Friday, June 25, 2010

Divine Fruit and Nut Dark Chocolate

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Fair trade cocoa mass, ft. sugar, currants, ft. cocoa butter, chopped almonds, butterfat, soy lecthin, ft. vanilla
14g sugar/50g serving (28% by wt.)

When I reviewed Divine's mint bar I thought it just okay, but I appreciated the company's commitment to fair trade practices and swore to give its chocolate another chance. That chance is here with the fruit and nut dark chocolate bar, which is more precisely the currant and almond bar in 68% cacao chocolate. The bar is straightforward: It has a standard gloss, is nicely molded, and looks medium brown, and it smells, as you might imagine, of raisins. It also tastes a bit of raisins, and nuts too (though I wouldn't say they're clearly almonds), both chopped fine. The chocolate is sweet and not especially interesting.

I've actually had Divine's fruit and nut bar several times before. It's never my favorite, as the chocolate isn't the best and the combination of currants, almonds, and chocolate is wholly uninspired. But by the same token, the chocolate isn't off-putting and the flavorings don't clash with the chocolate, so the bar is pleasant enough and easy to eat. I wouldn't say I recommend it, but if you like the combination, you could do worse.

Conclusion: Divine's Fruit and Nut bar is acceptable for those who like currants and almonds in their chocolate.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Olive and Sinclair Salt & Pepper

2.75oz bar
Ingredients: Cacao beans, brown sugar, cocoa bitter, kosher salt, black peppercorns

I spotted Olive and Sinclair's distinctive wrappers at a specialty chocolate shop, where the clerk said the bars had only just arrived. The Nashville-based company doesn't even have a fully functioning website as of this writing, but its enthusiastic blog details the entire process of setting up production, from receiving the bean roaster to choosing molds to getting the first bars out the door. The blog currently lists two plain bars in 67% and 75% cacao, three year-round flavored bars, one seasonal bar, and nibs. My local store carried three of the bars including Salt & Pepper, which according to the blog is in the 67% cacao base.

So how's the new chocolate on the block? The look of the bars is very clean, a vivid brown and with sharp edges and detailing on the front and an even sprinkling of salt and medium-ground black pepper on the back. Of course it smells like salt, pepper, and chocolate, with the salt and pepper somewhat restrained and the chocolate...hard to distinguish: It all blends into one sweet-savory aroma, which is probably a sign of a good pairing. The rectangles snap apart easily—this is a firm, crunchy chocolate.

Because of the slightly dusty salt and pepper I start by biting into the rectangles flavor-side-up, and I find I detect a gentle pepper scent, nothing close to sneeze-inducing. When I try biting into them flavor-side-down instead, the scent is eliminated but the salt immediately begins to melt on my tongue and the pepper provides heat instead of perfume. Once I begin chewing the flavor changes again: The salt becomes a background salinity and the pepper a touch of earthiness, a combination that evokes seawater.

If I weren't paying such close attention, I'd probably swallow before thinking about the experience, and I'd come out with “That was kind of neat. Not a strong pepper flavor, a little salty, tasty chocolate but that's really not the point here...heh, cool.” And that would be that. As it is, I am reflecting during each step of the process of savoring each bite, and it's rather more complicated. Thus, I pronouce:

Conclusion: Olive and Sinclair's Salt & Pepper bar is subtle, meant for measured bites and slow appreciation—an interesting experiment in learning to pay attention to how things taste. 

[Apologies for the dark photo of the back of the bar. It's actually the same color as the front, but my bare-bones free photo organizing software doesn't enable me to lighten photos.]

Friday, June 11, 2010

Baratti e Milano Puro Cioccolato Extra Fondente 88%

75g bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, natural vanilla extract

Baratti & Milano's Extra Bitter 88% bar was a gift from a lovely old friend who knows my taste for dark chocolate. I opened the box, the kind bound with an elasticated gold cord tied in a little bow at one corner, to find four different high-end bars. I'm starting with something Italian.

This is another wide, thin, flat bar, in a deep black-brown with a dull finish. The fragrance is kind of fascinating, less chocolate than like a spicy perfume heady with vanilla. I don't wear perfume, but I might if I were able to get my hands on one that smelled like this.

Bitter” is an apt term for the chocolate, though it's not the pungent kind that makes you grimace—it's actually surprisingly smooth, in both texture and flavor. The bitterness comes on slowly and builds gradually, finally revealing a hint of sugar. It brings you as close to the bean as you can and still be eating chocolate, processed to be palatable and with just a hint of sugar for balance.

This is some of the darkest-tasting chocolate I've eaten. Another 88% bar I've tried (Endangered Species' Black Panther bar) is sweeter and more accessible, so it's not just the cacao content; maybe it's in the choice of bean, or in the processing. Because of how bitter it is I probably won't be buying this myself, but it's a very good special occasion bar, smooth and sweet enough to be more than plain cacao, but only just.

Conclusion: Baratti e Milano Puro Cioccolato Extra Fondente 88% is barely sweet, surprisingly smooth, a high-quality super-super-dark chocolate.

[Note: I couldn't find a website for Baratti e Milano, so the above link is to this bar on Amazon.]

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Vosges Calindia Bar

3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Dark chocolate (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin), dried plums, cardamom, organic walnuts
10g sugar/32g serving (31.3% by wt.)

You've probably seen Vosges (pronounced something like “Vohzh” or “Vohj”) bars in upscale markets. Perhaps you heard of the company's famous bacon bars. If you picked one up, you more than likely gaped at the price. The Calindia Bar here was something like $7, which is more than I'm usually willing to spend on a 3 ounce bar, but my first impression was that the cardamom, walnut, and plum combination sounded rather novel, so I threw caution to the wind and went for it.

Second impression: The copy on the box is silly. “How to enjoy an exotic candy bar: Breathe...Engage your senses. Take 3 deep ujjayi breaths, quiet the chattering mind and be in the present moment.” It goes on and on from there, about how the chocolate should smell, sound and taste, which is theoretically useful, but it rubs me the wrong way, making me feel like I'm paying for marketing rather than quality. Also on the box are Vosges founder Katrina's headshot and the story of her privileged career path, from Vanderbilt to Le Cordon Bleu to “extensive world travel.” I would never fault her for how she's gotten where she is today, but to me the charmed life story and yoga-speak fall somewhere between “I want to attain that” (by buying the chocolate) and tone-deaf bragging (so I don't really want to give her more money).

Third impression: This is a perfectly nice looking bar of the large and thin variety, with a delicate scent of nuts and dried fruit.

Fourth impression: The flavors are delicate as well, more so than my personal taste would hope for. The walnut is the least interesting element to me, and also the one that predominates, if only slightly. The plum shows up in a light fruitiness, like a golden raisin; the pieces are small and not readily apparent, but large enough that one's teeth sometimes close on a bit of firm chewiness. The cardamom is a good match, quite subtle but easily identified by the scent that wafts up in the back of the throat and a taste on the tip of the tongue. The chocolate is light and soft, reminiscent of citrus rather than berries or wine. (The box recommends pressing a small piece of the chocolate to the roof of your mouth and letting it melt to smell the cardamom as well as the subtleties in the chocolate, and that does seem to work.)

Final verdict: I wouldn't pay $7 for this again, but it was different from my norm, and I'm glad I tried it.

Conclusion: Vosges Calindia Bar is light, subtly exotic, and expensive.