Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in Utah: Where some of the best craft chocolate in the world is made!

I recently received a wonderful package of chocolate made from bean-to-bar in Utah.  Some will say that Utah is perhaps the state that started the bean-to-bar craft chocolate-making trend, thanks to Art Pollard and his award-winning Amano brand of chocolate.  Others will argue it began in Missouri, or perhaps California.  But there is no denying that Utah is certainly a craft chocolate destination these days, with at least seven craft chocolate makers roasting up some cacao and delicately turning that cacao into fine chocolate.

Here are a few of Utah's bean-to-bar chocolate's that I have had the privilege of tasting over the last few months:

Amano "Artisan Chocolate" (Orem, UT)

I have tasted some of Amano Chocolate's earlier chocolate bars, and the quality was always good. It is widely known that Art Pollard, Amano's founder and chocolate maker, has been at the forefront of America's bean-to-bar craft chocolate industry with a select few others.  He has a passion for chocolate and for buying fine cacao direct from farmers, both of which show consistently in the quality of his origin chocolate bars. I was reminded of this when I tasted Amano's Papua New Guinea origin chocolate, called Morobe 70%, last week. It had a luxurious texture from a great balance of cocoa butter-to-beans ratio.

Amano has launched a new flavoured line of chocolate bars, and not something I had tried before.  Now we are not talking about the citrus and earthy flavours found naturally in the Morobo 70% chocolate, we are instead talking about flavoured chocolate by way of inclusions. This is definitely new for Amano, who has focused on perfecting its origin chocolate in the past, and allowing the cacao's origin flavours to shine through naturally.

I received a few bars of Amano's new flavoured chocolate. My first thought was how beautiful the packaging is, partially because of the large, or rather long size of box (although only 85 grams of chocolate in each) and also because  of the elegant, yet colourfully modern package design. These chocolate bars are definitely great for gift-giving.

The Amano Raspberry Rose chocolate bar was full of sweet-and-tart raspberry flavour with a lovely balance of sweetness that would appeal to any palate.  I usually eat darker chocolate than 55% cocoa solids, like this Ecuadorian-origin chocolate bar has, but I quite enjoyed it none-the-less.

I thought the rose petals were going to turn me off, and worried the chocolate would taste like a grandmother's perfume or something that is supposed to refresh odours in clothing cabinets, but instead, the rose flavour turned up only in the finish and was quite enjoyable. And as for the texture, Amano says it best on their website, that the  crunchy bits make it "extra electrifying". It definitely is electrifying.

Amano makes a Mango Chili chocolate with 65% cocoa solids, which I am dying to taste, but I thought it better to share with friends over the holidays. Mr. Pollard also has a passion for Cardamom Black Pepper flavour, and has come up with a combination that includes flavourful Dominican Republic cocoa and the spice.

DURCI (Lindon, UT)
One of the newest chocolate makers to open in Utah, I tasted just one chocolate bar so far: Joya Rara 70% and was amazed with the quality and taste upon first bite. It has a very bold flavour profile, surprising at first with herb, fruit and something else. For a little more on the cacao used to make this chocolate, which has 40% white beans, see the review of Ritual Chocolate below. I also tasted a hint of smoke or tobacco in both the aroma and on the finish during a few tastings.

I love the beauty of the customized moulds DURCI has used for their chocolate bars, with the image of a backpacking, trekking, all-around-adventurer up-front and centre on the square chocolate bar, making me feel like eating the chocolate will prompt travel and adventure. I also like the ultra thin chocolate bar shape: easy to break off pieces and savour the flavour in perfect, mouth-sized portions.

My first experience was so good, that I can't wait to taste more from DURCI!

Millcreek Cacao Roasters (Salt Lake City, UT)

Millcreek Cacao Roasters is doing things a little bit differently than all the rest. For starters, they only use one origin: Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional 70% which they say was selected from "rigorous blind tasting".  The bean is known to be quite fine tasting and was, in fact, all the rage a few years ago. And when I tasted their non-flavoured chocolate bar - a straight-up 70% dark chocolate - it was quite robust flavoured and delicious on it's own. I find Millcreek's chocolate also quite delicate, a slender beautiful bar that can easily be broken into just the right sized pieces for a good melt-in-the-mouth experience.

But what is really different about Millcreek Cacao Roasters is the way they approach flavoured chocolate. Chocolate makers, Mark DelVecchio and Dana Brewster, use a "proprietary method to naturally cure (their) chocolate with hints of flavor" (ref). The fact is: chocolate takes on the aromas it is exposed to.  So they  embraced this by "air-infusing chocolate next to aromatics" such as mint, blackberry, and orange flavours. I tasted the mint and the blackberry. The mint offered simply a hint of flavour, which was quite nice. But I was certainly surprised when the blackberry was full of berry flavour.

The  Blackberry 70% Dark Chocolate bar really surprised me.  The blackberry flavour was very bold and surprisingly strong (in a good way) considering that there is no actual blackberry flavour in the ingredients list.  I am amazed that they can infuse such flavour with no additional ingredients.  The Mint had been a hint of flavour, but the Blackberry was undeniably the flavour of the fruit.
Ritual Chocolate is one I have tasted in the past.  Read my past review here:

I also tasted Millcreek's Tart Cherry chocolate bar, which actually had pieces of cherry sprinkled on the back. It was quite enjoyable and paired nicely with the complex flavours of the Arriba Nacional chocolate. The balance of sweet, bitter and tart was quite perfect. Millcreek's Mint chocolate bar was an infused bar, and with just a hint of mint, I enjoyed it quite a lot. 

Overall, I highly I am looking forward to my next experience with Millcreek's chocolate.  And I highly recommend you give it a try!

Ritual Chocolate
Ritual Chocolate has been in business since 2010.  The chocolate makers, Robbie and Anna, have always been friendly; willing to ship chocolate to me when I begged to make a purchase from Canada in their earlier days, when they worked out of a studio in Denver. 

So I have tasted Ritual's chocolate before, but those were different bars and different cacao harvests.  Here is a review of the more current chocolate bars made by Ritual that I tasted this month:

Ritual Chocolate, Peru Maranon 75% Cacao, Batch 003, Harvest Year: 2014, 42.5g (1.5 oz)
Although the ingredients only list cacao and organic cane sugar, this chocolate bar seems to be buttery compared to Ritual's Madagascar chocolate bar.  It has a soft, melt-in-your mouth feel of cocoa butter, very tangy, citrusy and acidic. But beautiful flavour - bold and full of flavour, and I can taste the roast flavour, almost tobacco. A little similar to the Madagascar in way, but more balanced in fruit-to-chocolate flavour, with no citrus, raspberry and blackberry flavour like the Madagascar has.

Ritual Chocolate, Madagascar Sambirano 75%, Batch 005, Harvest Year: 2013, 42.5g (1.5 oz)

The Peru Nacional (Maraon River Valley) is possibly my favourite cacao origin; I have enjoyed bars made from these beans by three chocolate makers now, including Soma's Peru Nacional 70% dark chocolate bar and DURCI's. I wish I could line them all up at once to decide who made the best bar from these beans, but it is not easy to co-ordinate such chocolate orders.

Ritual's Madagascar Sambirano chocolate bar seemed a little crunchy and stiff, so I knew it must be close to expiry (and in fact, it was only five days away from expiry!). There was no visible bloom, it was just a little on the old side, but somehow the chocolate bar still offered a flavourful and tasty experience, as is common with Madagascar origin chocolate.

Ritual Chocolate, Fleur de Sel Dark Chocolate 70%, Batch 008, Harvest Year 2014, 42.5g (1.5 oz)
I am not usually a fan of salted dark chocolate above 65% cocoa solids (I often find a little sweetness is needed for that true 'sweet-and-salty' taste), but I like this one. The chocolate is made from a blend of cacao origins, and offers a nice balance of chocolate flavour, which the salt only enhances. You can buy this chocolate on Ritual's website.

For More Chocolate Makers in Utah...

Visit my list of American Bean-to-Bar Craft Chocolate Makers to find out who else makes chocolate from bean to bar in Utah. It is broken down by state, making it easy to find what you are looking for.  Find the list by clicking here.