Tag Archives: new chocolate companies

Unelefante Artisanal Chocolate

Almost half a century ago, when I was growing up in Manhattan I would spend afternoons at the Museum of Modern Art. The space was far more intimate than it is today, and lent itself to a very personal experience. Invariably, there would be someone looking at a painting by Jackson Pollock and remarking, “My grandchild could do that with her eyes closed.” “No,” wanted to say, though only a teen myself, “it takes far more than you can imagine to paint like that.” But my protestations would have fallen on deaf ears.

In the chocolate world, there are also many would-be imitators. Luckily, there is an abundance of truly original, creative chocolatiers whose greatest joy is tantalizing us with new ways to visualize and relish this remarkable substance.

It came as no surprise that Tatiana Sánchez, founder and creative director of ‪Unelefante‬, was a jeweler before entering the chocolate world. Her visual aesthetic infuses everything Chef Jorge Llanderal, Unelefante’s chocolatier extraordinaire, creates.

All of Unelefante’s cacao is produced by Luker, a Columbia company that opened in 1906. They use Trinitario beans, that famous hybrid of Criollo and Forastero. Interestingly, the Luker variety is heavier on the Criollo which lends it extra lushness. “Luker’s beans are grown on thousands of small family farms in the fertile lowlands and foothills near the port city of Tumaco, on Columbia’s southwest coast next to the Pacific Ocean. Shunning pesticides and chemical fertilizers, these small farmers have taken advantage of Tumaco’s tropical climate and rich soil to bring out the full flavor potential of the bean, with its beguiling marriage of fruit and floral tones, balanced against bracingly sharp notes.”

The Tablette Pollock is a thing of beauty dancing with vibrant colors and visual energy. It practically leaps from its lovely cardboard home, through the gold foil into your mouth. Once there, you are met with a surprisingly adult flavor profile for a 58% bar: earthy, with hints of leather, coffee, and dark fruit.

The other six bars I sampled were all 65% cacao and visually entrancing. The bars are each 3 by 5 inches, 50 grams and thin. I love the thinness. It allows the toppings to shine, breaks with a clean, well-tempered snap, and makes it easy to eat a little or a lot.

Palanqueta with peanuts, jaggery and pinion is a delight of crunch, spice, and tiny sugary bits (jaggery is Indian, made from the sap of palm trees or sugar cane, and has a similar flavor to brown sugar).

El Jardín Secreto or “The Secret Garden” has crystallized flower petals, cardamom, and pieces of dry apricots and pistachios. The magenta flower petals are just beautiful. Clearly, Chef Llanderal and Ms. Sánchez are a great team when it comes to creating new, exciting taste and textural combinations. Luker chocolate is a perfect foil for these inclusions, as it is not so assertive that it overwhelms them; nor, is it so nondescript that it gets completely obscured.

Fray Mole has mole paste, pasilla chili, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sea salt. The smokey dried peppers, spices, crunchy seeds and hint of salt work so well that it’s almost impossible to separate out their individual flavors.

Oblea Di Oblea Da looks like a mini carnival on chocolate with its pink, blue, green and yellow wafers, little rounds of caramel, crushed nuts, and sea salt. While Obleas means wafer in Spanish, the bar’s name is a lovely nod to the Beatles.

Bananeira, with dehydrated freeze dried banana and coconut flakes reminded me of a moonscape. The fruits are wonderfully crunchy and not at all sweet. As it warms in your mouth, the coconut becomes chewy. That protean textural shift is quite fetching.

Coco Bengala has coconut candy, crystallized ginger, and curry. A riot of flavors and textures that made me feel both sated and craving more. The pink-tinted coconut candy scattered with ginger and curry was simply beautiful. But, beauty is as beauty does, and this bar delivers on every level: taste, visuals, both crunchy and chewy textures, slight curry scent, and that audible snap.

After all this raving, you might be frustrated in procuring these bars. The following places will sate your cravings:

The Colossal Shop – Chicago – USA
Material – London – UK
Persephone Bakery – Wyoming – USA
Printemps – Selección de tiendas en Francia – UE


Omnom Organic Chocolate

Stylized origami-like designs of animals festoon the wrappers of Omnom’s organic chocolate bars in a winsome way. Each 60 gram bar, and there are seven to choose from, is encased in a hard cardboard reclosable envelope. The identifying paper sleeve has a multi-colored modernist drawing of a wolf’s head. I am already thinking of ways to re-purpose the envelopes. Bookmarks? Funky postcards? Or, open them up, connect them to each other and create a small abstract piece of art. As the background colors are subtle and elegant, this would be quite appealing, especially framed.

The company is based in Reykjavík, Iceland. Kjartan Gíslason, a chef-turned-chocolatier, is co-owner of Omnom Chocolate. With his three friends (Óskar Þórðarson, Karl Viggó Vigfússon, André Úlfur Visage) he has been creating beautiful chocolate bars out of a disused gas station. They source their organic chocolate from Madagascar, Papa New Guinea and the Dominican Republic.

If you were wondering about the name, it’s the sound the Cookie Monster makes: om nom nom.

I love the way each bar is scored into 24 small rectangular bites. The plain ones are comprised of only cacao, cacao butter and raw cane sugar, while the milk varieties contain Icelandic milk.

The aroma from the 70% Papua New Guinea bar is a heady concoction of leather, soil, tobacco, and coffee. After that initial fragrant fix I was expecting something a bit tannic, to say the least. Instead, I was met with a very smooth, gentle dark fruit and leather flavor profile whose lingering finish was redolent with what the chocolatier calls “buttery bourbon.” I could eat this well-tempered ebony bar all day.

The 66% Madagascar chocolate is lighter in color and intensity. It has a definite fruity presence enhanced by a slightly dry finish. Just to make matters a tad more complex, it leaves earthy afterimages on your tongue.

The Milk Madagascar, 41%, is quite rich and creamy, almost butterscotch in appearance.

Sea Salted Almonds with Milk, 45%, plays the added tang of salt against a lovely roasted flavor from the nuts. Again, a very smooth chocolate that is noteworthy for its gentleness on the palate.

Dark Milk with Burned Sugar, 55%, takes you on a supremely milky ride. It’s a subtle trip with a stop to Caramel Street. Naturally, Icelandic cows make Icelandic milk, which has a different taste from milk in the US. It’s slightly sweet, with a little less fatty mouth feel.

Lakkris, 38%, is made with 3% raw licorice and sea salt. Of the milk bars it is by far the most interesting and unusual. The combination of super-velvety light milk chocolate with sea salt and licorice is seductive and compelling.

Their Dirty Blonde bar is a 35% white chocolate with a unique almost smokey caramel taste. If you love white chocolate, this would be intriguing.

Do you know a chocophile who craves new tastes from organic bean-to-bar manufacturers? If so, Omnom is a great addition to their chocolate experience.

You can buy the bars individually or as a set of seven from their website.

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.

French Broad Chocolates

For those who care about the aesthetics of life, and I am firmly planted in that camp, French Broad Chocolates come in lovely pale blue boxes with an appealing cocoa pod graphic, their logo, and a wide dark brown grosgrain ribbon knotted into a perfect squarish bow. The whimsically elegant wrapping is reminiscent of Tiffany’s famous blue box.

Let’s start with the truffles. There are six collections: Buddha, Single Origin, Salted Caramel, Asheville Grown, Signature, and World. The Buddha grouping consists of 12 large vegan chocolates, two of each of the following.

Fig & Port, a swoon worthy duo, is rolled in 91% cacao and toasted almonds. Its ganache interior is a heady, yet balanced, fantasy of local figs, dark chocolate and port.

Pomegranate Ginger, another inspired combination, is infused with a pomegranate juice reduction and ginger, all encased in a well tempered dark shell.

Buddha, 65% dark chocolate ganache with coconut cream, is luscious, rich, and creamy.

Strawberry Balsamic, accentuated with a quick dip in roasted nibs, features local strawberries and Hawaiian dark chocolate. It’s a head-turning truffle offering a multi-level experience of silky, crunchy, fruity, bitter, and sweet.

Thai, a fetching tryst of flavors: coconut, homegrown lemongrass, lime, ginger, green chile is enrobed in 65% dark chocolate and adorned with toasted coconut.

Theros, a Greek inspired blend, contains orange, fennel, and extra virgin olive oil from Messinia, Greece. The olive oil is an amazing presence here, as it works to catalyze all the other flavors, bringing them together like the last movement in a Mozart symphony. Think of the sugared fennel seeds on top as a few quick flourishes of the conductor’s baton.

As if that weren’t enough, I sampled their Melange collection, aka Custom. Again, ingenuity and true craftsmanship rule the day.

Sorghum molasses, a basic Southern sweetener recently lauded in the New York Times, takes their caramel to Margaret Mitchell’s Tara and back. Its rich, layered profile seduces with insouciant subtlety that slowly reveals depth beyond your first impression. This deeply satisfying complex sweetness has just enough bite to intrigue and mystify.

I found their Cashew Honey Caramel square more of a fudge than a caramel. Intensely nutty and rounded out with honey, it’s a very adult twist on a hypothetical cashew Reese’s cup with dark chocolate.

Fresh Raspberry wasn’t exaggerating. A super fresh raspberry puree in dark ganache tastes as if it had been made today.

Earl Grey is a laid back, gentler version of this tea-enhanced ganache in milk couverture.

Masala Chai is similarly restrained, which, considering its array of spices: clove, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, vanilla, and Darjeeling tea, is a good thing. All nicely complemented by a dark shell.

Cafe Au Lait uses Counter Culture coffee in a ganache of dark and milk chocolates for a lovely mocha profile.

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel, featuring Knob Creek bourbon in a 55% dark truffle is velvety textured, well balanced, and not overly alcoholic. Like all their truffles, it has the perfect amount of couverture, not too thin nor too thick.

There are other truffle offerings that sparked my interest, like Indian Kulfi with rose, pistachio and cardamom, a Canela Picante with cayenne, and Mole Negro with spices, nuts and chiles. I suggest you check out their full line if you like flirting with temptation.

French Broad also offers a quartet of dark bars. Each 60-62 gram organic slab has 20 bite size rectangular pieces that break cleanly and sport a mini company logo. Again, I loved the wrapping: pale blue paper, a strip of that lovely ribbon with some magic glue that makes opening and closing a breeze, and a minimal amount of printed matter.

My first taste: their 77% from the CIAAB Cooperative in Alto Beni, Bolivia. An interesting bar with bite, earth, just enough sweetness, and a dry, lingering finish.

70% Pure Nacional from Marañón Canyon, Peru, has an even drier finish, with a shorter duration, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s just a different chocolate experience, and one I kept going back to out of gustatory curiosity. The bean’s provenance is a genetically unique cacao strain that, until a few years ago, was considered extinct. Dan Pearson and his son, Adam, rediscovered it on a farm in the remote Marañón Canyon of the San Ignacio province of Peru, near the northern border with Ecuador. After identification, father and son worked with the farmers to an exacting fermentation and post-harvest handling process. apparently, the first batch was almost all sent to a Swiss chocolate maker, and has been sold under the name Fortunato No. 4. The Pearsons sold French Broad a small amount of that first harvest, which they offer in this limited edition bar.
(You can read more about this exciting cacao find here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/dining/12chocolate.html?_r=1.)

Le Red Cooperative from the Dominican Republic, like all their bars, is hand-sorted, roasted, cracked, winnowed and stone ground in-house, and contains only cocoa beans and organic sugar. Imported by Taza Chocolate, with the recommendation of a long, 8-9 day, fermentation the beans take on a distinctive acetic, winey note. I found the red fruit predominated.

This chocolate is also available with Dobra Tea, Lapsang Souchong & Sea Salt. The smoked black tea leaves sprinkled with sea salt on the underside of the bar impart added dimensions of visual appeal, flavor and texture, while still retaining the essence of this very eatable bean.

In addition to their embarrassment of riches, French Broad Chocolates also makes four different types of brownies. Pretty soon, they will have a chocolate factory in downtown Asheville, where offerings will undoubtedly increase, so keep an eye on them.

You can learn more about the company’s founders, Jael and Dan, here: http://frenchbroadchocolates.com/articles/family-resume; and read about their philosophy here: http://frenchbroadchocolates.com/articles/manifesto.