Tag Archives: Rainforest Alliance chocolate

Artisana Organics Criollo Chocolates

Artisana chocolate has a history that goes back to 1700. The family has been farming cacao in Venezuela for over three hundred years, long before we even conceptualized an “organic” food label. It was always organic and still is, though now it’s USDA certified, Non-GMO, vegan, and gluten free.

I happen to have an on-going love affair with criollo beans and all three of their bars are made with this complex, yet mellow chocolate. There are three iterations: 65%, 75%, and 85%. Each 50 gram bar comes in a pretty cardboard envelope with a foil liner. The bars themselves are divided into six rectangles with a lovely bas relief of a cacao pod. Each rectangle has raised sides and an indented middle. For the life of me I don’t know why this design is so satisfying. Perhaps, because it accentuates the beautiful shiny, crisp temper?

Fifty gram bars are not typical, and unlike so many other companies that use small portion sizes to make nutritional information seem healthier, Artisana deems that one portion. It’s certainly not out of the question that you would eat the whole bar in one sitting; however, two large pieces are quite satisfying.

If you do decide to scarf down a whole bar you will get a whopping amount of iron. The 65% has 40% of your daily requirement, the 75% has 50%, and the 85% has 60%. For comparison, 135 grams of tenderloin has 9% of your daily iron needs.

Even though the bars sport the same criollo bean, they are vastly different in flavor. The 65% is sweet, but not too sweet. There is a tantalizingly dry edge that appears just as it melts in your mouth and continues through the finish. The combination of silkiness with that hint of dryness is deliciously balanced.

The 75% bar has an earthiness complemented by its creamy texture. Dark fruits, plum, cherry, and raisin round out its profile.

Not for the faint of heart is the 85% bar. An intense bittersweet chocolate with just 7 grams of sugar in a 50 gram portion. The dry edge is most pronounced here. If Carl Jung were a chocophile he would talk about this being the shadow side of criollo, as its sweeter incarnations look so innocent, while this super dark version challenges you with its intensity. It’s designed for those of you who want the full metal jacket of cacao’s chemical bounty.

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Santa Barbara Chocolate Company

Santa Barbara Chocolate Company aims to please a wide swath of the chocolate loving population, and they have many ways to tempt you. Whether your tastes veer towards the traditional, more modern, or you want a great organic bar, there’s an app for that, though here, I mean something appetizing. There are even lovely confections for children, like the adorable milk chocolate covered bunnies I tried from their Spring holiday collection.

In addition to their truffles, bonbons, and special items, they created three organic bars in support of Friends of Bellona Wetlands. All are large, 3.5 ounce, and Rainforest Alliance certified. The 41% dark milk was ultra creamy, yet had enough cacao ballast to keep the chocolate flavor afloat. The same base, in a Mocha rendition, was dotted with tiny crunchy bits of organic Peruvian coffee. I loved the play of textures as the coffee met the smooth dark milk chocolate. 70% dark had notes of tobacco, lychee, and an earthy presence, carried along in a slightly creamy texture.

Their California Collection was an assortment of creams, nuts, dried fruit, brittles, and chews in milk and dark couverture. All were very fresh, and had a nostalgic feel. These traditional confections are classics for a reason.

A “Specials” line included a very appealing blue foil wrapped soft ganache enrobed in dark chocolate and coated in confectioners’ sugar. The look was reminiscent of a mini Bûche de Noël, with a crisply tempered shell, and silky interior. Pineapple chocolate was a very pretty painted white chocolate piece with more tropical fruitiness than I could have imagined. Adorable, flat turtles held a center of caramel ganache, and a pink, foil wrapped truffle was perfectly balanced, with its thin shell, alcohol enhanced ganache, and cocoa powder finish. Another ganache filled dark piece had a base of gingerbread crumbs giving it a wonderful combination of textures, spices, and novelty, while a milk chocolate ganache had bits of caramelized nuts embedded in its couverture. Each piece had its own personality, which made this a very interesting melange of flavors, textures, and visuals.

Another assortment of Specials included eight different ganaches, six of which were enrobed in dark chocolates. These hand crafted chocolates included a winsome painted fish and a lipstick red heart, both steeped in flavor.

Their truffle selection also had eight varieties, half milk and half dark. All were double dipped in chocolate and housed a creamy enter. Options included: Apple Pie, Strawberry Balsamic, Hot Cocoa, Cheesecake, Curacao, Bananas Foster, Seattle Espresso, and Maui Coconut.

Jason Vishnefske is the chocolatier and cofounder of the original Santa Barbara Chocolate Company which he established in 1992. His zeal for chocolate, health, and organics informs every chocolate he creates. In addition, Santa Barbara Chocolate Company offers a Traveling Cacao Bar, an interactive chocolate tasting experience with edible displays showcasing all aspects of the bean.

A generous flat rate shipping charge of $5.99 is another incentive to check out their multifarious offerings.

Last but not least, I suggest you check out Jason’s friendly, fun, and educational video: “Raw chocolate cocoa pod tasting: Organic Dark Chocolate.” Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/SojN93OaEBg

Vintage Plantations Bars, Truffles, & Nibs

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about raw chocolate. While Vintage Plantations, founded by Pierrick Chouard, does not make a strictly “raw” bar, they like the essence of their beans to shine forth; so, they don’t add vanilla, they sweeten with raw sugar cane, and the result is unique. Whichever bar you try, the antique national cocoa beans from Ecuador loudly proclaim their heritage.

What does that mean? When you take a bite of any VP product: bars, chocolate covered nibs, or truffles, you know you are eating the real thing. Their cacao is sourced through farmers who have passed the Rainforest Alliance certification process. The Alliance was formed to help Ecuadorean farmers get certified. Vintage Plantations Chocolates had to design their own commodity chain and source the cocoa beans directly from the farmers. The Alliance believed the smartest way to engage the farmers was to introduce them to a comprehensive sustainable farm management program, which encompasses all aspects of cocoa farming: chemicals, fertilizers, waste reduction, and water conservation.

In a recent conversation Mr. Chouard said, “I am getting email form all the traders from Ecuador who want to sell me cocoa beans: exactly the system we are avoiding: We buy directly from the farmer and avoid the traders. It is so hard to access the farmers and work with them. They are under the traders control, and have very little opportunity to increase their income. That’s why they sell their land, and give up. The land is then bought by rich investors, who congregate it into one piece, put in a manager, and select high volume hybrids instead of the native cacao being grown there.”

In other words, when you buy a VP product you are not only getting something delicious, but you are really making a difference.

As I always say, it’s nice when your chocolate has a pedigree; but, all the PC cred in the world won’t make up for a poor product. Luckily, VP’s wares are designed to sate all cravings from extreme dark to milk, and they succeed.

My favorite bar was the 75% Dark with Macadamia Nuts. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience: crunchy, buttery chopped nuts enhance the smooth, perfectly sweetened chocolate. These beans produce a non-acidic chocolate that’s easy to eat and gentle on the palate. Even in the 90% bar, that mildness was only slightly offset by a hint, almost a molecular memory, of the soil. The 100% bar had a drier finish, some coffee, leather, and stronger soil notes. The difference between the 90% and the 100% was far more striking than I would have thought. What struck me was how smooth a 90% bar could be considering VP does not add cocoa butter to their dark line. I actually thought it was just as easy to eat and enjoy the 90% as the 65%, a very rare experience.

VP’s truffles were just marvelous. I was particularly thrilled with the Praline of caramelized pistachio and peanuts, the tea infused Vanilla in a milk ganache, and the Expresso in a dark ganache. The Salty Caramel was a great, more liquidy, rendition than is typical. Heavenly.

I also tried four milk bars with a 38% cacao content. VP uses only whole milk, the way milk chocolate was originally conceived. Crunchy Almond Cream was an atypical bar of milk chocolate with creamy almond paste and toasted almond slivers. I found it soothing and interesting, as the little bits of roasted almond punctuated a marzipan-inspired experience. Milk with Sea Salt Crystals was creamy but not unctuous, and the salt added a more adult finish. Whole Milk is a plain, classic bar. Latte Mocha adds some ground espresso and instant coffee for an extra kick and a bit of subtle crunch.

I have tried many dark chocolate covered cocoa nibs and VP’s are among those with a less sugary profile. The couverture actually adds smoothness to a totally crunchy experience. The nine ounce bag has a re-closable top that makes it user-friendly.