques served in half a large scallop shell), some chocolate shapes have stood the test of time. Take the 100 gram bar, for example. It is ubiquitous worldwide because it allows for portion control, fairly neat division of pieces, and great portability. As fond as I am of that design, especially when it is scored into many small rectangles, something alchemical happens when that same chocolate is formed into discs. Whether paper thin flat spheres, or thicker, smaller rounds, each shape changes the chocolate’s melting time, thereby altering your experience.

I was recently reminded of this as I tucked into Cocoa Loco’s organic dark chocolate buttons made with luscious 73% fairly traded beans from the Dominican Republic. Each one inch disc delivers an immensely satisfying earthy, yet sophisticated experience. Rich, dense, slow to melt, with a creamy lingering finish, these are simply divine. The user-friendly shape makes them easy to share, eat at a movie, stash in your briefcase, or savor piece by delicious piece as you meander through a great book.

Christmas Pudding Truffles come in a clear, long rectangular box that shows off their lovely design: dark chocolate orbs capped with white chocolate and a piece of dried cranberry. Inside you will find a yuletide blend of citrus, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Each is double dipped in the aforementioned 73% single origin chocolate.

I also sampled two of their 100 gram bars. One, a 37% milk, is topped with honeyed sesame seed crunch. The combination of flavors and textures (chewy, crunchy, creamy) is memorable. Their 73% Sunflower Seeds and Sea Salt bar is a mini-revelation of intense sunflower flavor enhanced with sea salt and vanilla. The lovely crunch against snapppily tempered Dominican chocolate is positively addictive.

As always, I am delighted when bars are wrapped in resealable sleeves. It may seem like a small thing, but it keeps the chocolate fresh and neat. On the subject of packaging, I was smitten with the pure design and retro color palette of their logo.

A last little treat was a whimsical offering of a milk chocolate mustache on a stick. What a perfect gift for little boys eager to grow up, as well as new fathers seeking an amusing non-cigar post-baby celebratory token.

There are a plethora of other treats on their website; and, if you are lucky enough to live in the U.K., you can enjoy their bakery offerings.

Alter Eco Dark Coconut Toffee 47% & 20 gram Mini-bars

There is something rich and delicious about a dark milk bar, especially when you amp up the flavors with coconut and sea salt infused buttery toffee. If that’s not enough to spark your interest, just recall how the folks at Alter Eco make a mission of treating their farmers fairly and you will have all the incentive you need to try this incredibly satisfying chocolate.

Perhaps, you already love their Dark Velvet bar, this uses the same Ecuadorian Nacional beans as a base. If you have never had Nacional cacao expect to discover a delightful fruity flavor profile with malty undertones. The creamy texture is an excellent counterpoint to crunchy bits of toffee, and the salt perks up all the flavors.

Always trying to innovate, whether it’s creating new recipes, re-designing their wrappers, or educating the public about sustainable farming, Alter Eco just introduced their Dark Noir 60%, and Dark Velvet 47% in mini 20 gram bars, that are divided into two square sections. I love these little gems as they are great for movies, handbags, lunch boxes, desks drawers, briefcases, and helping with portion control.

I was happy to see they are now making their 200 gram bars thinner, which helps the chocolate reach body temperature more quickly and delivers the fullest flavor in record time.

Zazubean Organic Fair Trade Functional Chocolate

Zazubean’s design, amusing online photos, and funky niche market called to me all the way from British Columbia. Currently, six very different bars comprise their collection of functional chocolates. Both of the ones I sampled, the “Flirt” with raspberry, cherry, and acaí­, and the “Nutbar” with coconut, almonds, and camu camu were irresistible. The super rich, organic 70% chocolate was equally at home with fruits as it was with almonds and coconut, though it had a decidedly different texture. With the freeze dried raspberry bits it was snappier and crisper; whereas, with the nuts and coconut it was chewier. Both were eminently easy to scarf down.

Functional foods are also known as neutraceuticals or superfoods. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “Canada has emerged as a leading world supplier in this growing market. The country boasts more than 300 companies – from small start-ups to multinational enterprises.” In the U.S., we are well aware of the plethora of enhanced foodstuffs, as they fill almost every aisle of the market. When it comes to chocolate, a natural for pairing with everything from fiber to probiotics, the potential nutritional benefits are an exciting development, but take second place to the taste, texture, and aroma of the final product; especially, since dark chocolate already contains over 300 phytochemicals.

For those who are wondering, acaí­ (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), is a berry-like fruit that grows on palm trees in the Brazilian Amazon. According to recent research, it has amazing disease-fighting antioxidant properties. “With a score of 6.58 on the oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) test, acaí­ pulp has more antioxidant activity than blueberries, strawberries, and red wine combined,” says David Grotto, RD, LDN, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. Acaí­ is particularly high in anthocyanins, potent pigments that give it its deep purple color and battle cancer, heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, obesity, and other age-related illnesses.

Camu camu, a sour berry that grows from a bush in swampy and flooded areas of the Amazon, has the highest levels of vitamin C. Studies show camu camu to have strong anti-oxidant effects and contain minerals, amino acids, beta carotene, calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin and thiamine.

Unfortunately for Americans, Zazubean’s products are only available in Canada. I hope that changes soon, as I would love to try their Cheeky bar with banana, salted toffee, and maca (another superfood).

Madécasse Sea Salt & Nibs, Cinnamon & Sakay Pepper, Arabica Coffee Nibs

I am smitten with these new bars from Madécasse, where creativity and awakened taste buds go hand in hand. Not to mention a humanitarian mission that truly helps cacao farmers by paying them a fair price and keeping the manufacturing in Madagascar which generates 4x more income than fair trade practices alone.

Their Sea Salt & Nibs bar won the Best in Show award at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, and I can easily see why. Crunchy nibs and salt crystals vie for your attention in a 63% dark chocolate whose complexity can stand up to the intense flavors of nibs and salt.

The heat of the Cinnamon and Sakay pepper bar is perfectly balanced with that same 63% chocolate. Sakay pepper is not bitingly hot, but lends some extra oomph to the cinnamon. This is definitely a new favorite, as that cinnamon and chocolate combo is quite addictive.

If you love coffee and chocolate you will swoon over their 44% dark milk bar with Arabica nibs. The creamy rich chocolate is a perfect backdrop for crunchy nibs.

As for the packaging, it is user friendly with a foil liner and an appealingly artistic envelope.

Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Caramel Crunch (55%) & Ecuador (65%)

Once upon a time very few people knew what Fair Trade was. Now that companies like Equal Exchange are more ubiquitous, the concept is gaining traction. More people want to know their food dollars are being fairly distributed to the folks who actually grow things. Founded in 1986, Equal Exchange’s worker-owned company is one of the leaders in this movement.

These two chocolate bars are very different. The 65% Ecuadorian is crisply tempered, incredibly rich, dark, and satisfying. Even though it is only 65%, its leathery undertones, hint of soil, and plummy notes make it a complex experience. I love their use of ground vanilla beans as it rounds out the flavor beautifully.

The 55% Chocolate Caramel Crunch With Sea Salt is wildly crispy. There’s the temper of the chocolate, the little bits of caramel crunchies generously scattered about, and a hint of sea salt to cut the sweetness. If you’re one of those people who lives for texture, this is the bar for you.

Askinosie 70% Cortés and Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

One of the hallmarks of a fantastic chocolate is its seductiveness. Just as a semi-clothed woman is typically more erotic than a naked one, mysteriousness also makes chocolate more irresistible. As much as I want to be bowled over by the initial taste, texture, aroma, snap, and finish, I also want to be a little perplexed. Just a soupçon of inscrutability makes me want another bite so I can discern, and possibly unlock, the bar’s secrets. What exactly is that scent? How did they get that texture? What flavors am I tasting? The best bars are those that engender myriad questions, tantalizing my senses and challenging my mind.

I like to think my palate isn’t so jaded that I can’t appreciate something innocent and plain, but that may be wishful thinking. The truth is, chocolate has become so sophisticated in its provenance, production methods, and sheer creativity, that I, like most of you, am spoiled. There are many who share the responsibility for continuing to raise the bar (pun intended), and one is Shawn Askinosie.

I just tasted his Cortés Honduras chocolate, and chocolate hazelnut spread. Both are out of this world. The spread is very different from Nutella, just in case an image of that ubiquitous jar came to mind. It has a hint of sweetness that marries well with crisp pear or apple slices, is excellent on your favorite bread topped with sliced banana, or served as a warm dip, like a mini fondue. If you like to play in the kitchen, you might want to sandwich it between thin butter cookies and them dip them halfway in dark chocolate. I can also imagine it blanketing some mango slices on a bed of Angel Food cake. For someone like me who has always been drawn to Nutella but never buys it because it’s just too junky, Askinosie’s spread is a welcome pantry staple.

The Cortés bar is sweetened with organic cane juice, has a glossy shine, audible temper, and the adorable alphabet letters spelling “Askinosie Chocolate” Shawn stamps on all his bars. From the first bite, this chocolate had my rapt attention. It fulfills all those hedonic desires I outlined above, and then some. I hesitate to say it’s earthy as that might lead you to think it lacks sophistication, which would be untrue. The earthiness is like a soft, grounding note that underlies Cortés’ character. I love finding chocolate in the 70% range that has a gentle flavor profile, while still being intriguing and complex enough to keep me coming back for more. Shawn and his crew describe this as being “bright and bold with intense notes of dried fruit and peppery tannins in the finish.” I couldn’t detect the peppery notes, though there is a dry finish.

The cocoa beans hail from a plantation in Cortés, Honduras, run by Fermin Arriaga. The area has a long history of cocoa farming that dates back to the Mayan civilization. Shawn has a relationship with each of the farmers from whom he sources beans. In addition, he guarantees them more than fair prices, open books and a share in their success. What this means is he personally goes back after a selling cycle of each bean buy and shares Askinosie’s financial statement with them. He explains the profit share calculation and then hands them cash. Sometimes each farmer will take a share, on other occasions they vote to pool the profits for the benefit of their group.

As impressive as that is, it is only pertinent because the chocolate is so delicious.