Tag Archives: flavor

Fiore: Dark Chocolate Balsamic

24 Jul

I recently received this lovely bottle of Fiore Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar as a gift. During my recipe research I found that balsamic vinegar is often paired with strawberries. I took full advantage of this common pairing for the dessert I chose to make. I wanted to explore the full range of flavors that can be inspired by balsamic vinegar, so I also made a savory dish of penne with beef and arugula.

Dessert First!

Strawberries Over Vanilla Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

Strawberry Topping:

2 pints strawberries chopped

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons dark chocolate balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon to a few grinds black pepper

Balsamic reduction:

3/4 cup dark chocolate balsamic vinegar

Introducing our cast of characters!

1. Chop your strawberries.

2. Add your sugar, balsamic, and a few grinds of black pepper.

3. Mix well. Make sure the strawberries are well blended with the other ingredients. Place in the fridge to rest. Stir periodically while cooking your dinner. This also gives you an excellent opportunity to test out your new strawberry mixture.

4. Pour your 3/4 cup of  dark chocolate balsamic vinegar into a small sauce pan and simmer until reduced by half. It took me about 20 minutes. Keep stirring and make sure the vinegar doesn’t burn.

When it is done the reduction should coat the spatula. As it cools the density will increase. When I was done with the reduction process the chocolate content had all floated to the surface so I had to fold it back in. Move the reduction into a serving vessel and set aside.

And now for dinner…

    Penne with Beef and Arugula
 recipe by Giada de Laurentiis
1 (1 pound) New York Strip Steak
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for steak and pasta water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for steak
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 cups arugula
1. Season your meat. I used italian seasoning instead of herbs de Provence.
2. While the meat is cooking set a pot to boil for the pasta. When the meat is done to your liking set it aside to rest.
3. As the pasta boils, wash the arugula and set it aside to be tossed with other ingredients.
5. Chop your fresh herbs, 1/4 cup basil and 1/4 cup parsley and add ground pepper and salt.
Combine with 3/4 cup of olive oil plus 3 Tbs, 1/4 cup dark chocolate balsamic vinegar, and 2 Tbs if dijon mustard for the dressing.
6. Thinly slice beef and toss with pasta, arugula, and dressing.
7. Serve and eat. It was delicious. I liked it so much I made it again a week later. The dark chocolate in the vinegar definitely added another dimension to the dish. The second time I made it I had run out of my dark chocolate Fiore and had to make it with regular balsamic vinegar. The chocolate lends a savory balance to the sweetness and tart kick, characteristic of balsamic vinegars.
And don’t forget dessert. After you have savored your dinner and cleared the dishes away at a leisurely pace pull your strawberries out of the fridge. Give them a stir. Scoop some ice cream into bowls, smother it with strawberries, and drizzle with your dark chocolate balsamic reduction. A little goes a long way. Enjoy this little twist on an old classic.

AMEDEI: Dark Chocolate Extra 70% Chuao

5 May

Another bar from Chuao, Venezuela made from the much sought after criollo beans, food of the gods.

A sweet cacao start, beginning with a bright acidity.  It will travel across your palate, delicately caressing your senses with notes of citrus, then up tempo to a nutty finale. For the finish a light tartness remains on your tongue as the chocolatey tail pleasantly melts away.

The drama. The intrigue. Chuao.

Amedei is a bean to bar company based in Pisa, Italy. It was started in 1990 by a brother and sister team, Alessio and Cecilia Tessieri. Chocolate is a family craft. They started out as chocolatiers, but turned to chocolate making after an unpleasant visit to the French chocolate maker Valhrona, where they were unable to purchase the company’s best products because according to Valhrona, “…Italy wasn’t evolved enough to appreciate such extraordinary chocolate.”  This information comes from an article in Food & Wine by Pete Wells. After this event they vowed to make the best chocolate in the world working in cooperation with the farmers and paying them fair prices.

They seem to have done quite a good job, because for the last two years in a row, Amedei has won the “Golden Bean” award for their “9” bar from The Academy of Chocolate in London, an international honor reserved for those companies capable of producing the best bean to bar chocolate in the world. I now need to try out this “9” bar, made from a combination of beans from 9 different plantations.

While Cecilia was learning how to make artisan chocolate, Alessio set out to source the highest quality cacao beans in the world. The search led him to Chuao, where he out bid Valhrona for the harvest, a source Valhrona had monopolized for years. Aside from succeeding in an apparently cut throat industry, Amedei is involved with the beans before they even leave the plantation. They also oversee the fermentation process, which has a major impact on the mellowing of the beans and developing the prominent flavors that will be released through the roasting process. This allows them an even greater control over the flavor of the final product.

I love the descriptions they give on their packaging. Very poetic. very Italian. Just like their chocolate.

5th Annual International Chocolate Salon: San Francisco

21 Apr

When I first found out about the International Chocolate Salon I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I just like the word salon. In this case, because it implies that there is a conversation, an exchange of ideas and methods in the art of chocolate.

As I strolled down from the Marina to Fort Mason, I thought about how I was going to approach such an overwhelming situation. What does one do when they are surrounded by table after table of chocolate in all of its delicious reincarnations? What should I taste? Who should I talk to? How will I not get sick from eating too much chocolate? What will I do if I clean out my bank account after being seduced  by a particularly sumptuous looking bunch of truffles?

By the time I arrived at the Festival Building I had decided that I would focus on bars from single origin, bean to bar companies, I would pick three, and I would only taste dark chocolate. The only tasting dark chocolate idea lasted till the second table from the door. I saw salted caramel truffles.

The salon was in full swing when I got there at 11:30 am. The event was very well attended, but not so crowded that you couldn’t snag yourself a sample of whatever chocolate confection or creation may have caught your eye. Also, the exhibitors were generally very helpful and knowledgeable. In several cases I was able to speak to the chocolatiers and chocolate makers themselves.They were all happy to talk about their greatest passion: chocolate.

This is Neo Cocoa’s spread. The salted caramel truffles that were my downfall. I love the time the exhibitors took with their presentation.

And now for our feature presentation:

http://www.cacaoatlanta.com

Kristen Hard (above) is the owner, founder, and chocolate maker behind Cacao Atlanta. As  you may have guessed, the company’s boutique and production facility are located in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where Kristen hails from as well. She is also the first female chocolate maker in the United States. An important specification is that chocolate makers start with the unroasted bean, chocolatiers start with something called chocolate liqueur, after the beans have been roasted, shelled, and ground into a paste. The reason I was originally drawn to Cacao Atlanta was the bars, but one of the interesting things about Kristen, is that while most chocolate makers stick to making bars, she also uses the chocolate that she makes for her own line of truffles. She actually began her chocolate business by creating a variety of herbally infused truffles, which were  not only delicious, but also contained healing properties.She is now heavily involved in sourcing the beans for Cacao Atlanta. She has developed relationships with all of the growers that she works with and considers them to be her friends. Once she decides to buy from someone she goes and participates in the harvest. She is also focused on working with farmers to improve all aspects of the production process, such as fermentation. Recently, she has been assisting the University of the West Indies in developing a documented fermentation method.

Love Bar (Patanemo) Straight Up 75% from Venezuela is one of my new favorites. This bar has a smooth caramel intensity, cushioning your senses with just the right amount of sweetness, so that you only notice the rich cocoa flavor. I think it was Oscar de la Renta that said something to the effect of, “When  you make a dress for a woman, you want people to look and say, “What a beautiful woman!”  not “What a beautiful dress!”.”

The logo is a flying cocoa pod.

http://www.snakeandbutterfly.com

Caught in action, talking about bean to bar.

These are the owners of Snake and Butterfly. From left to right, Celeste Flores, her father Vince Flores, and the guy in the hat as Vince told me. It turns out his name is Ben Bulik and it turns out he does research and development for Snake and Butterfly. They are located in Campbell, CA and I fully intend to go and check it out at some point.

What initially caught my eye in this box of chocolate bars was the third one in from the left. I had never seen a bar from Belize before. However, I seem to be following a trend because I  tasted a Venezuela 75%. It was rich and savory in a way that I haven’t tasted in a chocolate before. There was just the slightest suggestion of citrus at the end. It was bold, yet soft around the edges.

http://www.madecasse.com

Brett (above) and  Tim, his friend in the New York office, started Madecasse after being Peace Corps Volunteers. Their term of service ended, but their lives had become intertwined with those of the people with whom they had been living and working. They knew that 85% of the worlds cocoa comes from Africa, but only 1% is made there. Brett and Tim decided to create a company that would produce in the beans country of origin, but still sell to consumers in the United States. As a result four times more income is generated for the workers in Madagascar than if beans were shipped for production.

I tasted their Madagascar 70% and it is one of the juiciest chocolates I have ever had. The taste of berries floods your mouth. I would say blackberries with a little cranberry tartness. The interesting thing is that the fruitiness doesn’t linger. It recedes and the flavor of pure cocoa lingers and cleanly fades away.

Here is a list of the exhibitors if you want to explore.

SLO Down Wines strikes a pose.

They featured their wine “Sexual Chocolate”, which also has one of the most entertaining wine labels you will ever read. Chip, in the hat, is one of the winemakers.

As it turns out there was also wine tasting! How do you make a good thing better?

There will be an International Chocolate Salon Part II

TCHO: “chocolatey” 70%

7 Apr

As advertised, this is an intensely chocolatey chocolate. Apparently, chocolatey is actually an industry term so saying chocolatey chocolate is not redundant. The bouquet on this single origin chocolate from Ghana is amazing, a fragrant, earthy, clean scent.Rich and velvety all the way through, you can tell they put a lot of work into creating this bar. The experience starts out with a cranberry tartness easing you into a wash of chocolatey cacao that dominates your palate until its gentle finish.  One thing about this chocolate that differs most from the other bar chocolates that I have tried thus far, is that it doesn’t have that astringent, slightly bitter tail at the end. Instead, there is a full earthy flavor of cacao that slowly fades away. A much appreciated smooth finish.

If you ever want to be adventurous and try a chocolate and cheese combination, I would recommend using TCHO chocolatey and your favorite triple cream. Now all you need is the right wine and the world will be a perfect place.

The TCHO chocolate factory is located down on Pier 17 in San Francisco. I intend to go there this coming weekend for a factory tour, so stay tuned.

 

XOX Truffles: San Francisco

3 Apr

754 Columbus Ave.

San Francisco, CA 94133

Monday – Saturday: 9am to 6pm

Sunday : 10:30am to 6pm

(415) 421-4814

http://www.xoxtruffles.com

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit one of the best chocolatiers in the country. XOX Truffles is rated one of the  greatest chocolate’s in America by Chocolatier Magazine. Little did I know that it was right in my own backyard. Located on the edge of the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco on Columbus Ave, between Filbert and Greenwich, it is a common destination for locals and tourists alike. Easy to get to by bus, on foot, or if you are up for the San Francisco experience, the cable car. XOX Truffles is one of the places that makes San Francisco what it is; a city with an international reputation as a center for art and culture. In this case XOX Truffles is literally, a taste of local flavor.

Jean-Marc and Casimira Gorce founded XOX Truffles in 1997. With Jean-Marc as the creative talent and Casimira, his wife, as the business sense, XOX soon took off as part of the chocolate community of San Francisco. Jean-Marc was inspired to make truffles in response to a heart attack which threatened his life, so these beautiful confections really are a celebration of life and how sweet it can be. A sweetness that he shares with his patrons every day, in flavors such as cognac, his favorite,


Casimira’s  favorite, white chocolate enrobed in white chocolate, spicy cayenne tequila, a l’Orange, one of my favorites, and many more. You can check out their website or take a trip to the shop to see a full list. He will also take suggestions and is very accessible. You may just be a part of the next truffle revolution. Each truffle will saturate  your senses with its title flavor, brought out by the smooth, chocolatey ganache that provides a base for all of them. The cozy shop has a counter at the window where  you can sit while waiting for a cappuccino, or if you decide to have a chat, or watch the truffle making process.

During our discussion, Jean-Marc informed me that chocolatiers are disappearing from San Francisco at an amazing rate. Some due to the recession, others have tried to expand to quickly, and several, such as the Scharffen Berger Chocolate have been bought by Hershey. There is something so wonderful about stepping into this shop and seeing the owner creating these delicious gems right before your eyes. You can’t mass market this feeling.  Jean-Marc told me that he has managed to keep the business alive by keeping it small. XOX Truffles has some wholesale accounts managed by Casimira and Jean-Marc maintains a single store front and kitchen with the assistance of  one employee, Kirby. She is a student at the San Francisco Institute of Art and assists him in the creation of these one of  a kind truffles. Her favorite truffle is the matcha green tea. I was able to see them in action.

The cocoa powder. Root of all chocolate truffles.

Once the filling is made it is piled into in a pastry bag.

The filling is then applied to the tray for cooling

Not a bit of chocolate or space wasted. So beautiful. I would eat them just like this.

Once cooled, they are enrobed in cocoa powder, a chocolate shell or chopped nuts, such as the noisette. Another one of my favorites.

Once complete they are each as individual as a snowflake.

Then, into the case they go, for your viewing pleasure. Soon to be consumed by ravenous chocolate lovers.

And, if you want someone to love  you forever XOX is here to help you seal the deal.

And, if you are very lucky, you may meet regulars, Wednesday and Morticia. They come to XOX Truffles everyday. They give hi-5’s for treats!

You will find the store adorned with some of the many endorsements XOX Truffles has received from numerous publications,

A salute to cocoa in all of its may forms,

and photos of France where Jean-Marc had his apprenticeship.

XOX Truffles is a great place to come, not just to treat yourself or buy a gift, but on a nice day you can get a coffee and a free truffle and just sit in front of the shop and watch the world go by. That is exactly what I did yesterday. Of course I also bought 20 truffles for my tasting enjoyment. As a chocolate lover an exercise regime is a must.  In addition to the truffles I have mentioned previously, the earl grey truffle is phenomenal.

Getting there can be quite an adventure in itself. If you go through China Town on a Saturday (Shopping day) and there is a festival going on. There is always a festival somewhere in San Francisco on any given weekend. If  you are on the tourist circuit this is perfect. Or if you are in North Beach for lunch, walk over to XOX Truffles for a decadent dessert. It is impossible not to be impressed.

Once you arrive XOX Truffles is close enough to the center of North Beach to be accessible, but far enough that it is a nice quiet place to sit and enjoy San Francisco in one of its many manifestations.

Keep the art of chocolate alive!

 


Dolfin Chocolat Noir 52% : Au The’ Earl Grey

2 Apr

I tried this chocolate because in addition to my love for chocolate, I also greatly enjoy tea. I love the purity of the basic chocolate and the subtle layers of flavor that can be coaxed from the bean itself. However, the added flourishes of additional ingredients and the creativity with which they are created deserve their due.  Earl Grey has that beautiful warm citrusy flavor that can only be produced by oil of bergamot, filling your mouth and saturating your taste buds in a fashion similar to that of an aroma reaching deeply into your sensory experience. The tea is apparent and contains a noticeable astringency, but does not overwhelm the classic cocoa flavor, reflective of its African origins. The chocolate itself is creamy and smooth, but there is something the consistency of salt that is present throughout. I am not sure if they are crystals that carry the Earl Grey flavor or if there is potentially little bits of tea leaf.

The consummation of love between your after dinner tea and chocolate.

Chocolate tasting intro

27 Mar

Chocolate tasting ABCs. This is going to be a very basic of outline of how to have a chocolate tasting.

1. Have no more than 6 different chocolates or take 15 to 20 minute breaks in between. Your taste buds will lose the ability to detect subtle flavors and you won’t experience the full flavor of the chocolate which all include a beginning, middle, and end.

2. Make sure your chocolate is room temperature. 65-72 degrees F. Too warm = melty, too cold = the full flavor will not be realized.

3. Break chocolate into 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch pieces. A small amount should be sufficient to experience all of the flavors in a high quality bar of chocolate.

4. Cleanse your palate! Use room temperature water as cold water reduces the effectiveness of your taste buds. Unsalted crackers can also do the trick if you are doing a tasting with particularly strong flavors.

5. Taste from light to dark since the flavors will become more complex and you will be more prepared to appreciate them. Taste buds will be primed and ready for intensity!

6. Having separate little plates is an obvious one, but here it is in the list anyway. Presentation is key. Not really, but it can make it a lot more fun and set the tone of your event. You can have a regional theme: The Americas. And a flavor theme: Fruity. Be creative. Also an excellent excuse to buy dishware, for which I have an affection.

7. Keep a tasting journal. Or just some way of documenting your responses, so you can remember and go back to your favorites and avoid the ones you weren’t so keen on. In my humble opinion, don’t worry about being overly fancy in your descriptions if you don’t want to be. People get weird about this stuff. The whole point is to eat some delicious chocolate and find your favorites, not show off your poetic stylings. However, if you have the skills show them off all you like. I attempt to avoid the pretense of the gourmand. However, some people just know their stuff no matter how insufferable they are.

Response categories

Aroma: sweet, sour, floral…

Texture: smooth, velvety, waxy, grainy (generally working to avoid this one unless it have nibs mixed in), creamy…

Flavor: I like the flavor wheel below from http://www.allchocolate.com. The descriptive possibilities are endless. The flavors listed on the wheel are just the tip of the iceberg. Run with it.

Duration: How long does the flavor linger in your mouth from start to finish? Is there an initial burst of fruity flavor or does it then mellow into a caramel, fading into a nutty finish? Or is it a less complex, but no less tasty, full on, deep, consistent cocoa flavor that leaves as it came?

Have fun!