Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Olive and Sinclair Mexican Style Cinnamon Chili

2.75oz bar
Ingredients: Cocoa beans (Ghana), sugar, cocoa butter, organic Ceylon cinnamon, salt, cayenne pepper

Corporate Info: One appealing feature of Olive and Sinclair's chocolate is that the young company is small and American—in Nashville, to be specific. They make several plain and flavored bars using stone-ground beans and brown sugar, both of which are relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) in the chocolate game. I can't find anything on the bars or website about their bean sourcing and so on, but they do seem to be making an effort with certain organic ingredients (see ingredients for this bar), some well-intended environmental initiatives, and possibly a foray into fair trade (there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it mention in this video). All in all, at this time Olive and Sinclair is a company I'm happy to support.

Appearance: Unlike the Salt & Pepper bar, the Mexican Style has the spices mixed in, so there's no photo of the speckled back of this bar. Again it's thin, flat, and sharply molded, and the color is glossy and vivid.

Smell: Fruity, something juicy like cherry or currant. Aside: I've called a lot of chocolate “fruity” lately, which either means I've eaten a lot of fruity chocolate or I have a limited olfactory palate. Probably both, though I'm working on the latter. Anyway, whether this bar is “fruity” or not, the smell is pretty pure, not roasty or sour or sweet or in-your-face, just a fresh, slightly caramelized scent.

Taste: Whereas some “Mexican” chocolate can be one- or two-note, in this bar the chocolate, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt merge with surprising complexity. It doesn't just taste like cinnamon or overwhelming spiciness but instead is infused with warmth and flavor; I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen other spices listed in the ingredients. The chocolate itself is subtly fruity with an additional, interesting sweetness, like toasted marshmallows—perhaps from the brown sugar. Texture also helps, as stone-ground beans give the chocolate a fine, uniform grittiness that makes mouthfeel and chew intriguing but not to the point of being distractingly annoying.

Conclusion: Olive and Sinclair Mexican Style Chocolate Cinnamon Chili is balanced and complex, just excellent stuff. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nói Síríus Pure Icelandic Chocolate 70% Extra-bitter

7.05 oz bar
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, lecithin, vanilla
11g sugar/1.4oz (39.69g) serving (27.7% by wt.)

I bought this bar for two reasons: 1. It was novel, and 2. It was relatively cheap. I don't remember the price exactly, but at $4.50 or so for a hefty seven ounce bar (full price, not on sale), it fell well below my $1/oz threshold for compunction-free chocolate purchases. If it's wonderful, it'll make for good eating and maybe baking, and even if it's not it can probably still suffice tempered by milk in my morning cocoa.

Corporate Info: Not a lot. Google Nói Síríus and you'll find the corporate website, a brief Wikipedia entry, personal reviews, and several puns on the word “serious.” Based on what little is out there, I'll just report that Nói Síríus was founded in 1920 and is now Iceland's largest confectionary company (with 130 employees, it's no Mars but is still significant), producing chocolate among a large assortment of other sweets. The website lists Whole Foods as the only brick-and-mortar U.S. retailer selling Nói Síríus products, though there are online resources as well. I see no claims regarding chocolate sourcing/fair trade/sustainability/choose-your-buzzword.

Appearance: The big ol' seven ounce brick is actually two regular bars stacked on top of each other, which is less awe-inspiring than the alternative but much easier to eat. My particular bars have gotten a bit banged up and broken, but it's all there in glossy medium brown.

Smell: Dried fruit, not dark caramel like raisins but something a little lighter, like stone fruits.

Taste: Dense and rich, not at all sour or bitter. Reminds me of figs. Lingers thick and a little chalky.

Final Thoughts: Before I finally got around to reviewing Nói Síríus I tried this bar in hot chocolate and found the combo to be very dull; I had to add other flavors to jazz it up. Without the milk to hide the flavor I still think it's bland, and without that super-milky smoothness that makes mild seem enjoyably decadent. On the other hand my co-taster, who was also disappointed with the cocoa, loved this chocolate on its own, coming back again and again for another piece. A glance at other blogs shows that many reviews love Nói Síríus, and perhaps you will too.

Conclusion: Nói Síríus Pure Icelandic Chocolate 70% Extra-bitter is dense and mild, not my favorite but possibly yours.