Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bar of the Week: El Ceibo Bolivia

Ever wonder what cooperation might taste like?  Try a bite of chocolate from El Ceibo, a cooperative formed by Bolivian cacao farmers in 1977.  Organic cacao from member farms in the Amazonian tropics is transported to El Ceibo's factory high in the Andes, then transformed into a range of treats and bars.

El Ceibo's export bars are the product of even more collaboration, thanks to the company's partnership with  chocolate expert Chloe Doutre-Roussel, author of The Chocolate Connoisseur.  Our bar of the week is one such bar, a 75% dark chocolate with mellow earth and juicy fruit notes enlivened by tart flashes of acidity. 

Too many cooks in the chocolate-making kitchen--or just exactly enough?  Decide for yourself with a sample of El Ceibo 75%, available in-store on Saturday, March 3. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bar of the Week: Cluizel's Mangaro

Our bar of the week is one that many of us here at the store turn to again and again for an antidote to Seattle's gloomiest days.  French chocolate maker Michel Cluizel's Mangaro bar is a 65% dark chocolate that exudes so much light and warmth it should come with a cocktail umbrella.  Made from cacao grown in Madagascar on what was once a mango grove, Mangaro scintillates with notes of exotic fruit, raw honey, and perfumed spices:  Wish you were here...

Stop by on Saturday, February 25, for a taste of Cluizel's Mangaro.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Pair Chocolate with Wine

Wine and chocolate.

Two words that I often hear in the same sentence from many customers, most often when they say, "I have this really great cabernet that would go well with dark chocolate." While I know many chocophiles and many wine connoisseurs who will not pair the two, I'm keeping an open mind. After all, isn't it the height of splurge and luxury to enjoy two decadent treats at once?

With Valentine's Day just days away, I can hear the champagne corks popping. With that in mind, I'd like to share some wine and chocolate pairing suggestions.

I recommend customers don't quaff just any bottle of wine with their chocolate. The experience will be more enjoyable if you put a little bit of thought into your choice of wine and chocolate when creating a pairing. Here are some general guidelines based solely on my own experiences.

  1. Less is more. If you're drinking dry red wine, I recommend going for the highest percent chocolate you can handle (least sweet). The sugar in chocolate tends to fight with dry wines. Less sugar means a better chance of a match.
  2. Choose fortified or sweet wines. Tawny Port, particularly a tawny colheita, can be fabulous with chocolate. The sweetness of the Port marries well with chocolate. In general, fortified or sweet wines like Port, Muscat, Banyuls and ice wine work very well with chocolate. Pair them with a rosemary caramel bonbon or a chocolate truffle for a delicious treat.
  3. Pair like with like. If the wine has tart cherry notes, then you'd probably want to pair it with a Madagascar single-origin chocolate that has tart cherry notes. On the other hand, if your wine doesn't have tart cherry notes, Madagascar probably won't taste good with the wine. In fact it can be quite unpleasant. If you know the flavor profile of the single origin chocolate you've purchased, take it to your local wine store, tell them the flavor profile, and have the sommelier help you choose an appropriate bottle of wine.
  4. Stick to single-origin chocolate with savory flavor profiles. Single-origin chocolates made with cacao from Indonesia and certain African countries, like São Tomé, often pair better with wine because of their smoky, earthy and savory notes. I find that bars from São Tomé often taste gamey, almost like having a chocolate-covered mutton roast with your red wine. Regions such as Madagascar and the Dominican Republic are difficult because of the acidic qualities of their flavor profiles. They can work, or they can be complete disasters. There's no middle ground. Sticking to Indonesia and Africa is a safer, more versatile bet.
  5. Choose inclusion chocolate with a savory addition. Sea salt, chilies, black truffle oil, and bacon go great with chocolate (but probably not all at the same time). The savory qualities they bring often tame the sweetness and help the chocolate pair better with that big red wine.
  6. Stick to dried fruits when pairing with champagne and sparkling wines. The acid in champagne and sparkling wine can be a really tough match with chocolate. I recommend choosing acidic dried fruits dipped in chocolate, such as dried peaches, apricots or pears, as a nice pairing with champagne. The acid of these dried fruits marries well with the acid of the champagne, and the chocolate adds a nice sweetness without overpowering the acid of the fruits.
  7. Enjoy yourself. All that really matters is that you like the pairing. Taste is in the mouth of the taster. If you like it, who cares what the experts say?
Chief Chocophile

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bar of the Week: Pralus' Republique Dominicain

While none of us advocates choosing a chocolate based on packaging alone, the sky blue stripe on the the wrapper says a lot about our bar of the week.  Pralus' Republique Domincain tastes like it comes from the kind of place where the sky and the water would be just that hot shade of blue more days than not.

Made in France from cacao grown in the Dominican Republic, this 75% dark chocolate has a straightforward sweetness, with distinct, clean notes of fresh coconut water; playing off against these lighter flavors is Pralus' distinctive roast, which arrives towards the end.  In terms of texture, it's as smooth as Pralus' bars always are, but perhaps also a little softer.

Swing by on Saturday, February 18th, for a sample of Pralus' Republique Domincain--come rain or shine!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bar of the Week: Madcasse 80%

Most cacao is grown in tropical regions near he equator, but most chocolate is made in more temperate and industrialized areas.  If you look at African cacao that division is especially pronounced:  70% of the world's cacao is grown in Africa, while less that 1% of chocolate is produced there. 

Our bar of the week is a real rarity, one of only a handful of chocolate bars to be manufactured in the same country in which the cacao was grown.  Madecasse was begun by two former Peace Corps volunteers with years of experience living and working in Madagascar.  The company is structured so that more of the profits associated with making chocolate remain in Madagascar for the benefit of local communities.  All of Madecasse's acclaimed plain and inclusion chocolates are made in Madagascar using Madagascan cacao, vanilla, and spices.  

The 80% bar is a pure hit of Madagascan cacao, with only a little added sugar and cocoa butter.  The result is eye-openingly intense and sharply fruity.  Come by on Saturday, February 11th to try some Madecasse 80% and pick up treats for your sweetheart--or yourself.