Tasting the original gianduja

Gianduia close-up of Gianduiotto by CaffarelGianduia close-up of Gianduiotto by Caffarel

Pop quiz: What event in the mid-1800s changed chocolate production in northern Italy forever?

If you answered the Great Cocoa Bean Shortage of 1840, you would be correct. At least in principle (whoever made up that name is clearly FOS though). ūüėČ

Back in 1865, with the price of cocoa beans through the roof, a chocolate maker in Turin began augmenting his cocoa bean supply with hazelnuts, which (in Piedmont anyway) were plentiful and cheap. The resulting chocolate-hazelnut concoction was so delicious that it landed in the chocolate maker’s permanent rotation and inspired numerous imitators.

Gianduia close-up of Gianduiotto

That chocolate maker was Caffarel, and its chocolate-hazelnut invention is now known as gianduja (or gianduia, also correct). Caffarel called its original version “Gianduiotto.” Pietro Ferrero called his version Nutella.

I’ve wanted to try Gianduiotto for years, but it’s actually quite hard to find in the U.S., in my experience.

Ironically, I found it when I wasn’t even looking — in Canada! On a recent trip to Toronto, I dropped by St. Lawrence Market, where I stumbled upon Aren’t We Sweet, an unassuming family-run chocolatier with a little shop in the lower level. There, in a neglected corner of the shop, I found a huge box of individually wrapped Gianduiotti (an entire BIN!) shining in their signature gold foil.

I’ll cut to the chase: Gianduiotti are delicious. They’re the perfect portable chocolate treat, both practical and elegant.

That said, I still prefer the dark chocolate gianduja I recently raved about by La Molina, which is a lot less sweet and has more flavor nuance than Caffarel’s version (you can buy La Molina’s gianduja here). Still, it was exciting to finally get to taste the original recipe.

How about you – what are your favorite gianduja makers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Mara√Ī√≥n 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: Durci 70% Ecuadorian Chocolate

Durci 70% Dark Chocolate Bar

 

Thank you Choco Rush for introducing me to Durci, a fantastic new chocolate maker from the great state of Utah. Durci’s 70% Corona Arriba bar is made with the renowned Nacional heirloom cocao variety grown in Ecuador.

This particular bar is the most floral chocolate I’ve ever tasted. This may sound totally obnoxious, but the best way to describe the taste of this bar is to say that eating it is like stepping into a flower garden. The delicate, perfumey flavor reminds me of… roses. Or violets, maybe?

It was my husband who finally nailed it: the chocolate tastes like orange blossom water. He’s right. The Corona Arriba bar’s unique taste is strongly suggestive of the aromatic flavoring agent in my mother’s favorite cocktail, the uber-indulgent Ramos Gin Fizz.

If you’re hosting a chocolate tasting and want to include a floral chocolate in the mix, I recommend this one, hands down. You can order it on the Durci website or from the “Chocolate Collection” on Cococlectic.

Note: I noticed Durci is currently offering a special on their website– $45 for a sampler pack of six Durci bars from different origins. That’s about $9 less than you would pay for the six individual bars — a pretty good deal if you’re interested in trying out a fantastic new American bean-to-bar chocolate maker.

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 Dav√≠d, 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 buy it here on Chococurb. 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.

Review: Chococurb’s Nano Subscription

Seattle Chocolate's birthday cake confection

I have something awesome to share with you today.

One of my (other) favorite chocolate delivery companies, Chococurb, has a brand new offering that, as far as I know, is unique among the competion: a MINIBAR delivery service. Dubbed the Nano subscription, each delivery contains five minibars for $10. $10!! That’s the price of one Mast Brothers chocolate bar in some cities.

Here’s how it works. You either buy one shipment for $10, or a 6-month or 1-year subscription for slightly less. Each shipment contains five chocolate samples, each of which weigh between 0.2 and 0.9 oz (at least in the shipment I received). Which means you are basically paying $10 for 2 oz of chocolate. Which admittedly is a lot. But you get to sample five new hard-to-find chocolate makers for the price of one Mast Brothers bar. And shipping is included.

This may give you a better sense of the size of the bars:

I think the Nano subscription is a great deal*. Especially for lazy people like me who are happy to pay an extra few bucks to sample lots of hard-to-find chocolate brands without leaving the house.

I also think it’s a great idea from the Chococurb team. As far as I know, Choco Rush, Cocoa Runners and Cococlectic aren’t offering comparable minibar subscriptions — at least, not yet.

Btw, the 6-month and 1-year subscriptions make great gifts. And if someone close to you isn’t a chocoholic (which, frankly, I would find hard to believe), well… it was my birthday last week. Just sayin.

*UPDATE 8/19/16*

Get 10% off your Nano box subscription until September 19th by using the discount code INTEMPER at checkout.

Review: Choco Rush Chocolate Delivery Service

Choco Rush logo

A while back I reviewed two chocolate delivery services I’d tried, Cocolectic and Cocoa Runners. Well, today I have an entirely new chocolate delivery crush: Choco Rush.

Choco Rush is a craft chocolate subscription service out of South Carolina. But… who really cares where they’re based. Let me get to the point: Choco Rush totally rocks.*

Why all the love?

For starters, my first shipment included bars from three chocolate makers I’d never even heard of before, let alone tasted. So major props to them for promoting unsung chocolate makers that don’t yet have a national presence.

Another cool thing: the chocolate curators behind Choco Rush clearly have awesome taste, because two of the chocolate bars in my first shipment were blow-my-mind delicious (made by Durci and Hello Cocoa — find them!!)

Actually there is a third reason to love Choco Rush, now that I think about it, and it’s a really important one. Their customer service is outstanding!

It’s hard to understate how much this matters. If you sign up for one of these delivery services and live anywhere that sees temperatures over 85 F (which is pretty much everywhere right now), at some point you’ll probably find yourself emailing customer service to report some kind of melted chocolate shipping disaster. At Choco Rush, Chris Lacey was incredibly responsive and helpful when I was concerned about my shipping arriving on a particularly hot day (I needn’t have worried — the chocolate arrive unmelted and unbloomed, even in our lovely 95 F D.C. weather).

But what really hooked me on Choco Rush was how genuinely interested Chris seemed in my feedback on the chocolate bars they’d sent me. This is the fourth chocolate delivery service I’ve tired, but it’s the first to reach out to me directly to ask what I’d thought of their chocolate. And being a total chocolate nerd, I loved the opportunity to bounce my tasting notes off an expert who is friendly, knowledgeable and unpretentious. It reminded me once again what a great, welcoming community the chocolate world is.

OK, so here are the subscription details:

  • Each Choco Rush shipment includes four bars from different chocolate makers, shipped at the beginning of every month (so if you sign up for the service on the second week of the month, you’ll have to wait until the next month for your first shipment).
  • Their subscription choices include a month-to-month package for $39 ($9.75/bar), a 3-month subscription for $110 ($9.17/bar), plus a couple of longer subscriptions.
  • You can skip a month or cancel your subscription at any time, and shipping is free in the U.S.

I know $9+ is steep for chocolate, but remember your money is supporting small batch chocolate makers with relatively high overhead compared to large industrial chocolate producers. Plus they often pay direct trade prices (more expensive than fair trade) for their cocoa beans. So I think it’s money well spent.

But the real reason I think it’s worth it to pay $9/bar for chocolate is that Choco Rush takes both the legwork and guesswork out of finding awesome new chocolate makers. Not only will you be introduced to chocolate makers you’ve never heard of before, but the bars you receive will probably be delicious. For me, that alone make the service worth the premium.

Note: I am not a spokesperson for Choco Rush and didn’t receive payment (or free chocolate) for writing this. The views expressed below are mine alone.

Was Seaforth inspired by Mast Brothers?

http://www.chocolatereviews.co.uk/seaforth-cows-milk-60/
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode
Photo credit: Garrett Ziegler via Flickr
http://www.chocolatereviews.co.uk/seaforth-cows-milk-60/
Photo credit: Lee McCoy via Chocolate Reviews

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never tasted Seaforth Chocolate. I have to assume it tastes better than what Mast Brothers was putting out the last time I tried their bars. I also have no reason to doubt Seaforth is (and always has been) a true bean-to-bar chocolate company.

The disclaimer is warranted because I’m about to compare certain marketing choices made by Seaforth to those of Mast Brothers. And, as many of you may know, Mast Brothers recently fell from grace after being outed last December for misleading consumers by selling remelted Valrhona as their own bean-to-bar chocolate. While the chocolate community was well aware that Mast Brothers had once made their bars out of industrial couverture chocolate (the texture of Valrhona is not something a bean-to-bar start-up company can reproduce without hundreds of thousands of dollars of specialized equipment), consumers were taken aback when they learned the truth.

So I don’t make the comparison between Seaforth and Mast Brothers lightly. And in all fairness, the similarities are almost entirely superficial. But that said, the similarities are significant. It appears that the new UK-based company is attempting to fill Mast Brothers’ big, hand-crafted shoes.

Let’s start with the less obvious similarities — the ones I would normally chalk up to mere coincidence. First, like the famous brothers, Seaforth’s chocolate has a maritime theme. And like Mast Brothers, the company claims to have sailed its beans from the Caribbean on a wind-powered schooner in an attempt to reduce its carbon footprint.

But I probably wouldn’t have noticed these similarities had it not been for the striking resemblance of Seaforth’s¬† packaging to classic Mast Brothers bars. The wallpaper style wrappers and square stickers are incredibly similar. And even Seaforth’s font choice perfectly mimics Mast Brothers. Take a look for yourself and tell me if you don’t agree.

Seaforth’s mold design:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjchdzPs9XLAhVBJB4KHf5ACA8QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.chocolatereviews.co.uk%2Fseaforth-cows-milk-60%2F&bvm=bv.117218890,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNGCR3rwOpJ_rJmrXoiNblYEcIS5EA&ust=1458774193299303
Photo credit: Lee McCoy via Chocolate Reviews

vs.

Mast Brothers’ packaging:

https://bluebergitt.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/choosy-about-chocolate/
Photo credit: Blue Bergitt

If you still aren’t convinced, compare these blurbs from the two companies’ marketing materials.

Seaforth’s sail boat:

The cocoa beans for this bar were transported from the Dominican Republic on board the Tres Hombres. This traditional wooden sailing boat has no engine but relies on the wind and the waves (to be specific the currents) to deliver its delicious cargo across the world. As a result, this bar is not only Fairtrade but almost carbon neutral as well.

vs.

Mast Brothers’ sail boat:

In May 2011, the Black Seal, a 70-ft schooner built by its Captain, Eric Loftfield, sailed down to the Dominican Republic to retrieve a shipment of cocoa bean for Mast Brothers Chocolate. In 14 days, the schooner sailed back to Mast Brothers’ headquarters in Brooklyn using only wind power. The Mast Brothers later boasted that they were the first since 1939 to sail cargo into New York City.

The Mast Brothers directed by Brennan Stasiewicz, from The Scout on Vimeo

So, what do you think? Inspiration or coincidence?

And, perhaps more to the point, does it matter that a smaller, newer company is borrowing to such an extent from a more established company? Chocolate makers and chocolatiers are often inspired by the marketing choices, packaging, chocolate styles, and flavor combinations of other industry participants. Maybe that’s okay. What do you think — when does inspiration cross the line?