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.]