Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lake Champlain Five Star Chocolate Bar Fruit & Nut

1.9oz (53g) bar
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, milk powder, milk fat, soybean lecithin, vanilla, hazelnut paste, pecans, raisins, dried cherries

Corporate Info: I rather like Lake Champlain because it makes my favorite cocoa powder (so far), and because the passionate, creative mind (at least at that time) behind the Five Star Bars is profiled in Candyfreak, a book about a few remaining small businesses in the large-corporation-dominated chocolate world. I'm not sure there's a lot to say about the company otherwise: It's based in Vermont and about 30 years old...not organic or fair trade or whatnot, but if you're in the U.S. you can buy them and support a relatively small American company. (Bonus: Combine a factory tour with a trip to the nearby Ben and Jerry's factory and seriously, that's a good time right there.)

[Update/correction 4/2/12] Lake Champlain does produce a few organic items and is a member of the World Cocoa Foundation, which claims to be working toward various positive aims (focusing on child labor and so on). However, as the WCF includes many of the world's largest chocolate manufacturers, visions of happy workers sustainably producing cheap chocolate to fulfill the world's demand may be a bit of wishful thinking, at least for the time being.

Appearance: Lake Champlain's Five Star bars are all stubby, chunky, and unassuming. This one is mildly reddish-brown and just a little glossy. A cross-section looks like ganache mixed with whitish pecans and not a lot of fruit.

Smell: Sweet dried fruit and nuts, though that might be cheating with this bar. Very pleasant, which is to say nothing pops out.

Taste: The texture in these bars is fatty-creamy, sort of like a less extreme version of a Lindor Truffle (but with actual cocoa butter instead of palm and coconut oils), plus inclusions: Crunchy, low-flavor nuts, dried fruits contributing low-impact complexity and intermittent chew, and a good amount of fatty filling. Since there's hazelnut paste, they're trying for additional flavor and creaminess rather than just nut pieces, and I am getting some minor hints of Nutella that probably add to the fruit/nut vibe. The chocolate feels like an afterthought, but it's really not, because it's well-matched in sweet-tart profile, just not particularly intense.

Conclusion: Lake Champlain Five Star Chocolate Bar Fruit & Nut is an easy, not-so-strong hit of dried fruits, nuts, fat, and pleasant chocolate.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Michel Cluizel Los Anconés (organic; 67% cacao)

70g (2.46oz) bar
Ingredients: Organic cocoa, o. cane sugar, o. cocoa butter, o. Bourbon vanilla pod
13g sugar/40g serving (32.5% by wt.)

Today's 67% cacao bar comes from Michel Cluizel's line of chocolate from individual plantations, in this case Los Anconés on the Carribean island of Hispaniola (the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti). I can't remember when I bought this bar, but unlike the one pictured on the website, mine contains only organic ingredients. I would guess that a current Los Anconés bar would taste similar, though I'm not certain. The box explains that the chocolate has been “lengthily worked,” which I imagine means a super-creamy texture.

Corporate Info: (copied from 5/19/11) I've seen Michel Cluizel's black boxes at all the fancy shops, and I've bought the confections. When I googled the brand I found pages and pages of commercial sites, reviews, and news bytes, though nothing especially edifying. I'll just tell you what the Cluizel site says: Michel Cluizel is a French brand (there's even a museum/experience in Normandy) that started in 1948 and opened a U.S. subsidiary in 2004. It's not chocolate you can feel socially responsible about, but the product quality seems to be well respected.

Appearance: This bar has a totally different imprint than the last Cluizel product I reviewed, but it's still beautifully and sharply molded. The chocolate is attractive too: smooth, slightly glossy, slightly reddish brown.

Smell: Nice, rounded dried fruit. Interesting but not pungent or intense, with nothing standing out.

Taste: Texture is crunchy slowly melting into super smooth; I buy that “lengthily worked” claim. Flavor is very friendly: Not too sweet, not at all sour, very little bitterness or tannins. Not obviously fruity, but there is that touch of pleasant, caramelized brightness, maybe like golden raisins. The box says “liquorice wood, then red berries and green olives.” I can see the licorice—but yes, the straight root, like you might have in tea, just that super-subtle sweetness. If you're not looking for it, you won't taste it at all. Red berries? Okay, sure, but this isn't a fresh, fruity tasting chocolate, so that's also subtle. I'm not getting green olives.

Conclusion: Michel Cluizel Los Anconés is super smooth, subtle, pleasant, and satisfying.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chocolove Ginger Crystallized in Dark Chocolate 65% Cocoa Content

3.2oz (90g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, crystallized ginger 11g sugar/30g bar (36.7% by wt.) 

Today's bar is Chocolove's take on the fairly popular combo of candied ginger and chocolate. Now that I think about it, ginger and chocolate actually sounds like it wouldn't work at all, but the sweet-spicy ginger candy often provides a nice contrast with creamy, rich chocolate. We'll see how well Chocolove does with the combo. 

Corporate Info: (Copied from 10/15/11) I have a soft spot for Chocolove, having lived in near its hometown of Boulder, Colorado and enjoyed the company's samples in my local Whole Foods. It's a relatively young company (Wikipedia says 1996; Chocolove's website doesn't say), hasn't yet been bought by a giant conglomerate, and is supposedly working with these guys to source its chocolate from well-treated cocoa farmers and communities. On the other hand, the chocolate isn't officially organic or fair trade, and Chocolove is rated a C by the Better World folks (same as Hershey's, much better than Nestle), so I don't want to give them my unconditional Choco-love (ha ha, I crack me up). But it's cheaper than most premium chocolate—$2-2.50 a bar—and reliably tasty.
Appearance: Very dark brown with a dark greyish cast and not lot of warmth (red, orange or yellow). Mine is a little beaten up and dusty, but with the dust rubbed away it's much glossier.
Smell: Not ginger, exactly, but spicy, with a sweetness that has some perfume, like honey or pineapple. No big chocolate smell, but a little characteristic beaniness. This isn't a very strong-smelling bar.
Taste: Definitely sweet, with the flavor of candied ginger that has had all the harshness taken out and not a lot of depth to the chocolate, which mostly provides a hard, then crumbly, then creamy texture. Small but tangible pieces of ginger are well distributed and soft in a crumbly, sugary way, which I think is a good choice: The ginger's texture melds well with the experience of eating this particular chocolate while still standing out enough for contrast.
Conclusion: Chocolove Ginger Crystallized in Dark Chocolate 65% Cocoa Content is sweet, gingery, and harshness-free. Its lack of depth won't win it any dark chocolate awards, but it's an easy eating candy with a lower sugar content than you might expect.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Brand Overview: Green & Black's

This is the first in an occasional series of posts on brands of dark chocolate that I feel I know pretty well. In these posts I'd like to cover the basics: Who gets the money you're spending, where you can buy the products and how much they cost, and what kinds of products the brand offers and what kind of experience you can expect from the chocolate. I hope you enjoy this little break from individual bar reviews! 

Brand: Green & Black's 

Originally: British 

Who's getting the money now: Kraft 

Where to find it: In the US, all over the place. Here in Seattle I can find most of Green & Black's American product line in Whole Foods, and a portion of it in more general grocery stores like QFC (a Kroger brand). 

Cost: Usually around $4 a bar, though I tend to buy them when I find them on sale for $2.50 each (and once $2!), which happens at my local Whole Foods every few months. 

Product Range and Eating Experience: Green & Black's is organic and sometimes fair trade, and has a fairly wide, tasty, and interesting range of dark chocolate flavors. Mainstays are the 85% and 70% chocolate bars, but there are slightly lower-cacao flavors like ginger, cherry, mint, espresso, and spicy (not hot) Maya Gold. Flavorings tend to be strong and uniform, except for the relatively dull hazelnut current. There are also less-dark and non-dark options like peanut, toffee, milk, and white chocolate. Texture is waxy-rich and chocolateyness is deep and accessible, neither super intense nor insipid. Held by several dark chocolate lovers I know as the pinnacle of what's currently available in reliable, basic dark chocolate.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Meta-Post on Ingredients

For some time I've been meaning to write a brief post on how I write my ingredient lists, just to be clear to readers, so here I go.

U.S. laws require that companies report ingredients in order of how much is in the product. Bread starts with flour and candy with sugar, and ingredients present in small quantities usually come at the end, which is why you'll never see soy lecithin or vanilla listed first on your chocolate bars. That's easy for me to replicate here. 

Where it gets more complicated, I bend the rules for simplicity:
  • I break up ingredients that have their own ingredients. If I read “Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, toffee nuggets (sugar, butter, vanilla), vanilla,” I just write “Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, butter, vanilla.” I can't guarantee it's in appropriate weight order, but I just want readers to know the basics of what's in these chocolate bars; the details you can look for elsewhere if you really care. If the details are relevant to my review, I mention them myself. 
  • I generally attempt to standardize ingredients. If a label lists “sugar,” I write “sugar.” If it lists “cane sugar,” I write “cane sugar.” But if an earthy-crunchy-organic company boasts “evaporated cane juice,” I write “cane sugar” for standardization purposes. I don't have a problem with “evaporated cane juice” as a label, this just makes things less confusing when I'm reviewing different but similar products every week.
  • I try to use American spellings even if labels don't. Last week's licorice bar actually used the spelling “liquorice” in the ingredients, but aside from when it's in the bar's name, I'll revert to American spelling. I like talking about how a company is French or Danish or whatnot, but I'd rather my ingredient reporting be consistent.

I do see a benefit to just writing ingredients the way they're listed on the box, but at some point I found lists that were particularly confusing (or I was translating them myself and knew I might not do it the way the company would have), so I made a choice to go this route. And now you know!