Thursday, October 1, 2015

Askinosie Chocolate Factory: A Tour and Taste Sensation in Springfield, Missouri

Just over a week ago, I visited the Askinosie Chocolate Factory in Springfield, Missouri. Super-friendly Sarah gave me a tour of the craft chocolate factory that was both inspiring and mouth-watering. She not only told me about Askinosie's artisan chocolate-making process, but also the company's beautiful mission to be socially responsible both at home and abroad.

What I learned was that Askinosie not only makes great chocolate, but also that they ensure social and environmental responsibility is included in every aspect of their chocolate making. This is just some of what they do:

  • The wrappers are environmentally friendly and fastened with strings re-used from the burlap sacks that the cocoa beans are delivered in.

  • Local and American partners are used to provide any chocolate inclusions that are needed for their 'collaboration' chocolate product line, giving this company (who requires international trade as part of business) to also be locally focused.

  • Focusing on direct trade with the farmers who grow the cacao that is used to make Askinosie's chocolate.  They also bring this focus to the customers, by placing a picture of the farmers directly on the label of Askinosie's origin chocolate bars. By visiting the farms and paying farmers directly, more money goes to the farm and the workers, so they are not working and living in poverty as many cacao farmers across the world are doing.

  • Affecting communities and schools in both their own city (Springfield) and the villages where they buy cocoa beans. Chocolate University is an Askinosie program that annually takes groups of kids from local Missouri schools on a trip to Tanzania to learn about the business of chocolate making, and to understand how local artisan businesses can help solve world problems. The program also funds projects in the local Tanzanian village where they visit, such as a deep water well and a Sustainable Lunch Program at a local secondary school.

  • Using goat's milk in their milk chocolate bars so that people with cow's milk allergies and insensitivities can enjoy their chocolate (let's face it, this is also benefitting us foodies who love a great adventure for the palate, and for a little wine and chocolate pairing fun).

Askinosie also does so much more.  You can read about other programs on their 'Product of Change' web page: https://askinosie.com/learn/a-product-of-change.html.


Touring the Chocolate Factory

As for the factory tour, it was fun.  Being an 'artisan' chocolate factory, it is not a long process to tour the facility, but still informative and eye opening. I was curious about how much equipment is needed for Askinosie, given that in the last month they started selling a custom product line at select Target stores in the U.S., and their artisan chocolate bars are sold to chocophiles all across the U.S. and Canada in specialty shops. The refiner was quite large, and the melangueur was gorgeous.

Askinosie Chocolate Refiner, in which most of the dark chocolate is made!
Shame I couldn't have brought a pail of my own to fill from its massive tap.



Goat's milk white chocolate is churning away in this large sized stone grinder.
That's a lot of chocolate!

The product on the shelves in the wrapping room seemed to reach epic proportions.  I was also quite impressed that Askinosie has its own press to make cocoa butter and powder (cocoa beans are pressed to extract the fat, 'cocoa butter' and the remainder can be used to make cocoa powder). This is a rare activity for craft chocolate makers, but it is worth while because Askinosie can truly make 'single origin' chocolate by using cocoa butter from the same cocoa beans used to make the rest of the chocolate bar.

Askinosie is one of the few artisan chocolate makers who presses their own cocoa butter.
This is where the magic happens.


Overall, it was a fun tour and definitely worth the drive to Springfield, Missouri. The town was also amazing (I could easily live there), and they even had an organized 'wine walk' through the entire downtown area on Thursday night, where wine lovers could pay $45 for a glass and participation in countless wine offerings at various local businesses (Yup, I could definitely live there). We also stayed at the University Plaza Hotel Convention Center in downtown Springfield, which was beautiful, with a very unique layout and a cool social lounge setting in the center of the hotel. It was also walking distance to the local restaurants and pubs.

Enough About the Tour and Social Responsibility, What About The Taste?
As for the taste of Askinosie's chocolate, I can tell you it is fantastic.  Not only is the owner, Shawn Askinosie, famous in the fine chocolate industry for making a quality product, but also for Askinosie's interesting chocolate flavour combinations. I think I have now have tasted all of their products, from the past limited edition chocolate bars to the current chocolate offerings at the factory (I purchased so much chocolate that I broke my chocolate budget for the month - or three - but it was worth it).  And I can tell you from experience that it consistently exceeds expectations.

Most of Askinosie's chocolate is dark, and certainly with a bitterness that appeals to dark chocolate lovers, but also they make a few white chocolate bars, and some collaboration bars with a little more sweetness. Here are my tasting notes on some of my favourite Askinosie chocolate bars:


The 4-Bar Box:
You can purchase Askinosie's line-up of single origin chocolate bars separately, or in a lovely gift pack of four chocolate bars that saves you some money.

The entire series of chocolate bars had complex layers of flavour, with bold roast and bitter tones that were thoroughly enjoyable for the dark chocolate fanatic. I found the acidity to be low in each of the dark origins. Here is a detailed report on each:

Tanzania Origin Chocolate by Askinosie: 72% Dark Chocolate
This chocolate bar was creamier in texture than the other two origins, and to me, had and an instant bitter flavour reminiscent of tobacco smoke, spice and dark roast coffee before it opens up to a berry fruit flavour and perhaps dried cranberries. Also, maybe a hint of dried grass. It is my favourite.

Ecuador Origin Chocolate by Askinosie: 70% Dark Chocolate
This Ecuadorian chocolate is made with Arriba Nacional cocoa beans. It is both bitter and sweet (like honey), with a smoky, earthy flavour and perhaps some nuttiness. I taste no fruit in this chocolate, particularly compared to the other two fruity origins I was tasting it against, but the package says you 'might' taste red fruit. Also, a dark roast flavour is evident, leaving a bitter and wonderful smoke flavour that lingers.

Honduras Origin Chocolate, Askinosie 70% Dark Chocolate
The Honduras chocolate bar has a snappier, stiffer texture, which is instantly noticeable on the palate. It is fruity, with a sweet-and-bitter cocoa taste highlighted by some roast flavours. As for the fruit, it's slightly citrus acidic, but also has red grape and other fruit undertones.

Davao, Philippines 62% Dark Milk Chocolate + Fleur de Sel (Goat's milk chocolate)
This is somewhat acidic, lightly salty, and has the taste of soft goat cheese, not as strong as in the white chocolate, but still very apparent. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes not. It depends on my taste buds at the time. It tastes great with red wine.

CollaBARation Series of Chocolate Bars:

The CollaBARation product line by Askinosie has the most interesting chocolate bar names on the planet.  The flavour combinations are just as intereting.  Here are some of my favourites...

Malted Milky Dark Chocolate... partner with
Jeni`s Splendid Ice Creams
The only milk chocolate made by Askinosie with cow's milk - tart and, well, malted. This falls on the darker side of dark-milk chocolate. It is quite bold, bitter and intense, with a delicious melt-in-your-mouth after-taste. I truly enjoyed it.


'The breathless Mexican sun, vanilla pods echoing in crisp chocolate depths, sings "el rustic!"' - did you get all that? This one is a collaboration with Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan for some of his 'carefully curated' vanilla.  Morsels of vanilla beans are sprinkled on the chocolate bar, adding a chewy, tasty texture to the chocolate, in addition to a crunchy, minimally processed texture. Truly a unique take on a vanilla bean chocolate bar.

Same Home Same Place Chocolate, Chocolate. Coffee.  A Quiet Balance, the Perfect Texture.
This dark and bitter chocolate has the bold and strong taste of coffee thanks to a partnership with Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, and their direct trade coffee.  It is rich, bitter and delicious. If you like dark chocolate (and coffee!), you will like this chocolate bar!

Askinosie has many other flavours of chocolate bars.  They also sell drinking chocolate (hot chocolate mix), and a delicious dark chocolate hazelnut spread.  For more information on Askinosie and their chocolate factory, products, tours and business activities, visit: www.askinosie.com.

For more information about chocolate in Missouri, visit my recent post: http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2015/09/chocolate-in-missouri-road-trip-for.html.

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