Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Finca la Rioja Mexico: A fantastic two-harvest dual pack of bars by Chocolate Naive

A month or two ago, I ordered some chocolate from one of my favourite online retailers: The Chocolate Project in Victoria, British Colombia. I was ordering some Goodnow Farms chocolate and discovered they had the new Mexico-origin Bonnat dark-milk 65% bar. That started an email conversation with Stephanie, a chocolate connoisseur and a fellow chocolate maker who works at The Chocolate Project, about other Mexico-origin bars that they carry. She put a package together for my order, and I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it and found the Chocolate Naïve duo pack of Mexico origin chocolate bars.


The cacao used to make the chocolate in both bars is from the same small farm in Coahoatian, Chiapas, Mexico called Finca la Rioja. But each bar was made from cacao of a different harvest time.



Why is the time of harvest so important?
The climate at different times of the year can affect the flavour of the cacao. As we commonly know, warm countries where cacao grows (within 20 degrees of the equator), tend to have wet and rainy seasons and dry seasons, and these changes can affect the harvest.  And although the flavours are very similar in the cacao, there are subtle differences that can offer the taster a unique experience with each bar.

 
Have you ever noticed a flavour change with a change of harvest in other chocolate bars? I have had this opportunity in chocolate tasting when I received a wonderful lesson from Fresco Chocolate once on harvest, by way of the Peru Maranon cocoa beans. Also, I've noticed that the most recent Dick Taylor Madagascar bar that I purchased tasted more of tangy raisin than the fresh red berry flavour that I recall tasting when I first bought it several years ago. You see this with cocoa beans when making chocolate, but opportunities for the average chocolate consumer to taste the flavour of chocolate made from different harvests is rare. Perhaps a dedicated chocolate connoisseur could devote a cupboard to buying and saving chocolate bars from the same craft chocolate maker over different years, but who has the time and patience (and self control with eating that chocolate!) to do that?

So Naïve owner and chocolate maker Domantas Uzpalis has given us this experience in one single chocolate package. And I think this is a fantastic idea.


So how did this Mexico-origin chocolate taste anyway?
Both chocolates had that citrus tang that my own Mexico origin chocolate has, and that wonderful milky colour (even though it was dark chocolate with no milk in it) of Mexican white Criollo cacao mixed in. The flavours, however, were sweeter and calmer, with perhaps some more conching* to calm them down, or the specific farm and fermentation methods applied created a sweet and more delicate profile. Certainly terrior played a role, since the Finca la Rioja plantation chocolate did not contain all the hazelnut notes and leather that my chocolate and Goodnow Farms chocolate (both from the Tobasco region of Mexico) contain.


The package offered a wonderful tasting chart inserted inside it. Overall, the tasting notes really hit the nail on the head. Hay, cream and citrus were common flavour notes in each bar, however Harvest #1 offered more citric acid and coffee flavours, whereas Harvest #2 offered roiboos flavour notes. I found #2 to be much sweeter than #1, and low and behold, there were also some charts below the flavour notes that I had not noticed until I sat down to write this post, showing that Naive also found less bitterness in #2.


I loved all the charts and notes put into this package.  Although it is trendy to place NO flavour notes on packaging these days, there are some bars where extra information is welcome, especially in such an innovative package as this. It truly offers the taster an amazing learning opportunity. The only downside was that the harvest dates were not printed or indicated on the package anywhere, nor was the % of cacao in the chocolate. It was about a 70% dark chocolate, although could have fallen just below perhaps to a 67% or up to a 72% dark chocolate (this is my best tasting guess :-) ).

Should you buy this chocolate?
I encourage you to try this chocolate, if you can get your hands on it. Be warned: this is a Naive 'Nano Lot', which means it may be made just once and then never offered again. However, I hope this post will hint to Naïve to create more Nano Lots of chocolate just like this one, making two bars of chocolate from different harvests in one package.

I bought this at www.chocolateproject.ca/. You can also find out more about Naïve on the chocolate maker's webste at: www.chocolatenaive.com

*conching refers to a process of heating, aerating, and cooling the chocolate while it is in constant motion over a period of time (sometimes up to 72 hours). This was invented by Rudolph Lindt...a long time ago.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I made five batches of chocolate with different percentages of cocoa solids from Ucayali River Cacao, and here is what I found...

There is one single origin cacao that has suddenly popped up everywhere during the last year: Ucayali River Cacao, coming from the Amazon, near Pucallpa, Peru. Chocolate makers are launching Ucayali origin bars at rapid speed, most staying within the 70% dark chocolate range, with just a few others venturing out beyond 70% cocoa solids.  Last year, only a small handful of makers were producing Ucayali bars, including Sirene Chocolate (called the Tingo Maria bar) and Letterpress (Ucayali 70%), both winning international awards for their bars.


See all those award stickers?
This origin - and the chocolate maker - is a winner!
Then this year, a slew of chocolate makers won Academy of Chocolate (AoC) awards in the 2018 competition, including Daniel Haran, owner of Chocolat Monarque in Montreal, who just won an Academy of Chocolate Gold for his 80% Ucayali bar.  Goodnow Farms won an AoC Silver medal for its 70% Ucayali bar, Coco Chocolate Company of Kingston, Ontario and Letterpress of California won 2018 AoC Bronze for their 70% Ucayali bars, as did Lemuel Chocolate, and I can't even keep track of all the other Ucayali River Cacao wins. I did not submit any of my Ucayali dark chocolate bar experiments, because they are not a part of my product line-up, but seeing the list of winners, I wished I had because the flavour of the beans stand out above many other cocoa bean origins.

Why are these cocoa beans so darn good?
Although regional factors affect the flavour, Ucayali River Cacao (URC) is an organization that lets the farmers do their farming thing, and URC takes care of the rest, so the cacao is treated with the same high quality fermentation and drying techniques across the board. A consistent product is produced from a naturally inconsistent bean.

URC works to produce the best cacao by picking up the wet beans from farmers in the region every 15 days, then centrally processing it for a consistent flavour and streamlined process. How does this help? Well, if each farmer were to try to ferment their own beans, the results could be less flavourful, because many small farmers do not have enough beans to fill a fermentation bin at once, and therefore optimal temperatures can not be reached during fermentation for a good flavour profile. In addition, fermentation and drying are additional skills the farmer must learn, which reduces their time to concentrate on producing good cacao on the farm and increasing production. URC solves this problem for farmers. They also pay farmers a price higher than market value to encourage future efforts in farming.

Experimenting with the beans...
I bought a few 5kg bags of Ucayali River Cacao between last Fall and this winter, and spent months experimenting. The smell upon opening the bags was that of pure cacao heaven. Each raw cocoa bean has its own aroma when you open the bags, and the Ucayali River Cacao had a wonderful aroma unlike any I have smelled before. I had to stop myself from entirely immerging my head in the bag to get a long, wonderful whiff.

The beans were beautiful, and nearly no strange bits in them. They were easy to sort and lovely to work with. Having heard of the amazing flavours of this cacao, and based on the appearance, a simple cut test and the smell, I decided to apply a very light roast to all the beans. I really wanted the bean flavours to shine through from my first experiments.


I made a 70% dark chocolate immediately, and added a solid amount of cocoa butter just to ensure I made the same recipe as a few other experimental origin chocolate bars that I had on hand, in order to get a good origin taste comparison. As chocolate makers, we all have our own 'cocoa butter philosophy' and I like the original French-style creamy mouth-feel for a 70% chocolate bar (although my philosophy on cocoa butter is dependent on the cocoa bean itself - after experimenting, if an exceptional bean shines, I usually try a second batch with no or less cocoa butter to feature more of the bean favours).  In this 70% bar, where I applied a light roast, the fruity flavours were quite noticeable, with a lemon tang and strong cocoa notes, and some woody undertones. At 70% cocoa solids, it was certainly packed with a flavour punch.

I then made a 100% with no cocoa butter added, just the beans refined for 2 days in the stone melangeur.  It was a beautiful unsweetened chocolate, with mild flavours of fruit (cherry and perhaps tangerine), strong woody notes, and some bold - yet not overpowering - acidity. The flavour reminded me of a rustic wood cabin on a sunny day.

I followed that with a batch of 85% Ucayali dark chocolate with 5% cocoa butter, and immediately followed that with a 90% Ucayali dark chocolate with 10% cocoa butter. My reasoning was that a bean with a lot of acidity might need a little more cocoa butter at a high percentage in order to calm down the acidity a bit, and give the taster a more enjoyable experience with less sugar. As many regular chocolate tasters reduce sugar from their diets, and turn to 90% and above dark chocolate, it can be difficult to find bars that are not so extreme and bitter in flavour. I wondered if the Ucayali could be a good option at a high percentage for someone new to bitter chocolate.

So if you've been following closely...
...you'll know that both the 85% and the 90% dark chocolate bars contained 80% beans, but simply contained varying amounts of cocoa butter and sugar. And I tell you, I was surprised by how different they turned out in favour!

The 90% was elegant, mild in flavour, creamy in texture and overall had that delicate feel of a Porcelana or Soma's CSB Chama bar, but with some after taste of fruit flavours and woody notes. The added cocoa butter really softened the edges, giving the chocolate a palatability of something a little sweeter than the average 90% bar. However, it was less interesting than the 85%, which offered a bold fruitiness and strong notes of citrus acidity that hit the palate upfront, with mild cedar and wood notes also rounding out the flavour. 



The 100% dark chocolate bar was a good solid-tasting unsweetened bar, which could have stood up to some of the best 100% dark bars on the market, BUT also oddly less interesting than the 85% and 90% bars. What I learned from the 100% was that the Ucayali River cocoa beans really shine when a little sugar is added to highlight the flavour. As chocolate makers, we are continually pushing the limits, but we must remember that sugar has always been used as a way to highlight cocoa bean flavours, and not be afraid to use a little more if it enhances the experience of the chocolate by the greatest number of people.


Finally I made a milk chocolate bar....
I also decided to make a 68% dark-milk chocolate bar, which had only 13% sugar in it. I figured it would highlight the flavours of the bean, while introducing a nice melt-in-your-mouth feature to the chocolate. The result was a very delicate, creamy milk chocolate, with not a strong 'terrior' flavour of the cocoa bean. The delicate nature of it was quite nice, and could be addictive, but I wondered if a 50 to 60%, light on the cocoa butter and strong on the beans, might have been a better composition.

This 68% Ucayali milk chocolate bar was more dark than milk,
but with a delicate creamy mouthfeel and taste.

So what did I learn...
I learned that a little sugar goes a long way when it comes to some beans. These beans are truly flavourful because they have been treated just right, and they taste great on their own, and made into a very dark and unsweetened chocolate, but their flavours truly shine when a little sugar is added, about 15% to 30%. With that, the chocolate comes alive and really begins to tell its story.


Find Ucayali origin chocolate bars and beans near you...
You can find Ucayali River Cacao origin chocolate bars all throughout North America now, so just check the website of the producers for a chocolate maker in your area, at: https://ucayalirivercacao.wordpress.com/

Check out an event by the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) taking place in Canton, MA on June 19th: https://www.instagram.com/p/BjYAoD8DQLG/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=tog4eodt36we You can taste Goodnow Farms Ucayali chocolate bar, and other makers' Ucayali bars, along with beer pairings, and meet the maker of Goodnow Farms.


Learn more about the Ucayali River in Peru at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ucayali_River and this wonderful region that grows some of the best cacao in the world.

Buy the beans from Juan Gonzalez from the Mexican Arabica Bean Company in Toronto: https://www.mabco.ca/.

The Ucayali beans...roasted.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Best Chocolate Croissants in Toronto : Pain au Chocolat at Goûter


Last weekend I attended the eGullet Chocolate and Confectioner Workshop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where confectioners and wanna-be chocolatiers gathered for a weekend of learning, improving their chocolatiering skills and bettering their bellies (I mean literally, we ate a tonne of chocolate!).


While at the workshop, one of the key presenters and 'teachers' was Rodney Alléguède, who is a chef and the owner of Goûter, a Patisserie, Boulangerie and Chocolaterie in Toronto.  All the attendees of the workshop agreed, after three full days of 'hard work' tasting Rodney's pastries, that he makes some of the best pastries we had ever tasted. For me it was all about the flaky chocolate croissant, or 'pain au chocolat' as it is properly called in France, where Rodney is from. Although I make a less flaky version at home (to keep the mess at a minimum), I love a good flaky chocolate croissant, with a crisp outer edge yet soft on the inside.






During the year that I lived in France, the word 'Goûter' was probably the most fascinating word to me. The French never walked around eating food in public, the way we might see us North Americans eating breakfast on the subway or on our way to work. But for some reason, the 4 p.m. snack time, goûter, as it is called, was the only time they seemed to be okay with eating outside and on their way home. Every day I would see French folks eating a Pain au Chocolat on the streets of Rennes, the city where I attended school. And every day it would inspire me to try a new chocolate croissant from a different shop, perhaps in hopes of becoming a croissant connoisseur one day, or just in increasing my waste line (you can imagine which goal I reached first that year). So Rodney`s Pain au Chocolat really brought me back to that time.



Blurry pastry selfie - it is blurry because I accidentally
rubbed too much butter from the croissants on my
phone`s camera lens. :-)
 
The other croissant by Rodney that truly dazzled was the raspberry one (sorry, no chocolate here). It was full of rich raspberry puree or fresh jam, had a gorgeous colour and probably was the most delicious pastry I had ever tasted.




Goûter is also making a Nutella croissant, which I hear is delicious. So if you are in Toronto, you NEED to get over to Rodney`s shop to try it. Plus he has delicious gelato, chocolates and confections, and other amazing pastries and breads, so go NOW! You`ll find Gouter at:
3507 Bathhurst St., Toronto
Instagram: @gouterbyra
Website: www.gouter.ca

I took a pic of these delicious confections
recently at Gouter in Toronto. Don`t they look amazing?
They tasted even better than they looked.
 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Packaging Chocolate Bars: The How-To and See MY New Packages!

Announcing....Ultimately Chocolate's brand new look!  That's right folks, we just launched new packaging. It feels like a real achievement since I took so darn long to work on it. Although we have launched retail-style packaging - with nutrition labels - before for my chocolate TOFFLE, this bean to bar chocolate packaging has the works, including bar codes.


I wanted to make sure we did everything right the first time. So admittedly I was a little slow working on this project. The design team that I worked with (Signature Group, Sudbury) was patient though and very good, and finally, I have just received all the new packages and they are amazing!

So what's the process to designing chocolate bar packages?

1. Hire a design team.

2. Work with the design team to come up with a concept (do you want something that goes with the industry norm or something completely different than everyone else?  What materials do you want to use: clear packaging, boxes with windows, bags with windows, printed boxes, wrapping-paper?)

 
3. Buy the barcodes and the GS1 Subscription, then go to a different site and pay for the graphics for the bar codes (that's right, buying the bar codes doesn't mean you get the actual 'bars', just the codes. You need to pay twice to get the full 'bar code'. They come in packs of 10 generally from GS1.org (in Canada it is http://www.gs1ca.org/pages/n/subscription/index.asp).  I went to Nationwide Barcode for my graphics: https://www.nationwidebarcode.com/other-services/purchase-barcode-graphics/.

4. Gather and decide on your information, marketing style, and how you want to describe your products, company mission, etc.

5. Calculate your nutrition label or send your products off to a lab to get tested (the kind of lab that sends you back a nice graphic of the nutrition label is the best-yet-most-expensive way).


6. Get all your info translated to French (we must do this in Canada) with a professional translator or really smart French friends, and a group of friendly French-speaking proof-readers.


7. Send all the info to the designers. Let them do their magic and try not to get in the way of their artistry. Designers became designers because they are artistic and have a good eye, so be sure to listen to their ideas.

8. Source a printing company. I used a custom box company out of the Toronto area. Soopak offers great pricing when you buy in bulk. It is less economical if you want less than 1,000 packages though.

9. Proof-read, check it over and proof read again. Check the designers final files, then get a mock-up made from the printing company (which sometimes costs you), then get a team of people you know to check it all over again. 

10. Place your order. It generally takes three weeks for your packages to arrive once you've paid and given final approval.  Uline.ca has the little clear round sticky labels to seal your boxes or packaging, to ensure your customers that no one has tampered with the product.

That was my process. Yours may be the same or it may vary, depending on your team or ideas about packaging.

As for now, if you want to buy my new products, neatly in their packaging, you can e-mail me at info @ ultimatelychocolate.com, or visit My Mother's Place (gift & artisan food shop) in Sudbury, several Manitoulin Island retailers (including Loco Beanz in Little Current, Loco Beanz in Gore Bay, and Huron Island Time in Providence Bay) and at JoJo CoCo in Ottawa on Terry Fox Drive. Stay tuned for more retailer near you!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Selmi Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Making Equipment at Tomric Systems in Buffalo

Last week I enjoyed the most amazing chocolate maker's experience: I visited Tomric Systems in Buffalo, New York. Tomric is North America's only distributor of the Italian brand Selmi, which is a line-up of equipment for bean-to-bar chocolate-making.

 
As my business grows, I have been looking at the next steps in chocolate making, and I spent the day working with the Selmi equipment to see just how good it is at stepping up production capacity, while keeping in line with craft chocolate making.  Every piece of equipment worked perfectly together to achieve that goal, from roasting, to cracking and winnowing the cocoa beans, to pre-grinding. After grinding the beans, the Selmi ball mill refines the chocolate until it is smooth in less than 2 hours, then the conching begins - either with the continuous tempering machine or a separate conche, which Selmi has developed and is soon on its way to Tomric. At the end of it all, tempering and moulding chocolate bars is fantastically easy with the continuous tempering machine, enabling moulding between 60 and 120 bars per hour by hand.
 
The Selmi Roaster with  5kg of cocoa beans ready to roast.

The Selmi roaster roasts 6 kilos of chocolate at a time, with the ability to set your personal settings for each type of bean you work with: a light roast for that full-flavoured coveted bean and a dark roast for that bean that needs a fuller roast profile.


 
 
The Selmi Winnower.
 The Selmi winnower both cracks the beans and separates the husks from the bean pieces (nibs). It processes about 6 kilos in 10-15 minutes, quickly and efficiently. You can adjust the size of the pieces depending on the origin of the cocoa beans, since not all beans are the same. We needed to adjust the winnower one way for my Honduras beans and another quick adjustment worked great on my Mexico beans (which have stickier, heavier shells).
 
This is me. Watching the cocoa-grinding action.
 
The Selmi Grinder quickly pulverizes the cocoa nibs to a rough (gritty but wet) chocolate liquor. This liquor is then moved to the ball refiner where sugar and cocoa butter are added to make a dark chocolate, and milk and other ingredients like sunflower lecithin (if using) are added to make milk chocolate.

The Selmi Micron Ball Refiner uses small stainless steel balls to pulverize the chocolate.
A ball refiner does the same work as a stone grinder, only in less time. Although it does not aerate the chocolate the way a stone refiner does, the chocolate is then moved to the tempering machine or a conche to aerate and agitate it to remove any unwanted flavours.



The Selmi Ball Refiner (also called Ball Mill).


The chocolate then drains out of a spout from the ball refiner and goes immediately into the Selmi Virbo, which vibrates the chocolate through a sifter to remove the hard cocoa bean germ (it is like a little hard stem inside one end of the cocoa bean) and any husks that were remaining in the chocolate. This adds a consistent mouthfeel to the chocolate. It is surprising at how much grit the Vibro removes from the chocolate at this stage.
 
The Selmi Micron Ball Refiner drains from a spout into the Semi Vibro.
 
The Vibro collects and sifts any cocoa bean germ and
other gritty bits that might still be in the chocolate.
The Selmi Continuous Tempering Machine
The chocolate then moves to a Conche or to the Continuous tempering machine for overnight conching or immediate tempering (if you've chosen not to conche). Tempering is the most important part of the chocolate making process - without it the chocolate would not only be dull looking, but also streaked with white lines of cocoa butter and sugar bloom, and it would not hold together well. The continuous tempering machine does the work of hours and hours of hand-stirring, tempering over marble or ice. The tanks at Tomric fit 20kg, but Selmi makes machines that also fit 60kg.

Moulding chocolate bars is an easy task with this piece of equipment, and in order to do large quantities of chocolate bars, it is a must-have.  It not only can melt the chocolate, but then temper it, and keep it in a steady temper (if you treat the machine well). By hand and bowl method, with all the melting and tempering, I can currently mould 40 chocolate bars over the course of a morning. With a Selmi, I could more than quadruple that number in the same time-frame. Potentially I can mould over 800 chocolate bars a day.

Overall, this experience at Tomric Systems in Buffalo was amazing. I could truly see and compare where I am today, and where I can potentially get to with a line--up of great equipment with the Selmi brand. Also, Tomric provides all the support and services a chocolate maker needs to use any piece of equipment, whether they buy the whole line-up or just a piece at a time as they grow.

If you are looking to step up your bean-to-bar chocolate production, check out Tomric Systems and the Selmi line-up of equipment at: http://tomric.com/bean-to-bar/. They also have the moulds you need to make chocolate bars and every other kind of chocolate you could imagine. Follow them on Social Media (@TomricSystems) for more information on what they supply.


Chocolate in Buffalo
 
Also, Buffalo was a great city to visit. It had wonderful restaurants, and a variety of foods from around the world. And it also had The Chocolate Bar, which was a fun place to go for music, chocolate, dessert and wine. I enjoyed a chocolate mousse cake that was also part-crème-brulee, with the sugar topping fired up at my table.



The Chocolate Bar offered a wine flight with squares of dark chocolate.

The Chocolate Bar's chocolate mousse cake, with a Crème Brulee centre.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

No Cane Sugar Chocolate Treats by Heavenly Organics; Taste the Sweet Honey in 100% Dark Chocolate

Are you in love with the taste of honey? Have you excluded cane sugar from your diet? If you said 'yes!' to both of those questions, then I have found the perfect chocolate treat for you.  I was shopping at The Island Jar, a local favourite health food store here on Manitoulin Island, and noticed some new little packaged treats: Heavenly Organics chocolate honey patties. They came in three flavours: Double Dark, Ginger chocolate honey pattie, and Peanut (ahem, it's peanut butter flavour even if the package does not describe it that way).



And if you have been reading my blog regularly, you'll know that in the winter months, I try out all sorts of unsweetened, 100% and cane-sugar-free chocolate to tell you about here. Since it is still winter here on Manitoulin Island, with a wake-up call of -14ºC this morning, then I can still tell you about these fantastic no-sugar chocolate finds.

The Double Dark is my favourite, with just two ingredients: 100% dark chocolate and raw white honey. It has a mildly sweet centre of creamy (although not liquidy, more like a ganache texture) honey which is dipped in a very thin coating of 100% dark chocolate. Normally 100% dark chocolate can be off-putting, and nearly too bitter to palate for most people, but in this case, the honey and bitter chocolate combine in your mouth for the perfect combination. Only the after taste leaves a little bitterness, mixed with honey. It really is a perfect combination for a dark chocolate lover like myself, and for anyone who is trying to stay away from cane sugar, or overindulging in sweet treats. Even my six-year old son loves them, and hasn't seemed to notice they are made with unsweetened chocolate (although he likes dark chocolate, up to about 85% dark, so this wasn't surprising).



The peanut pattie was less sweet than the Double Dark, but if you eat natural peanut butter, this will be like breakfast for you. The peanuts and honey were mixed together with a touch of Himalayan sea salt for the pattie in the centre, and again this pattie was enrobed in 100% dark chocolate. I see this as more of a low-carb (no-grain) snack and afternoon healthy pick-me-up.  This one won't appeal to a child, since it lacks both the creaminess and sweetness of the Double Dark treat, but it may satisfy your mid-day craving for protein and dark chocolate. It tastes great with a coffee.

 
The Ginger chocolate honey pattie was not my favourite at first, but it has really grown on me over time. The ginger taste is not over-powering, mild in fact, but the flavour is there. The honey centre is creamy and the after taste of 100% dark chocolate is very nice. I recommend trying this one too.



The brand, Heavenly Organics, can be found online at: https://heavenlyorganics.com/, where you can learn all about the company founder, Amit Houda.  The patties are available in Canada on Well.ca in three-packs for only $2.49 Canadian, or in larger bags of about 12 for $8.99. They are made from certified organic honey and organic chocolate, fair trade certified and gluten free. Also, you will find only 50-60 calories per pattie, so you can indulge guilt free.

You can purchase cases of the larger bags or individually wrapped patties on the Heavenly Organics page on Amazon.ca. And for more information or wholesale information, you can contact Fairfield Organics, LLC from Keota, Iowa at INFO@HEAVENLYORGANICS.COM.

And if you are reading this from Manitoulin Island, you can find these treats at The Island Jar at 15 Water Street in Little Current, Ontario.

Happy Healthy Chocolate Tr-eating!


***
I have not been paid or compensated (or even provided with information from any company) to write this blog post. These are my own opinions and I liked this product so much that I did my own research.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The #1 Reason to Visit Almonte, Ontario

My family visited the Hummingbird Chocolate Factory in Almonte, Ontario a few weeks ago. We were on our way to Ottawa for a few days, and I'd been wanting to get to Hummingbird since they started making chocolate several years back. Their Dominican Republic origin chocolate bar - the 'Hispaniola' bar - made with the coveted 'La Red' cocoa bean, was (and still is) a favourite of mine back when I wrote about it in 2012, and since then, it has won several awards, including the Golden Bean Award from the Academy of Chocolate.



The little company began with chocolate-making couple Erica and Drew and has grown into a full, yet still quaint-sized factory in Almonte with over 10 people working there. The cute little store-front rests in the newest shopping and entertainment district of Almonte, tucked in close to a fabulous craft brewery and an amazing coffee roaster & its eat-in café. So for my family, we were able to enjoy a Saturday morning full of food and drink, starting with Hummingbird's factory tour and chocolate-tasting in the store front, then a quick pick-up of Crooked Mile craft beer, and a rather enjoyable lunch at Equator Coffee Roasters.

Hummingbird's quaint storefront offers not only their chocolate bars,
but gift packages, confections and seasonal treats.


During the tour, we learned that Erica and Drew have maintained the 'craft' part of chocolate making, by using a hands-on and hand-made approach. There are no wrapping machines, moulding machines or even new-age stainless steel winnowers on site. Nope, the original winnower which removes the husks from cocoa beans, is still standing in the factory and used regularly. Drew built it in the company's humble beginnings, with a few shop vacs, wood and some Plexiglas. I have a smaller version of this for my little workshop, so it was nice to see a chocolate maker who has built up a successful Canadian brand still using a homemade classic. And along with that, a team of people were buzzing around the space, doing the bar moulding, wrapping, and all the other work that comes with craft chocolate making.


This little tour was not about tasting chocolate (you can do that in the storefront), it was more about learning where the chocolate comes from, how it is made and the process Hummingbird goes through to make their craft chocolate. It only cost $5 per person and was fairly short and sweet (just long enough to get all the information, and just short enough so the children didn't lose interest and start some chaos in the factory).  The kids had fun putting on hair nets and seeing their parents in the same silly get-up. And for my kids, who have watched chocolate making on a small scale, they were excited about the size of the equipment, the fact that the winnower looked like a giant version of the one their grandpa built, and the sheer volume of cocoa beans that were piled up in bags in one corner. They were also excited to taste cocoa beans.



As for the goodies that we purchased in the store, there were some old favourites, like the 70% Hispaniola bar and its darker 85% version, and my new favourite, the Cap-Haitien, made from very fruity cocoa beans from Haiti. The Honduras 'Copan' bar is also a relatively new addition to Hummingbird's line, made from caramelly-flavourful cocoa beans that I am very familiar with, since I also make a few different chocolate bars from those beans.



Hummingbird also recently introduced a 60% dark-milk chocolate to the mix, which made my milk-chocolate-loving daughter very happy.




All in all, it was wonderful to see how Erica and Drew have grown their business over the last six years, from those first bars they sent me back in 2012, to the award-winning range of chocolate they now have available in FarmBoy stores across the Ottawa region, and many other retail locations worldwide.


Aging chocolate on the shelves inside Hummingbird's chocolate factory.
Chocolate moulds awaiting washing at Hummingbird Chocolate factory.


If you would like to see the factory, check Hummingbird's website at www.hummingbirdchocolate.com to book your tickets and a time, as well as find out where you can buy their delicious chocolate.