Revisiting Mast Brothers goat milk chocolate

Mast Brothers Goat Milk Chocolate ingredients label

Hello chocolate addicts!

Yes, I’m alive. It’s been a while since I’ve posted (because life). But I’ve been feeling inspired recently, so…

Actually, I lie. My writer’s block remains. But… I do want to share a recent experience I had with my favorite niche chocolate variety. That would be, of course, dark milk chocolate. In this case dark GOAT MILK chocolate.

Weirdly enough, the chocolate bar that inspired this post is actually made by one of my least favorite chocolate makers — Mast Brothers.

(Cue ominous music from Jaws.)

Actually, all joking aside, it was high time I gave the bearded brothers’ bars another chance. It had been two years since I’d last tasted their chocolate. In fact, I don’t think I’d sampled a Mast bar since they were outed by that Dallas Food article accusing them of… how to put this delicately… minor fibbing about their chocolate production practices.

In the last two years, not only has Mast rebranded (dropping the “Brothers” to become just Mast Chocolate), they also dramatically improved the texture of their chocolate. Gone is the grittiness and that caustic astringency so noticeable in their bars of yore. The new Mast bars are creamier, more balanced, and actually kind of… edible. Hurrah!

But I didn’t sit down to write this post in order to trumpet improvements at Mast Chocolate — far from it. What actually got me excited is the wide availability of their goat milk chocolate bar — not always an easy flavor to find (thank you Whole Foods). And the new, improved Mast goat milk chocolate bar is almost everything I want in a goat milk chocolate — it’s sour, funky, pungent, creamy and interesting in a way regular milk chocolate rarely is.

To be fair, I’m NOT suggesting you go out and buy this chocolate bar. In an old post reviewing Manoa’s goat milk chocolate, I linked to Estelle Tracy’s hilarious video of her reaction to trying goat milk chocolate. Needless to say, the flavor of goat milk chocolate is not for everybody!

But if you like super funky tasting milk chocolate, I highly suggest giving the Mast bar another chance.

Be sure to let me know what you think!

Shopping spree in NYC

bean to bar chocolate bars, dick taylor, durci, bonnat, fruition

Bean-to-bar artisan chocolate barsDoes anyone else have this problem: every time you innocently wander into a chocolate retail store, you drop an obscene amount of money in a shockingly short amount of time.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Recently, in the latest incarnation of my compulsive chocolate shopping habit, I poked my head into a new-ish chocolate retail shop in midtown Manhattan, 2beans.

I just wanted to pick up a bar of Francois Pralus. I swear.

I spent $110 in 30 minutes (of course I did).

It was a big chocolate haul, even for me. But I’m so glad I splurged, because these turned out to be some of the most delicious and surprising bars I’ve tried in quite some time. It was actually pretty hard for me to rate these because they were ALL fantastic.

But I’ll try my best.

So here you go folks: in descending order, from my very favorite to my least favorite. I’ve added links to online suppliers of these bars, in case you want to try them for yourself.

Heavenly:
Francois Pralus Venezuela 75% chocolate barFrancois Pralus Venezuela 75% (France):
Creamy, nutty and earthy, some may think this bar has too much added cocoa butter, but I think it’s perfect.Fruition 76% Maranon Chocoalte bar

Fruition Marañón 76% (US): Citrusy, balanced, a little astringent at the end but not over the top.

La Molina Gianduia Fondente e Nocciole Intere (Italy): Best. Dark. Gianduia. Ever. Not. Exaggerating.La Molina Gianduia Fondente with hazelnuts

Bonnat Surabaya 65% dark milk chocolate (France): Chocolat Bonnat Surabaya milk chocolateAn interesting, creamy, slightly sour dark milk chocolate with a hint of smokiness. It almost tastes like a goat milk chocolate (it’s not). I love pungent, funky-tasting milk chocolate, and you can’t go wrong with Bonnat.

Extremely tasty:

Durci Empyrean Sabor 70% (US): This is the second bar I’ve tried from Durci, and I Durci Chocolate Empyrean Sabor 70% darkwas surprised that these Venezuelan beans tasted as floral to me as the first bar I tried (Durci’s Corona Arriba bar, with Nacional beans from Ecuador). I wonder what I’m tasting that’s so floral. Is it something in the roast?Castronovo colombia dark milk chocolate

Castronovo Colombia 63% dark milk (US): One of the best dark milk chocolates I’ve tried recently from a North American chocolate maker. Interesting, earthy flavor notes, but super smooth and creamy like a European milk chocolate.

Tasty enough, but didn’t rock my world:

Fruition Hudson Valley Bourbon 61% dark milk chocolate (US): I was mildly disappointed by this bar. It’s good — everything Fruition makes is pretty awesome. But I had trouble detecting any bourbon or woody flavors, and it lacks the smoothness I want in a dark milk chocolate.

Dick Taylor craft chocolate Belize barDick Taylor Belize 72% (US): Everyone I know who has tried this bar has raved about it. I was expecting great things, which might be why I was a little disappointed. Its fruitiness is nice, but I find it VERY astringent.

Good, but a little boring:

Bonnat Java 65% dark milk chocolate (France): This is a fantastic dark milk chocolate, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the Surabaya.

Domori Criollo 70% Chuao (Italy): Very smooth texture, but I was underwhelmed by the bar’s flavor. It just seemed to lack nuance. To be fair, I only got to try a small sample, and I didn’t have a fresh palate, so I should probably give it another shot.

How about you — what were your favorite bars from you most recent chocolate shopping spree?

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Manoa 69% Goat Milk Chocolate

Goat cheese on crackers

I recently watched a very cute video by one of my favorite chocolate bloggers, Estelle Tracy of 37 Chocolates, who was reviewing Mast Brothers’ Dark Goat Milk Chocolate. I’m linking to Estelle’s full video here and encourage you to watch it if you have time, as it’s quite informative. But to sum up her review, she thought the chocolate tasted a little TOO much like goat cheese for her taste (truth be told, it’s not the first time I’ve heard negative things about that Mast Brothers bar, although I haven’t tasted it myself).

That said, I did recently try a 69% dark goat’s milk chocolate made by Hawaii-based bean-to-bar chocolate maker Manoa and LOVED it. I couldn’t put it down.

Before I say anything else, it’s worth noting that I actually love goat cheese. Be that as it may, I never thought cheese and chocolate went well together (there are exceptions, like this salty Parmesan dark chocolate by chocolatier Xocolatl de Davíd, and this tangy blue cheese milk chocolate by chocolate maker Lillie Belle Farms).

But back to Manoa.

First, a brief description of the bar: this is a VERY DARK dark milk chocolate bar. Because of that, I’m guessing the percentage of goat’s milk powder in this bar is quite low. Even so, it packs quite a flavor punch — the bar is tangy and a little sour, in a pleasant way. While the bar did have the characteristic mouth feel of a milk chocolate — that awesome milk fat melt — it’s a surprisingly uncreamy (that really should be a word) milk chocolate bar, bordering on chalky.

What I LOVE about this goat’s milk bar is that Manoa doesn’t use extra sugar to camouflage the sour goat’s milk flavor. Instead they let the potent astringency of their beans balance the lovely, funky, earthy goat’s milk. The overall effect is an addictive umami deliciousness.

I highly recommend seeking out Manoa’s 69% Goat Milk Chocolate bar, which you can buy on Manoa’s website or at specialty chocolate retailers. If not, I know you can sometimes buy it here on The Meadow’s site (and in their chocolate shops in Portland and New York). If you do end up trying it, please email me or post in the comments section of this blog and let me know what you think.

And as always, happy nibbling.

What does “70% chocolate” really mean? The answer may surprise you.

Raw cacao seeds and ground cocoa nibs

You know that 70% dark chocolate bar you bought recently? Did some teeny part of you feel pretty good about buying really dark chocolate because, well, dark chocolate is good for us now?

Would you be surprised to learn that there might be MORE good-for-you stuff in a 60% chocolate bar, or even a (gasp) milk chocolate bar, than in the 70% bar you picked up?

I know I was.

Here’s the issue: the cocoa % on chocolate bar wrappers doesn’t actually tell us how much chocolate is in our chocolate (if by chocolate we mean ground-up cocoa beans — the brown stuff with all the antioxidants). In fact, cocoa % is totally useless for that purpose. All we can reasonably expect to learn from the cocoa % is how much SUGAR has been added to our chocolate — and even that is only true for dark chocolate.

Confused yet? Let me try to explain.

What cocoa percentages really mean

First, the basics.

The average chocolate bar has five ingredients:

  • Chocolate liquor: ground-up whole cocoa beans. Contains both parts of the bean: the fat (cocoa butter) and the solids (unrefined cocoa powder)
  • Cocoa butter: extra cocoa butter increases creaminess and fluidity
  • Sugar: because, sugar
  • Lecithin: usually from soy beans, lecithin increases fluidity
  • Vanilla: while old style European chocolate traditionally includes vanilla, there has been a notable movement away from vanilla by today’s chocolate makers

Cocoa % = chocolate liquor + added cocoa butter

Total cocoa percentages include not just chocolate liquor, but also added cocoa butter. The amount of each ingredient need not be disclosed by the chocolate maker, and the ratio between the two ingredients can vary wildly. Dark couverture chocolate, which needs to be highly fluid if chocolatiers are to work with it, often has a nearly 1:1 ratio of cocoa liquor to cocoa butter. Eating and baking chocolates don’t need as much cocoa butter, so their ratio may be closer to 2:1.

Here’s where the confusion around cocoa % becomes an issue for consumers. Say you’re choosing between two chocolate bars with the exact same ingredients, listed in the same order. You’re frustrated because the ingredient percentages aren’t listed on the packaging. But as an experiment, let’s pretend for a moment that they are.

Here’s what you’d see:

Bar #1: 70% dark chocolate 

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (66%)
  • sugar (29%)
  • cocoa butter (4%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

Bar #2: 70% dark chocolate

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (41%)
  • sugar (29%)
  • cocoa butter (29%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

In both cases, the % chocolate liquor and the % cocoa butter add up to 70%. Both bars have the same amount of added sugar. However, the first bar contains 66% actual ground up cocoa beans, whereas the second bar contains only 41%. That’s a 25% difference. And as a consumer, you have no way of knowing which is which.

As if that’s not confusing enough, consider the ingredients list for this milk chocolate bar:

Bar #3: 60% milk chocolate

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (42%)
  • sugar (25%)
  • cocoa butter (18%)
  • milk powder (14%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

That’s right — you could buy a dark milk chocolate bar and get MORE ground cocoa beans by weight than you would’ve if you’d bought the #2 dark chocolate bar above. So if you’ve been buying dark chocolate for health reasons, these numbers may give you pause.

The only way to really know exactly how much chocolate liquor is in your chocolate bar (besides calling the chocolate maker and asking) is by buying chocolate with no added cocoa butter. It does exist — chocolate makers sometimes call it “two-ingredient chocolate,” since this type of chocolate typically also excludes lecithin and vanilla. I like Undone Chocolate‘s two-ingredient bars, although admittedly I’m biased because I’ve spent a lot of time helping out in their shop. But many other chocolate makers make two-ingredient chocolate — Taza, Dandelion, Rogue and Sirene all do, just to name a few. I recently tried a great one — an 82% two-ingredient bar made with Peruvian beans by Maverick Chocolate, from Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find other two-ingredient brands at most good chocolate stores, or check out the selection at Chocosphere.

But here’s a longer term solution to the cocoa percentage problem: chocolate makers should provide consumers with the percentage of chocolate liquor or cocoa solids in their bars, not just the meaningless cocoa %. Giving consumers a breakout of exactly how much of a bar is made from whole cocoa beans and how much is added cocoa butter (which, btw, most chocolate makers buy in bulk from industrial manufacturers, although there are exceptions) would be a more honest, transparent way to market chocolate. It would also discourage chocolate makers from adding extra cocoa butter for the sole purpose of inflating their chocolate’s cocoa percentage.

Another perk: providing information about the percentage of chocolate liquor in chocolate might even boost sales of dark milk chocolate, which is poised to be the next big thing in high end chocolate. But I’ll save that for another post.

 UA-79249184-1

Raaka’s 60% coconut milk bar

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

This, my friends, is what milk chocolate tastes like when it’s all grown up.

The other day I posted about my latest obsession: dark milk chocolate. But it wouldn’t be fair to write a whole post about dark milk chocolate without giving credit to the chocolate bar that opened my eyes to all this deliciousness in the first place.

Ironically, the bar in question is dairy-free.

Raaka’s vegan 60% dark coconut milk chocolate bar blows my mind. The texture is just… indulgent. I won’t go into a long flavor soliloquy full of words like “floral” and “fruity,”

Raaka Coconut Milk Chocolate Bar

because, well, I’m not training to be a sommelier. The company thinks it tastes like strawberries (it’s certainly fruity, but, seriously… strawberry?). To avoid being obnoxious, let’s just say it tastes awesome.

Note that this rave review is coming from someone who, until recently, hadn’t bought a milk chocolate bar in, I don’t know… a decade?

Funny thing is I’ve actually been avoiding Raaka for years too. I bought one of their super dark bars back in 2012 and wasn’t impressed with the texture or strong vegetal taste (if you’ve ever tried unroasted bean — or “raw” — chocolate, you know it’s a bit of an acquired taste). It seems like Raaka has upgraded their production equipment since then and are now manufacturing some really refined, top-rate chocolate. I’m glad I gave the company another taste.

Also, I appreciate that Raaka has the integrity to market its bars as “virgin,” not “raw.” But I’ll save my diatribe about “raw” chocolate for another post.

 

 

 

Obsession: dark milk chocolate

Chocolat Bonnat Surabaya Milk Chocolate

So, last night at around 11:30 p.m., this happened:

Cocoa Runners Invoice

What stands out right away as you look at this invoice?

Ok, other than the expensive shipping. And that it’s priced in British Pounds (thanks a lot, Cocoa Runners). And, yes, it’s weird to order ten chocolate bars in the middle of the night. Ok ok, besides all that.

I was hoping you might notice that eight of the ten bars listed above are of the dark milk chocolate variety.

But, what IS this dark milk chocolate stuff she speaks of?

A little industry background here will help. The FDA mandates that any bar labeled “milk chocolate” must contain at least 10% cocoa mass (btw, guess how much cocoa mass is in a Hershey’s Bar: 11%). In contrast, anything labeled “dark chocolate” must contain at least 35% cocoa mass (“bittersweet” chocolate usually contains >50%), and no more than 12% milk solids.

So, what happens if a chocolate bar contains more than 50% cocoa solids (cocoa mass + cocoa butter) AND more than 12% milk solids? Well… that’s dark milk chocolate. It’s a hybrid chocolate style that straddles the line between dark and milk without truly belonging to either category.

I know, TOTAL CRAZINESS. Mind blown!

I realize I might be the only person on earth who thinks the concept behind dark milk chocolate is so fricking cool. I know most people don’t sit around geeking out about chocolate for multiple hours a day. But if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you like chocolate a lot. So do yourself a favor and pick up a bar the next time you get a chance. And for vegans out there, coconut dark milk chocolate is a real thing, and it’s delicious.

So, what should I expect from a dark milk chocolate? 

It will not be as sweet as a typical milk chocolate, since some of its sugar has been replaced by cocoa solids. But it will be creamier and smoother than most dark chocolate of comparable cocoa percentage (and do try to find the highest percentage of cocoa solids you can when you hunt for a dark milk bar — 60% is about right, higher is better).

Think about coffee — also a naturally bitter and acidic substance made from roasted seeds. When you add cream to coffee, the dairy fat and milk solids in the cream cut a lot of the bitterness and acidity of the coffee, allowing other flavor notes to shine through. Similarly, milk powder acts as a flavor modulator in chocolate, bringing out some flavors and muting others.

I’m hopeful that the dark milk chocolate fad will eventually improve the range of quality chocolate products available to consumers and spur the development of a new market for intense, flavor-forward milk chocolate. While we’re waiting for that to happen, I’ll be happily nibbling my way through the massive stack of chocolate bars arriving on my doorstep any day now.

 

 

 

Review: chocolate delivery services

Cococlectic Bean-to-Bar Box

Cococlectic box with Cao Chocolates

I lived in New York City for 12 years… and in New York, everything you can imagine can be delivered to your doorstep at any time, day or night. Online delivery services were such a staple of my life (breakfast delivery, dry cleaning delivery, grocery delivery) that the absence of even decent restaurant delivery services here (Seamless, get your act together!) made my move to D.C. more traumatic than it should have been.

But recently I discovered the holy grail of online delivery services: craft chocolate delivery. Several new companies are now providing chocoholics everywhere with doorstep delivery of hard-to-find, small-batch bars from craft chocolate makers all over the world.

I immediately signed up for two: Cococlectic and Cocoa Runners. Here’s what my experience has been like so far.

Cococlectic is a San Francisco based company that markets itself as a “craft bean-to-bar club.” Members receive four different bars of dark chocolate from one chocolate maker each month, with prices starting at $35.99 for one shipment (which comes with a $20 gift certificate towards a monthly subscription plan).

  • Cococlectic is for pure dark chocolate lovers only! They currently don’t provide the option of receiving milk chocolate or chocolate bars with stuff in them (inclusions).

    Cao Single Origin Chocolates
    Cao Single Origin Chocolates
  • They’re marketing themselves as a way for curious chocolate connoisseurs to find out about new, little-known or hard-to-find American craft chocolate makers. They do the leg-work and vetting, providing customers with a curated selection of bars.
  • The cost is reasonable, and I like being able to buy a no-strings-attached gift box without committing to a monthly subscription.
  • My gift box came VERY fast (in just a couple of days) and included four bars of different single origin chocolates from one chocolate maker: Cao Chocolates, from Miami, Florida. Since I’d never heard of Cao, Cococlectic did deliver on its promise of introducing me to a new chocolate maker that I probably wouldn’t have found on my own.

Cocoa Runners is a UK based company that delivers globally. Cocoa Runners costs about the same as Cococlectic (~$30 a month, plus a ~$5 shipping fee if you live outside the UK).

  • Unlike Cococlectic, Cocoa Runners doesn’t seem to provide the option to buy a single box… it appears you have to sign up for a monthly subscription to receive your first shipment. However, their subscriptions are cancellable at any time, so it’s not much of a commitment.
  • Cocoa Runners is more customizable: you can choose to receive either a mix of dark and milk chocolate, or only dark chocolate (they carry dark milk chocolate, which I adore, so I was very tempted to check the “milk chocolate” box). And when you sign up, Cocoa Runners will even ask you about your preferences for inclusions — do you like chocolate with nibs? berries? bacon?
  • Unlike Cococlectic, Cocoa Runners appears to provide customers with bars from multiple chocolate makers in each shipment.
  • Shipment is a tad slower than Cococlectic. Cocoa Runners ships the third week of each month, so I haven’t received my first box yet. But I’ll let you know what’s in it when it arrives.