Friday, August 10, 2018

FOSSA Chocolate, Silkiki Coconut Milk, and Zotter's Dry-Aged 75%: A Chocolate Tasting Round-Up

Summertime is super busy for me, making chocolate and chocolate desserts for the tourists that flock to Manitoulin Island during this season. And because of how much time I spend in my commercial kitchen, I am unable to tell you about all the amazing craft chocolate that I still taste on a weekly basis. But I thought I should etch out a little time this week to give you a round-up before I let these interesting chocolate finds pass into the zone of "um...I think I tasted that once."

So here is what I've been tasting so far this summer...


Solkiki Gran Nativo Coconut Dark Milk 63%, 56g





This was my first time tasting a Solkiki chocolate bar, and I was not disappointed, the coconut flavour was surprisingly subtle (I've tasted many coconut milk bars where the coconut milk flavour was too strong and, well, gross. This was not one of those bars, this was delicious).  The milk chocolate texture was smooth and slightly creamy - not overly creamy, but enough to be quite pleasant. The milk chocolate taste was refreshing and bright, and the bar notes referred to "notes of pina colada". The hint of coconut might contribute to that. Also, the 63% cocoa solids do not make this bar bitter at all, it is still clearly 'milky' in taste, and sweet tasting for a high percentage dark-milk chocolate.

So if you are looking to taste a coconut milk chocolate - or any vegan milk chocolate with no dairy - but are afraid of strong coconut flavours, go ahead and try this one, because it is quite good. And the International Chocolate Awards judges agree, because Solkiki won a 2017 Silver award for this bar.

Solkiki is a British chocolate maker specializing in vegan chocolate. Check this bar out on their website, or buy it online on CocoaRunners: https://cocoarunners.com/shop/solkiki-gran-nativo-63-coconut-dark-mylk/



FOSSA 70% Dark PAK EDDY, Indonesia, 35 g




FOSSA Chocolate, Singapore's first bean-to-bar chocolate maker, seem to be turning up everywhere on Instagram lately, so I was excited to try this bar and enjoy a first taste experience with this chocolate maker. This Indonesian-origin chocolate bar offered a smoky taste with a good, dark chocolate flavour. The flavour was complex and very interesting, with almond, and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. The quality was also good, and no noticeable strange textures. According to the chocolate package, 'PAK EDDY' as the bar is named, stands for 'Uncle Eddy', which is the local term used for the farmer who "personally cultivated, fermented and dried" the beans in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

FOSSA is getting noticed for their interesting flavour combinations, like Salted Egg Cereal (including salted egg yolk, cereal and curry leaves), White Sesame & Seaweed, Sake, and the one that seems to get the most notice: Shrimp & Bonito.

So I definitely look forward to my next FOSSA taste experience. Check them out on Instagram @fossachocolate and online at: https://www.fossachocolate.com/.





Zotter Labooko Vintage 2016 Dry Aged 75%, 70g


Even after reviewing the information provided by Zotter, I am still not sure I understand the "Dry Aged" claim, since both cocoa beans and chocolate need to be dry to age. Their packaging states that the "vintage chocolate" was "dry aged for a year in order to mature the cocoa aroma." However, the website says" a superior cuvée made of dry-aged fine flavour cocoa". So the packaging makes it sound like the chocolate was dry aged, and the website makes it sound like the cocoa beans were dry aged.

Now, if the beans were dry-aged, (which I am going to assume is the case, because chocolate can't really be wet to age unless a chocolate maker wanted to spend some serious money on electricity to keep it in a constant melted state), then I suppose that is different than larger chocolate makers who might use their beans as soon as they get them in. However, many smaller craft chocolate makers use their supply over time (i.e. order beans once per year), or order from a supplier that stores the beans in a warehouse for as long as a year, so I suppose many chocolate makers are dry-aging the chocolate but not labelling it a such, and rather just placing different batch numbers on the chocolate.

This aging process will cause a taste difference from batch to batch, but how much difference is hard to say. I have bars of my own made from aged cocoa beans, and they do taste different from the bars that I saved that were made from beans of the same harvest, but made closer to the harvest date. It is hard to say how much the flavor is influenced by the length of aging of the bars themselves, and how much is influenced by the age of the beans, or a change in cocoa butter, roast profile, etc.

Either way, and no matter how they spin it, this chocolate is truly tasty. It is rich in chocolate flavour, a complex flavour that comes from a blend of five fine flavour cocoa bean varieties grown in four different cocoa-growing countries. It hits different markers of flavour: fruit, nut, cocoa taste, caramel, and a pronounced-yet-balanced acidity that creates a perfect bitterness level for dark chocolate.

I truly enjoyed this chocolate bar. I recommend you give it a try. This year, they plan to release a 2017 Vintage edition, so watch out for that. Learn more on the European Zotter website at: https://www.zotter.at/en/online-shop/brands/labooko/detail/product/75-vintage-2016-dry-aged.html. If you are in the US, you can order online here. or got to: https://www.zotterusa.com/.


***
And that's a 'round-up' for this week folks! I am hoping to find a little time next week to post a recipe or two that I've been working on this summer, so stay tuned...
 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Horizontal chocolate tastings, Mexico-origin chocolate, and Goodnow Farms

According to the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI for short), a "horizontal tasting" is when you taste chocolate made from the "same primary raw material" (ref: Instagram, June 2018). An example would be the tasting event organized by the FCCI and Goodnow Farms in Massachusetts last month, where the event organizers lined up many chocolate bars made from the same coveted Ucayali River Cacao beans in Peru, but all made by different chocolate makers. This allows a taster to see how each chocolate maker has handled the beans, and to taste the different roast profiles, the methods of grinding and refining the chocolate, and the chosen textures of the chocolate to bring out subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) flavour differences from the same beans.

I can rarely conduct a horizontal tasting, because I live in Canada and so far from major city centres where I might get my hands on different brands of chocolate bars made with the same cocoa beans. But I do try to every now and then, particularly when I have been traveling or to chocolate festivals, or through online orders, such as Marou's and Indi Chocolate's Lam Dong origin bars pictured below:



Other times, I buy bars all made with cocoa beans grown in the same country, and I don't worry about whether or not it came from the same farm or co-op (i.e. the Dick Taylor bar pictured above is made from cocoa beans from the Tien Giang region of Vietnam) . This allows me to taste a range of chocolate from all over the country of origin, giving me some idea of the general tastes of the cacao of that country. For instance, all Spring and Summer, I've been tasting cacao (and making chocolate from it) from co-ops and single farms all over Colombia, and there are some consistent flavours: honey and panela flavours, some fruit but not strong, balanced acidity. Other flavours will be prominent one way or the other among samples, but in general these are the common notes I've found.

You can find these types of similarities among cacao of other countries as well: Ecuador often has nuts or floral notes, many Peru bars can have a mild flavour that is balanced, Venezuela with notes of cream, and Madagascar has citrus, red berries and sometimes raisin flavour notes.

But what about Mexico origin chocolate?
With Mexico origin chocolate, however, there has been little available in the craft chocolate industry until recently.  I have been working with some Mexican beans for some time, and I am still figuring out the flavours of these rather strong-tasting citrus-flavoured beans. The beans come from Hacienda Jesus Maria located near the Comalcalco city and the ancient Mayan Comalcalco archaeological site, in the larger region of Tabasco, Mexico. The flavours that I've found after numerous tastings and many batches of chocolate are: citrus, fruit, leather, tree-nuts including hazelnut, and grass or hay.

The owner of the Chocolate Project in Victoria, BC, tasted my Mexico origin chocolate and offered up flavour notes of "green grass, papaya, vegetation and a bit of leather". I personally, find it a very interesting taste combination that keeps you coming back for more out of curiosity, but certainly not something I would upfront introduce to someone with a palate for commercial sweet chocolate and vanilla-flavoured chocolate. It seems to suit the palate of someone who likes savory dishes and a lot of salt or lemon in their food and desserts.

The smell of the beans is quite different than any other cocoa bean that I work with: sharp, acidic, and very nutty. The colour is mixed between white Criollo beans and darker-shaded Trinitario-type beans. The resulting dark chocolate appears like a beautiful shade of milk chocolate, even though no milk is added to the bar, which completely contrasts the dark shades of my other chocolate bars, like my 70% Honduras bar, or the Ucayali Peru bar I occasionally offer on special edition.

So I've been wanting to know how other chocolate makers have treated these beans, and the resulting flavours of their chocolate, but finding others has not been an easy task. So I was super excited when I happened upon Goodnow Farms booth at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, and found their light-shaded 77% dark chocolate bar made from Mexican beans that Goodnow describes as Almendra Blanca or "white almond" cocoa beans, which produce a fantastically light shade of dark chocolate. I could clearly tell the beans were of the same region as mine came from. And in fact, I later learned that we get our beans from the same farm.


The light-shaded chocolate on top is Goodnow Farms'
Mexico 77% dark chocolate bar, the dark-shaded chocolate bar
underneath it is their Ucayali Peru dark chocolate bar. No milk was added to the Mexico bar
and it has a higher percentage of cacao solids, yet it looks like milk chocolate.

The Horizontal Tasting: Two Chocolates, Same Cocoa Farm



When I tasted Goodnow Farms' bar on its own (without my Mexico Organic chocolate bar present in Seattle when I bought Goodnow's), the flavour notes seemed similar - some hay and leather, nuts, and curious bold acidic flavours of citrus. However, when I got this bar home, and again when I bought another one from The Chocolate Project in May, I had the opportunity to taste Goodnow's and mine side-by-side. At first, it was clear that the two bars are made from beans of the same farm. But by directly comparing the two, strong notes of hazelnut shined in the Goodnow Farms' bar. In fact, the hazelnut flavours in Goodnow Farms' bar was so pronounced, that it tasted like hazelnut butter had been added to the chocolate. Whereas mine had a much more upfront citrus punch with a little taste of fruit, and less hazelnut notes, which interestingly had seemed more prominent when tasted alone.

So you see, it was only the direct comparison tasting that truly showed the differences in flavour, which is all in how each chocolate maker has treated the beans, through roasting, refining, conching and aging of the chocolate. Also, there could be some differences if Goodnow's beans came from a different harvest time than mine did. And not to mention that Goodnow makes their bar with 77% cocoa solids, and mine has 70% cocoa, contributing to difference in flavour. They also (impressively) press their own cocoa butter from the same beans.

Interestingly, both Goodnow Farms and Ultimately Chocolate (that's me) make chocolate on actual farms. So perhaps there is a little earthiness, grass and hay in the air that influences the chocolate too :-). 

Something to ponder: Does the environment of the chocolate maker influence the
taste of the chocolate just as much as the terrior of the cocoa growing region?

And truly this 'horizontal tasting' opened my eyes to the amazing differences each chocolate maker can create when using the same beans. Although there can be similarities in the flavour notes, there are distinct and unique differences too that make a 'chocophile' like myself want to delve in and taste chocolate bars from every maker in the world, even when the beans come from the same place. Each maker has their own passion for chocolate, the tastes and flavour profiles, and applies their own unique process, creating something truly unique to their own brand. This is what I love about craft chocolate.

More about Goodnow Farms...
My experience with Goodnow Farms' chocolate has been amazing so far. In addition to the Almendra Blanca Mexico bar, I have tasted their Peru Ucayali chocolate bar, and a few others in Seattle at the Northwest Chocolate Festival last year. The quality is clearly quite good. They have also been winning an abundance of awards, and there was some buzz around their chocolate at the festival, so I was glad to have the opportunity to taste it.



Owner Tom Rogan and his wife Monica quit life in the city to move to Sudbury, MA to start up Goodnow Farms, while raising a young family. Tom sold his television production company (which produced Ace of Cakes, can you believe it?! That happened to be one of my favourite shows of all times, so much so that someone gave me the Ace of Cakes book and there happens to be a bio of Tom in it. So needless to say, I was super excited when I got to speak with him about his growing chocolate business for this blog!), and they dove head-first into making chocolate with direct trade cocoa beans on an 11-acre farm.


I highly recommend that you check out their chocolate. The Ucayali bar is delicious and just as interesting as the Mexico chocolate. They also offer a tasting flight of bars for $16.50 online: the Mexico, Guatamalen and the Nicaragua 77% dark chocolate bars.

You can learn more about Goodnow Farms Chocolate at https://goodnowfarms.com. If you are in Canada, The Chocolate Project in Victoria has a few bars in their stock and can ship by custom order.


Looking for other Mexico Origin Chocolate?



  • The Chocolate Project sent me French chocolate maker Bonnat's newest 65% dark milk bar made from a smoky, bold-tasting Mexican origin cocoa bean. I think I'll need to buy another one before I can write about it (I admit, I ate it too quickly!), but it was very interesting and worth a try, if you can get your hands on one. Check it out on Bonnat's website or visit http://www.chocolateproject.ca/ to find out if they still have some left.

  • Godiva also has a Mexico origin bar, which is sold for $10 CAD at Chapters-Indigo in Canada. It is a bitter 68% dark chocolate, and it has butter oil (perhaps to soften the bitter edges) and "natural flavour" in it, which of course is reminiscent of vanilla. It's not bad when you need a quick dark chocolate fix, but is certainly not as interesting as the other Mexico origin bars that I have written about here.



Happy Chocolate Tasting everyone!

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.