The Spirit of Cacao Tasting

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This past Saturday was a bit cold and gloomy, but not inside Back Label Wine Merchants cozy back room. That is where 25 curious chocolate and spirits enthusiasts gathered to taste 8 new experiences from around the world. Mark Christian of the C-Spot and the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund spoke about the chocolates and what makes them heirloom designation, Natasha Soto-Albors of BLWM explained her spirit choice pairings then I discussed the importance of packaging and its effects on why you purchase what you do and showcased the Heirloom Chocolate Series package Mark and I worked together on.

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Our line up was:

#1 Designation VII

Spirit — Tuthilltown Cassis Liqueur (NY)

Chocolate —  Origin: Maya Mountain, Belize / Barsmith: Brasstown (USA) / Cacáo-content: 70%

#2 Designation IX

Spirit — Bittermen’s Citron Sauvage (OR)

Chocolate —  Origin: Piedra de Plata, Ecuador / Barsmith: TO’aK (Ecuador) / Cacáo-content: 73%

#3 Designation II

Spirit — Catskills Provisions NY Honey Rye (NY)

Chocolate —  Origin: Beníano, Bolivia / Barsmith: Oialla (Denmark) / Cacáo-content: 78%

#4 Designation Preliminary

Spirit — Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum (LA)

Chocolate —  Origin: Purús, Brazil / Barsmith: Luisa Abram (Brazil) / Cacáo-content: 81%

My fave pairings in order were 3, 1, 4, 2.

One of the highlights was the chance to try the TO’aK sample disks from Ecuador. This bar at $300 a pop is the most expensive in the world. I was very curious to find out what makes it so special. I did like its very mature, grown up flavor, but as discussed earlier much of the hoopla is the cost of wonderful packaging and store presentation of the bar. Well done.

As a bonus, one of the guests, Glenn Petriello of Glennmade Craft Chocolates  gave out samples of his two heirloom chocolate bars whose beans originate from Belize and Ecuador. Glenn is a new bean to bar producer in Hoboken “yeah” and has 6 single origin dark chocolates in his line.

There were many lively questions and discussions and was so much fun that when it was over no one wanted to leave, but eventually we had to go ;-(

The quote of the day from our package “Save the Earth: It’s the only planet with chocolate”.

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Over-the-Top Chocolate Experience

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Starting last Friday afternoon I had a chocolate tour de force. It began with a press event and Heirloom chocolate tasting with Chocolate Noise food writer Megan Giller and the Heirloom Cocoa Preservation Fund (HCP), the organization whose logo and re-brand I recently created.

HCP is the link between farmers growing cacao and those working with the chocolate. Most cacao trees today are planted to resist infection, mold and produce as much fruit as possible. With that comes a loss of taste. Many of the large chocolate companies then use sugar, flavoring and fillers to make candy that you would want to eat. We learned about the genetics of fine cacao and how the HCP is designating trees and beans from around the world to bring back flavor for the best tasting chocolate. This in turn helps farmers by allowing them to charge more for their beans and improve their lives.

The beans are sent to the HCP from growers to be blind processed by Guittard Chocolate, analyzed by the 9 Member—international panel and possibly selected for the honor of being designated heirloom.

We tasted four bars, and my favorite was #8 from Ingemann Cacao Fino of Nicaragua.

The next day and evening were at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s (FCIA) Elevate Chocolate where I was able to hobnob with the rock stars of chocolate makers and growers. There were six educational table talks. I attended “Cacao Before the Chocolate Maker” with Emily Stone and Maya Granit of Uncommon Cacao, we tried four kinds of chocolate liquor, which is cacao beans roasted and ground (no sugar added). Amazing to clearly taste the differences between the types of beans.

The new logo for the HCP was presented along with a conversation with veteran chocolate maker Fran Bigelow of Seattle whose specialties are served in the White House. Fran was one of the innovators to first add salt to chocolate caramels as a garnish.

Of course I got to taste dark chocolate all night from companies like Guittard, Casa Luker, Dandelion, Mesocacao and Dancing Lion.

Finally, Monday evening after the Summer Fancy Food Show, I hopped on the Path to Hoboken for the International Chocolate Awards at Cucharamama and mingled with North and South America’s growers, chocolatiers and chocolate makers. There was great food, and of course “the best” chocolate out of 600 submissions. For the second year my pick was Palette de Bine of Montreal who won for three of her submissions. Congratulations to all of the chocolatiers! I am so happy to be a part of this creative community 🙂