Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What's a Cacao Nib and What the Heck Do I Do with It?

Like delicious chocolate nuts, cacao nibs are pieces of the roasted cacao bean. Crunchy and nutty, with hints of liquor-y fermentation, these little gems are the building blocks of artisan chocolate. Taste a cacao nib from Madagascar and you may recognize the red fruit notes commonly associated with Madagascar chocolate. Try one from Venezuela and you may taste walnut notes. Like single-origin chocolate, the flavor of a nib depends upon cacao varietal, terroir, fermentation and roasting style.

So where does a nib come from? After an artisan chocolate maker has roasted cacao beans, he or she needs to remove the papery thin shell on the outside of the beans before beginning the chocolate-making process. Most chocolate makers do this with a machine called a "winnower". The winnower shakes the roasted beans into small pieces (nibs), and air blows the papery shells away from the nibs. So nibs are just pieces of the roasted cacao bean, ready to be ground up into liquid chocolate.

Wondering how the crunchy, nutty nib becomes chocolate? The chocolate maker grinds the nibs, melting their fat and creating  liquid chocolate, more recognizable as what you expect chocolate to be. Cacao is made up of approximately equal parts cocoa solids and cocoa butter, so there's a lot of fat in these beans.

Why would someone eat nibs instead of chocolate? Not only are they a delicious and nutritious snack, but they contain a significant number of antioxidants. They are also good for your teeth, as long as there's no sugar added. If you approach nibs with the understanding that they aren't going to taste like a bar of chocolate they can be a delicious and healthful culinary experience.

So what to do with nibs? The possibilities are endless. Whether you're trying to add crunchy texture to a baked good, depth to a spice rub or a savory note to your pasta, nibs can be used pretty much anywhere. The most interesting recipe we've seen is one recommended by a customer for Cacao and Zucchini Absorption Pasta. Give it a try, let us know what you think!

Other ideas for nibs, many of them from our devoted customers, follow. Have fun trying them!
  • Add to waffles, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies, yogurt or trail mix
  • Grind with cayenne, salt and other spices as a rub for meat, poultry or seafood
  • Toss with vinaigrette for a nutty note to your salad
  • Cook nibs with sugar to make brittle
Happy nib-bling!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bar of the Week: Pacari's Manabi

Send your tastebuds on an Ecuadorian adventure with the Manabi bar from Quito-based Pacari Chocolate.  Pacari is a family-owned company that partners with small farms to produce certified organic and kosher chocolate using Arriba Nacional cacao.  The Manabi bar is 65% dark chocolate with assertive notes of nuts and citrus and a long finish. 

We'll be offering samples of Pacari's Manabi on Saturday, July 2nd.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bar of the Week: Pralus' Caracas

Our bar of the week is a subtle exotic from French maker Francois Pralus.  A 75% dark chocolate made from Venezuelan cacao, the Caracas bar combines Pralus's usual creamy texture and dark roast with a mellow earthiness inherent in the cacao.  Come by on Saturday, June 25th, for a sample of Pralus' Caracas.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Remembering Dad this Father's Day

As Father's Day approaches this Sunday, I've been thinking a lot about my dad. This is my first Father's Day without him. He was never much into birthdays and holidays, particularly those he considered "greeting card" holidays. While Father's Day certainly qualified as a "greeting card" holiday in his book, he loved getting my cards, and he loved our recent tradition of going to a Yankees-Mariners game for a belated Father's Day celebration. I'm fortunate and lucky I got to spend these last three years in the same city with him. I cherish every moment he was in Seattle. I'm really lucky.

My unsolicited advice to those of you with a Dad still around is to enjoy him while you can. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can share with him today. While I could certainly suggest a gift of chocolate for Dad ;), the best present is quality time spent together.

In honor of my dad, I've provided a link to the chocolate-covered send off I gave him when he passed away in November. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. May you and your father have a wonderful Father's Day.

Chocolopolis: Farewell to Our Biggest Fan

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bar of the Week: Michel Cluizel's Grand Noir

If you're one of those chocolate lovers who's trying to gently ease into the higher percentages, our bar of the week might be for you. Or if you're one of those who thinks anything over 70% will taste like baking chocolate, it just might change your mind. 

Michel Cluizel's Grand Noir is a blended from a number of carefully chosen cacaos. It's 85% strength is noticeably mainly in its muted sweetness; the other flavors are surprisingly soft, with no sharp edges and an overall mellowness that recalls slow-roasted nuts. 

Come in for a taste of Michel Cluizel's Grand Noir on Saturday, June 18th. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chocolopolis + Kiva

Although Chocolopolis doesn't have a tip jar, the occasional customer will insist on leaving a little something on the counter.  For years that change has been slowly accumulating in a Dixie cup while we wondered what to do with it.

Finally our coins collection reached critical mass, and we decided to use our change for change. The microlending website Kiva gave us the opportunity to turn our tips into a loan to an entrepreneur in a developing country.  We couldn't find any cacao farmers or chocolate makers in the directory of borrowers, but we did find Juana (above), a Nicaraguan confectioner who hopes to expand her fudge-making business.  Juana will use her loan to improve her production and distribution capabilities, then use her increased profits to repay her loan--which we can then re-lend to another entrepreneur. 

If you're one of those who told us to "keep the change," we hope that you'll approve of our choice.  Thanks so much for helping us to help others.

And go, Juana, go!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bar of the Week: Fine and Raw's Blueberries

We're welcoming summer with a fresh, fruity bar of the week:  Fine & Raw's Blueberries.  Brooklyn-based F&R specializes in delectable chocolates with a healthy spin; processed at lower-than-normal temperatures, their "raw" chocolates maintain more of cacao's natural nutrients.  The Blueberries bar ups the ante even further, adding antioxidant-laden dried blueberries to a 70% dark chocolate made from Ecuadorian cacao and sweetened with palm sugar.  It's a rich, jammy treat you can feel good about!

Stop by on Saturday, June 11th, for a sample of Fine & Raw's Blueberries bar.  

Not in our neighborhood?  Fine & Raw's Blueberries bar is also available from our online store