Chocolate Tastings Take Over the World

Recently chocolate lover and Highfive Company owner Dennis van Essen contacted me from Holland, saying that he liked the idea of the Underground Chocolate Salon so much that he wanted to start his own.

Your Underground Chocolate Salon is a brilliant concept to talk, share, taste and network in an informal setting - with like minded chocolate addicts. I would love to take the initiative to follow your footsteps and start organizing something similar in Holland.

And he has! The first Secret Chocolate Lounge, which Dennis calls “the brother of the Underground Chocolate Salon” took place in mid September, with 9 people tasting Fruition Chocolate exclusively. Think chocolate experts, tea sommeliers, and more. Here are detailed notes from the tasting, in Dutch (use Google translate to read it in English).

I love how each person’s opinion is included as well as a “secret review.” Here’s the translated secret review for Fruition’s Costa Rica bar:

“Rather sour bar with a warming flavor. Very crispy with a strong flavor. I taste too laurel? / Acidity is not my thing / I found it a bit of a tricky customer, reminiscent of the Criollo Madagascar. However fascinating, not earthquakes / harsh, dry / acid: perhaps too much / maybe a little too ...”

I’ve been playing with the idea of featuring one maker’s line at each salon, and breaking other salons out into themes. (Similarly, the next Secret Chocolate Lounge will be all about drinking chocolate.) What say you?

Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter and I'll publish your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

Pssst, I'm trying out a new format for this story, with affiliate links!

7 Ethical, Affordable Chocolates to Hand Out on Halloween

Askinosie itty Bars to the rescue!

Askinosie itty Bars to the rescue!

My friend’s house gets stampeded on Halloween. The entire neighborhood turns into an extended haunted house, and after spending weeks putting up elaborate fake cemeteries and brainstorming how to dress up as a crazy ghost with a chainsaw, my friend spends the evening handing out hundreds of pieces of candy to kids. Seriously, like 300 pieces of candy.

The thing is, my friend is also an incredibly conscientious person. She’s not the kind of jerk who hands out raisins or floss on Halloween, but she also doesn’t want to perpetuate the status quo of cheap, unethical candy. There's a reason those chocolates are so cheap, and it's because farmers are paid pennies for their hard work (think 80 cents per pound of cocoa beans), which means you'll find extreme poverty and sometimes even child slave labor behind those sweets. 

But when my friend asked me earlier today where to buy ethical Halloween candy that won’t break the bank, I was stumped. Well, for a minute.

Here are seven solutions I found for her that I thought you, as an awesomely conscientious person, might want to hand out too. Each is reasonably priced and kid-friendly, and the pieces come individually wrapped, perfect for handing out on Halloween.

See's Candies Halloween Milk Chocolate Foil Balls

See's Candies uses Guittard chocolate in all of its confections, which means you can be confident that it's ethically sourced and high quality. Guittard has been around for over 100 years, and fourth-generation owner Gary Guittard spends much of his time and energy working with initiatives like the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund and is committed to the craft chocolate movement as well as ethical chocolate. These individually wrapped chocolate balls are the perfect-size treat for Halloween. $15.99 for 8 ounces (about 30 balls).

Equal Exchange Organic Milk Chocolate Minis

Honestly I don't know that much about this company, but what I do know impresses me. The chocolate is not bean to bar, but it is fair trade and comes from a worker-owned co-op. Try these minis with a hint of hazelnut, reminiscent of Nutella. $60 for 150 pieces.

 

TCHO Dark Chocolate Mini Bars

 

These lil' minis taste as cute as they look: Think an assortment of bean-to-bar maker TCHO's dark chocolate bars in "nutty" flavor, for the discerning trick or treater. There aren't any nuts in the bars; rather, the chocolate itself tastes nutty because of the cocoa beans' natural terroir. The Berkeley-based company practices direct trade, buying cocoa beans directly from farmers and investing time, money, and energy into improving their living conditions. $63.61 for 120 count.

 

Askinosie Dark Chocolate Itty Bars

 

Owner Shawn Askinosie is hands down the most ethical person I know. He devotes almost all of his time to sourcing cocoa beans directly from farmers, working to improve living conditions in Tanzania and the Philippines, in particular. Think building schools, buying textbooks and computers, and so many other initiatives that I can't even keep track. The bean-to-bar chocolate is also as high quality and delicious as it gets. $127.50 for 150 count.

Lake Champlain Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Leaves

Vermont–based company Lake Champlain is committed to high quality and sustainable ingredients. They even launched a bean-to-bar branch of their company recently called Blue Bandana that sources cocoa beans directly from farmers. These leaves aren't made with bean-to-bar chocolate, but they are filled with peanut butter. $89 for 85 pieces.

Big Picture Farm Milk Caramels

These little beauties are handmade on a goat farm in Vermont and come in a variety of flavors: sea salt and vanilla, chai, maple cream, and cocoa latte (made with Askinosie Chocolate!). $75 for 100 pieces.

Green & Black's Organic Dark Miniature Bars Collection

Long heralded as an ethical, organic company, Green & Black's offers these mini dark bars with inclusions like hazelnut, cherry, and ginger. $13.75 for 12 bars.

Know of a great chocolate that I left out? Tell me and I'll add it to the list! Get in touch at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

*Pssst, I’m trying out a new blog format here, with some affiliated links in it.

Tell Me Your First Craft Chocolate Story

Photo courtesy Flickr user mixoverdrive

Photo courtesy Flickr user mixoverdrive

One of my favorite things in the world is to hear people nerd out about chocolate, and a lot of those stories start with the first time someone tried a craft chocolate bar.

I still remember the first Madagascar bar I tried. Its acidic fruitiness surprised the hell out of me, intriguing me enough to build an entire career on getting to the bottom of it.

But enough about me. I want to hear about YOU. Tell me about the first time you tasted a craft chocolate bar. Did you love it? Did you hate it?

 

I’ll publish your responses in a special edition of Chocolate Today called “Voices,” so email me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or tell me on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter!

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Back to Chocolate Today

This Gelato Shop Has a CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN

I’ve come back from the land of milk and honey, or rather, pasta and gelato, and I’m here to tell you that heaven exists. I found it at a place called Come Il Latte, an artisan gelato shop near the train station in Rome. It has — wait for it — a CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN.

They put a house-made waffle cone under the fountain so that it fills the bottom and coats the sides with delicious melted chocolate. Then they pile gelato on top. In other words, it’s a grown-up Drumstick. It turns out that this is fairly common at the really good places.

But that’s not the only reason my life was changed. I’d been to Italy before and eaten my fair share of gelato. The new-school artisan shops I visited have turned it back into an art form: No piled masses of dyed-green pistachio there but rather pale, true pistachio in metal canisters.

Still life of a chocolate fountain

Still life of a chocolate fountain

The other thing that blew my mind: Some of the shops listed the cacao origin on their chocolate flavors! I saw Madagascar and Ecuador, and one even listed Porcelana (not an origin but a highly desirable type of cacao). I tried to find out more, but the language barrier prevented it. Can anyone tell me what I was seeing and if this is common?

Where are your favorite gelato shops in the U.S., and, more importantly, New York (so I can go to them)?

Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

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I'm Headed to Italy!

Photo courtesy Flickr user esimpraim

Hello, you gorgeous chocolate lovers!

I’m on my way to Italy for a much-needed vacation and will be stuffing my face full of pasta, Nutella, and gelati until October 5. Wanted to give you a heads-up that it might be a little quiet around here.

But if you miss my voice, listen to me talk about craft chocolate, especially Fresco, as well as good bagels, on this Schmears the Deal podcast.

The Big Chocolate Show Is Going to Be Amazing

Pretty chocolate bars from Fruition

Pretty chocolate bars from Fruition

Guys, I can’t handle how excited I am about the Big Chocolate Show in New York from October 7 through 9 in New York City!

Fruition. Tcho. Valrhona. Pacari. Truffle Shots. Christopher Elbow. And lots of other delicious chocolates! They’re expecting over 5,000 chocolate lovers at the Terminal Stores on the city’s waterfront. And unlike other shows, this isn’t going to be a grab-and-go. Instead it’s designed for you to actually interact with the chocolate makers and chocolatiers, to have a meaningful conversation and get to taste their chocolates in a mindful yet still fun way.

Even better, use the discount code CHOCOLATENOISE20 to get 20 percent off your ticket price!

I’m going to be showing a new short video called “From Bean to Bonbon” on the big screen, which I’m hoping will mesmerize you with its chocolate beauty. For the moment, though, here are some gorgeous wrappers from De Martini, a decadent Truffle Shot, and a cookie confection from Norman Love to tide you over.

And then there are classes and talks like the one from pastry chef and chocolatier Michael Laiskonis (who leads the Institute of Culinary Education’s Chocolate Lab) called “Five Things I Didn’t Know About Chocolate Until I Started Making It.” Plus wine-pairing classes, tasting classes, and more.

I’ll be there with bells and whistles on, plus probably a smear of chocolate across my face. Be sure to use the discount code CHOCOLATENOISE20 to get 20 percent off your ticket price!

And see you soon!

Come Eat Chocolate and Cheese With Me!

OK, I know this is a photo of chocolate and bread, but that's because I was at Bien Cuit this morning, hanging out with my good friend and cheese expert Christine Clark, talking about the chocolate-and-cheese-pairing class we're teaching at Murray’s Cheese in New York on Halloween this year. I’m going to be stuffing my face with craft chocolate and artisan cheese, and I want you to get in on the action too!

Now, we’d already done a lot of the legwork (mouthwork?) while researching my book: Christine was part of my expert tasting panel and always has the best descriptions of what she’s eating (“cartoonishly umami” is one of my faves).

So this morning it was all about trying two new-to-us bars — an 80 percent Ecuador from Ethereal Confections and a (not bean to bar) 68 percent Bolivia from Gotham Chocolates — and eating breakfast pastries at Bien Cuit like this dazzling pan dulce with cherry compote.

I can’t wait to share all of our creative chocolate-cheese combinations with you!

Notes From the Underground Chocolate Salon

Last night was a special Underground Chocolate Salon. A friendly, bubbly group of us got together at Voila Chocolat on the Upper East Side and, frankly, couldn’t contain ourselves with all of the chocolate. I told everyone that I wouldn’t take any of the six bars and caramelized nibs home with me, and by, golly, I didn’t! We polished them all off.

If you haven’t heard of my Underground Chocolate Salons, you’re probably wondering what the heck they are. I’ve always been jealous of Paris in the 1920s, when artistic and literary luminaries gathered at Gertrude Stein’s house to talk and hang out: Picasso, Cézanne, Joyce, Eliot, Cocteau. Only one thing would have made it better: chocolate. That’s why I started what I’m calling the Underground Chocolate Salon, for like-minded (or not so like-minded) people to get together and talk chocolate, as well as enjoy one another’s company.

This was also a special salon, though, because it’s the last one for a while. I’ll start them up again in the spring!

We didn’t analyze the tasting notes of last night’s bars as much as enjoy the way they melted in our mouths. So I’m going to do something unusual here, which is list them from favorite to least favorite, without much exposition. 

Here's what we tried:

Chocolarder Asháninka 70% from Ene River Valley, Peru

The most exciting discovery of the night! They’re a small maker in Cornwall, England who I’d heard of and who kindly sent me some bars. Delicious, delicious, delicious.

Wellington Chocolate Factory 70% Dominican Republic, made in New Zealand

Smooth, creamy, decadent.

Maraná 70% Piura Peru, made in Peru

A bit of bite, lightly roasted. Cool to compare the color of this bar against the Dominican Republic bars.

Valrhona 70% Noir Andoa (Peru), made in France

Creamy, masterful, clean.

Dandelion Chocolate 70% Zorzal, Dominican Republic, made in San Francisco

Lightly fruity, a bit astringent.

Fresco 72% Dominican Republic, made in Washington State

Dark fruit, astringent.

Hexx 70% Marañon Peru, made in Los Vegas

Off tastes, sour and bitter. Arrived bloomed. (Interesting to note that Voila Chocolat's owner liked this one and defended it.)

ChocoMuseo Caramelized Cocoa Nibs, made in Peru

Dessert on dessert

Photo by Charlee Dyroff

Photo by Charlee Dyroff

Voila Chocolat Chocolate-Covered Candied Ginger

Last bites

The Justin Timberlake Guide to Chocolate

The first thing you’ll learn in the geeky chocolate world is that this type of cacao called Criollo really rocks your body. You can’t stop the feeling, because it’s a sexyback, smooth ride of chocolate deliciousness.

Criollo is to cacao as Justin Timberlake is to N’Sync: He’s awesome, and everyone thinks he’s the best so they often forget about the other guys in the group (or, er, genome).

But there are others that are pretty good singers too. Take Joey Fatone, who isn’t exactly a great singer and is probably crying a river somewhere in Los Angeles right now. He’s akin to Forastero, a hearty plant that’s often thought to be lacking in flavor, aka talent, and is often found featured in the Hershey bars slash Dancing With the Stars of the world, not SNL dick-in-a-box fame.

Then there’s Lance Bass, who is kind of a hybrid of Justin and Joey: He’s been somewhat successful and even wrote a New York Times bestselling book. He’s like Trinitario, a genetic blend of Criollo and Forastero that’s also pretty highly regarded as fine-flavor cacao and can make a chocolate bar that will tear up your heart.

(I shouldn't even mention the other guys in the band at all, since everyone has already forgotten about them, but seriously, how could I not reminisce about Chris Kirpatrick's epic hair?)

Now, going back to Forastero Joey for a minute, I don’t want to blow your mind, but there are actually LOTS of Joeys. In fact, Forastero Joey is just an umbrella term for all sorts of forgotten singers of hit bands, of varying levels of talent and successful production. There are actually 9 genetic families once thought to all be Forastero.

Think Posh Spice from the Spice Girls, Tom Dumont from No Doubt, Sonny from Sonny and Cher, Flava Flav from Public Enemy, Ringo from the Beatles, Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child, Krist Novoselic from Nirvana, the drummer in Red Hot Chili Peppers, and pretty much all of Nickelback. You might like the solo albums from some of them, and others you want to say bye bye bye to.

The point is that not all of them are good or bad; it depends on the particular singer, and probably also who produced their album (aka how the cacao was grown and processed as well as the skill level of the chocolate maker). In other words, Forastero can be awesome, or it can be terrible.

So, to recap, there’s Criollo, plus 9 other genetic families of cacao, as well as hybrids between Criollo and those genetic families. (There are also man-made hybrids, most along the quality level of One Direction, but that’s another story.)

This I promise you, though: Researchers are still finding new genetic strains of cacao. Will the next one sing “It’s Gonna Be Me” with as much gusto as Justin, or will Criollo always have that sunshine in his pocket?

I Wrote About Chocolate for Fortune

Lately I’ve noticed a trend: Everyone is abandoning the corporate world to open their own artisan food business. Those of us in chocolate know this story all too well, with engineers, techies, and the like leaving in droves.

No one epitomizes this trend more than Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate, who left a 20-year career as a defense attorney to start an ethical chocolate empire. In the first part of my three-part series for Fortune, all about lawyers, I tell his story as well those of a few other cool artisan makers (not in chocolate, by the way). Stay tuned for the next two sections, coming soon!

Do you think this trend is awesome or awful? Or are you part of it?? Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today.

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Notes From the Underground Chocolate Salon

Yesterday a small group of us chocolate lovers gathered together at the Chocolate Room in Brooklyn to taste some bars and gab about craft chocolate.

I’ve always been jealous of Paris in the 1920s, when artistic and literary luminaries gathered at Gertrude Stein’s house to talk and hang out: Picasso, Cézanne, Joyce, Eliot, Cocteau. Only one thing would have made it better: chocolate. That’s why I started what I’m calling the Underground Chocolate Salon, for like-minded (or not so like-minded) people to get together and talk chocolate, as well as enjoy one another’s company.

If you want a spot at the next one, in New York on August 15 from 6:30 to 8 PM, email me immediately at megan@chocolatenoise.com to let me know and I’ll send you the details and location.

In the meantime here are some notes from last week’s salon.

Raaka 70% Amazon Basin Blend

About: This bar was part of Brooklyn maker Raaka’s First Nibs program, where they send subscribers new flavors and small batches, and it was their first time making a blend. (That pack also included a blended bar with African cacao.) This one combined three different types of Peruvian cacao: San Martin, Pangoa, and Nacional.

Tasting Notes: Balanced, “like the fruitiness in wine,” not too bitter, sweet, snackable; third favorite of the evening

Dulcinea 70% Guatemala

About: Small female maker Laurie Rice crafts her bars in Beaver, Pennsylvania. She sent me three to try, a single origin from Tanzania, a single origin from Guatemala, and a single-origin from Guatemala with candied orange peel. I brought the second one because I’m not super familiar with Guatemalan cacao and wanted to try it! Everyone was excited to see that Dulcinea is so small that she writes the country of origin, cacao content, and batch number by hand in red pen on each label.

Tasting Notes: Fruity, acidic, a little astringent, more prominent aftertaste than Raaka’s bar; second favorite of the evening

Dick Taylor Black Fig Bar

pic 87.jpeg

About: I wasn’t planning to pull this bar out, but after two somewhat fruity chocolates, I thought it would be fun to try the king of fruit, Madagascar cacao. It’s a little hard to navigate with bits of black fig in there, but this bar from the California-based maker uses Madagascar. It ended up being the favorite of the evening!

Tasting Notes: Bright, fruity; beautiful design on the bar; favorite of the evening

Manoa 72% Papua New Guinea

About: Manoa is based in Hawaii, the only place in the U.S. where cacao can grow. But in addition to making chocolate with Hawaiian cacao, Manoa branches out to other types as well. Papua New Guinea is known for smoky cacao: It rains quite a bit there, and so farmers dry their beans over a wood fire and the smoke seeps into the cacao. I’d bought this bar looking for a super smoky PNG, but to me, it was much more balanced than others I’ve tried. Others didn’t think so…

Tasting Notes: Smells smoky, tastes like burnt marshmallow; “it’s interesting but maybe not in a good way”

Dalloway 72% Dominican Republic

About: This bar came from a brand-new duo of female chocolate makers in Brooklyn — so new, in fact, that the bars aren’t going to be for sale until fall 2016. They gave me a sneak peek, which I promptly brought to the salon to see what was up. (With the warning that the salon doesn’t always have positive things to say about bars…)

Tasting Notes: Confused, plastic or artificial tasting, “like Diet Coke,” possibly spent too much time in the wet grinder, coats mouth in an unpleasant way

Pralus 100%

About: While Chocolate Noise focuses on American makers at the moment, I like to bring chocolate from all over the world to the salons. Pralus is a French master and one of my all-time favorites. One-hundred percent bars contain all cacao and absolutely nothing else: no sugar, no other additives, nada. So they’re pretty intense. Diehard dark chocolate fans love it, as do health nuts (Paleo, anyone?).

Tasting Notes: Bitter, just need a small bite of it, fruity underneath the intensity; one chocoholic remarked that this could be good for her to keep around, since she usually goes through bars very quickly

As I mentioned above, the next salon is August 15 from 6:30 to 8 PM in New York. Email me at megan@chocolatenoise.com to reserve your spot!

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How to Run an Artisanal Food Business

The other day I read a great story in Crain’s New York called “Brooklyn’s fancy artisanal-food businesses are getting chewed up.” It’s all about how hard it is to live out the “ultimate foodie fantasy” of starting a small business and making it work. The piece focuses on the boom in 2008 and the subsequent demise of so many small companies in Brooklyn and New York — and how difficult it is to turn a profit for the ones that have stayed afloat. But it’s not just about NYC; the artisan food business is a hard one.

Chocolate makers in particular are generally not businesspeople. They’re creative types like me, who work to hone their craft. But as I’m sure you already know, these days everyone has to be a business whiz, understanding not only how to make the best chocolate but also master marketing and so on. (As Amano’s Art Pollard told me recently, “I’d like to say the most important part is the chocolate. But whether we like it or not, sales and marketing is the most important. Unless you sell it, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got.”)

That’s why I was so pumped when recently I learned about an amazing resource for the chocolate community: the Food Craft Institute, in San Francisco. It’s a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to helping artisan food businesses. That means classes for the industry on management, fundraising, business planning, and more, as well as classes for interested civilians like Industry Intensive Chocolate, which is coming up, August 10 through 20. They call it "a new chocolate class for the 99%." Some of my all-time favorite folks are teaching this one, like Jessica Ferraro from Bar Cacao, Brad Kintzer from Tcho, and Greg D’Alesandre from Dandelion; other favorites have taken classes at FCI, like Bryan Graham of Fruition

 

Director Ally DeArman told me the institute has started gearing courses for a general interested audience as well as professionals: "More consumers and advocates should invest in an industry they want to see continue," she said. For the chocolate class, she's hoping to see pastry chefs, chocolatiers, and anyone else in the supply chain or folks who are just interested in learning more.

Beyond the classes, they have a pretty cool list of resources for artisan food businesses (like business advising, renaissance entrepreneurship centers, places to look for funding, and legal aid), as well as a solid network of partners and founders. And it’s not just chocolate: It’s coffee, butchery, beer, and more. 

In other words, I’m jealous: I can’t think of an equivalent resource like this for writers. But I’m sure there are others for artisan food and small businesses. I want to know about them!

Tell me about your favorite artisan food and business resources at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

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Secret Stories!

Pretty beans from Charm School Chocolate. Are they one of the secret profiles? Guess you'll have to subscribe to find out!

Pretty beans from Charm School Chocolate. Are they one of the secret profiles? Guess you'll have to subscribe to find out!

Pssst! I have something to tell you. There are SECRET BONUS profiles about more of the best chocolate makers in America hiding on my site!

How can you read them? I thought you’d never ask!

Subscribe to my newsletter and get three of your chocolate-lovin’ friends to subscribe and I’ll send ALL of you a link to a bonus story. If you already subscribe to the newsletter (thank you!), all you need to do is get three of your closest chocoholics to subscribe.

Use this special link below so I can keep track of who you referred:

Chocolatenoise.com/subscribenewsletter

And yay for more stories about chocolate!

Love, Megan

Back to Chocolate Today

What’s Your Favorite Bean-to-Bar Ice Cream?

Photo by Jenny Sathngam

It’s hot outside. Granted, I moved from Texas to New York last year, so this summer isn’t as blisteringly terrible as previous ones, but it’s still warm.

And though I will eat a bar of chocolate any old day — 110 degrees or not — it seems like the rest of the country is into ice cream during the summer. That’s why I’m rounding up the best bean-to-bar ice creams for Food Republic’s ice cream package in a few weeks, and I want your input.

Sure, I have my favorites. But I want to hear about yours! Did you just finish a finger-licking-good double scoop of chocolate scrumptiousness? If you’re a store or brand, do you make your own chocolate ice cream from the bean?

I want to hear from you! Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter by this Thursday, July 21, and I’ll include your suggestions in the story.

This Cartoon Will Instantly Make You a Chocolate Expert

Terroir. It’s a terrible word. Hard to pronounce. French. Snotty. But that little word can tell you so much about how your chocolate is going to taste!

Because like wine, cocoa beans are affected by the soil, landscape, and environment in which they’re grown. That means beans from different countries taste like different things! (And, coincidentally, that’s also what “terroir” means.)

When I first started trying craft chocolate, I desperately wanted a guide to tell me what each country’s beans tastes like, so I could find my favorites. So I’ve put together this cheat sheet to give you overall impressions of each country’s beans. There are dozens of other flavors to find, but these are the predominant ones.

So which flavors are your favorites in chocolate? Are you a Madagascar gal or a Venezuelan feller?

Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today! 

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Coconut Milk Chocolate Is Delicious

Delicious melted chocolate from Charm School Chocolate

Delicious melted chocolate from Charm School Chocolate

(Pssst! This is a guest blog post I wrote for Fran Costigan, the queen of vegan desserts. Check out the post on her site for a FREE CHOCOLATE GIVEAWAY!)

I love milk chocolate. There, I said it. Sometimes I want to savor a piece of the darkest chocolate, and sometimes I want to relax into the luscious creaminess of milk chocolate. And it turns out that some of the best milk chocolates I’ve tasted are actually vegan: They’re made with coconut milk! Now, this isn’t any old chocolate with coconut milk added. As with all of the chocolate I write about on this site, these goodies are all bean to bar, all the time.

Here are five of my favorite coconut milk chocolates from some of the best makers around! 

Coconut Milk From Charm School Chocolate

This vegan maker has created a truly scrumptious bar with single-origin cocoa beans from Belize, coconut milk, whole vanilla beans, and sea salt. No wonder it won awards at both the 2016 International Chocolate Awards and the 2015 Good Food Awards! 

Coconut Milk From Raaka Chocolate

Dark chocolate meets coconut in this 60 percent bar from the hip Brooklyn company for a bar that tastes as good as it looks. Find notes of caramel and strawberry in this melt-in-your-mouth goodie.

Coconut and Caramelized Ginger From Madre Chocolate

Caramelized ginger ups the ante in this coconut milk bar from Hawaii. There’s a reason it won a gold medal at the 2014 Northwest Chocolate Festival and is the company’s most popular seller. 

Buddha Collection Truffles From French Broad Chocolates

French Broad Chocolates makes much more than bars with their bean-to-bar chocolate: At their café in Asheville, North Carolina, you’ll find cakes, cookies, drinking chocolate, and bonbons. Of course, you can also order some of those sweets online, including this coconut cream collection of vegan truffles: Think classics like chocolate caramel as well as unusual flavors like olive oil, orange, and fennel.

Coconut Couverture from Zotter Chocolate

White chocolate meets its vegan maker in this rich couverture chocolate perfect for baking or making bonbons. Zotter adds a chaser of bourbon vanilla to the mix for an added bonus. 

Click here to find these chocolates in your neighborhood!

What's your favorite vegan chocolate, coconut milk or not? Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

Read More Stories!

Amano Chocolate: Science, Alchemy, Integrity

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Soma: 20 Ways of Looking at a Chocolate Bar

A Mouse Ate My Stash of Chocolate

I’m not sure if it was the heat, the rain, or the insane amount of chocolate in my closet, but this summer a mouse has moved into my house. And not just any mouse. A mouse with good taste.

Because this mouse left the dog food alone (well, after I got a thick metal canister to contain it) and went straight for the good stuff. Namely, my stash of Fruition Wild Bolivian, which won a silver medal at the International Chocolate Awards and has just recently become available on their website in a limited run. My half-eaten chocolate bar, on the other hand, ran straight to the trash after I discovered that it had been nibbled on by a certain rodent.

Chocolate mice from L.A. Burdick in Manhattan

Chocolate mice from L.A. Burdick in Manhattan

This weekend I decided enough is enough. All opened chocolate bars had to be dealt with immediately. God knows I wouldn’t throw them out (I don’t like to waste chocolate and also there would be a serious public outcry). So I made Salted Caramel Crack Brownies from A Modern Way to Eat, my favorite cookbook, and my own secret sea salt chocolate-chip cookie recipe. Sure, it might have broken my cardinal rule of baking with high-quality chocolate (i.e., make something where you can actually taste the FLAVOR of the CHOCOLATE), but goddamn they tasted great.

Mouse: 1

Megan: 2

Of course, that might change if the mouse has enough stamina to chew through thicker material and devour the 100 unopened chocolate bars that are now sitting on my coffee table in plain sight of my “attack” dog Echo, aka 17 pounds of fluff. Just try us, mouse.

Have a similar story? Or some other delicious baked good I should make with my chocolate? Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

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Should You Be Able to Copyright a Recipe?

French Broad's factory door

French Broad's factory door

Last week a writer and editor at Serious Eats accused BuzzFeed of copying his recipe for halal-cart chicken and rice. This may not seem like it has anything to do with bean-to-bar chocolate, but it does.

I’ve wondered for years why you can’t copyright or trademark a recipe. Now, before the lawyers start quoting obscure statutes and caveats at me, I know, I know: You. Can’t.

The issue at hand is one of integrity.

But indulge me for a minute. A recipe, especially one used to make chocolate, is intellectual property. Many bean-to-bar makers have slaved over a hot machine trying to figure out the right temperature to roast beans, how long to roast, how long to grind and refine, how long to conche — and built or refurbished their own machinery to do it. Beyond that, each maker has her own “recipe” of how much cocoa butter to add (if she adds it, which many do), making her 70 percent chocolate bar uniquely different from another 70 percent bar.

Some makers have said that they feel their trade secrets can be stolen, while others say that merely having a recipe or watching someone make it once or twice doesn’t mean you can replicate it to the nth degree.

What do you think? Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today.

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The Best Quotes from the Biggest Chocolate Weekend This Year

Fat Toad Caramel sauce with Taza spicy dark chocolate at the Good Food Mercantile on Saturday

Fat Toad Caramel sauce with Taza spicy dark chocolate at the Good Food Mercantile on Saturday

This past weekend I ate chocolate from Friday through Monday. Now, that may not sound unusual for me, but rest assured, it was, because this time I was breaking bars with the best of the chocolate industry at events for the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), and the International Chocolate Awards.

The best story came from chocolatier Fran Bigelow of iconic Fran’s Chocolates, who told the room at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) meeting the story of her salted caramels. When she first started making them, the idea of salt in sweets was about as foreign as a shih tzu on roller skates. But a chef friend had turned her on to it, and by golly, it worked! Her salt-fiend customers agreed, but it took everyone else a bit to catch on. Apparently one lady even pulled her aside to tell her that the kitchen had made a terrible mistake and sprinkled salt instead of sugar on top of the caramels. Heavens to Murgatroyd! Well, as we all know, salt does indeed go with sweets, from caramels to chocolate to much more. It’s one of my favorite combos.

Here are a few other amazing quotes from this weekend:

From the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund’s Media Event (that I helped put together!):

“I have to spit that out or I’ll weight 732 pounds”—cacao, cocoa, and chocolate expert Ed Seguine, on tasting chocolate all day for a living

“This is not your grandmother’s grocery store chocolate anymore."—Ed Seguine, on chocolate made with heirloom cacao

“What Guittard has made is smoother than a baby’s butt!”—Ed Seguine, on Guittard’s gorgeous bars it makes for tasting heirloom cacao

 “I like the color. I used to have a burgundy jacket, so excuse me.”—Ed Seguine, about a light reddish chocolate bar

“The only species that’s more promiscuous than cacao is mankind.”—Ed Seguine, about everything, really

From the Fine Chocolate Industry Association Meeting

“Everyone who wants to be cool or hipster now is underground.”—Mark Christian of the C-Spot (he was NOT talking about my Underground Chocolate Salon, of course, right, Mark?)

“If you call it ‘artisanal aquaculture,’ people will order it!”—Professor Kristy Leissle (okay, this one was about farmed salmon, you caught me)

“I’m chococurious.”—Josh Rosen of Charm School Chocolate

“Where are we in society? We’re hot, we’re bothered.”—chocolate expert Curtis Vreeland, on why spicy chocolate is a trend

From the International Chocolate Awards Ceremony

“White is the new dark.”—chef and chocolate expert Maricel Presilla on white chocolate and flavor trends

Tell me your favorite quotes of the weekend and/or just say hello at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook or Twitter!

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Some Really Badass Female Chocolate Makers

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about Bar Au Chocolat, one of my favorite chocolate makers. It happens to be owned and operated by a woman, Nicole Trutanich. In the story I said that female chocolate makers are a rarity, a minority in a field almost completely dominated by white men.

I was talking about lone women chocolate makers, women who physically make the chocolate on their own and solely own their company. The good news is that there are many more of these women than I thought! Plus there are the many people who own companies with male partners: They might spend time working on machines, or they might keep the books, focus on marketing, or do any other number of tasks that are vital for running a business. That’s why this list includes both lone female makers and women who are part of a female-and-male team (many of them couples).

Many of these companies are brand new and pretty tiny; furthermore, most of the makers that experts consider the best in the business are owned and run by men. For example, at the 2016 Good Food Awards, no female-owned craft chocolate maker won any awards. Three out of 10, though, went to companies owned by a woman and a man (Fruition, Just Good Chocolate, and Ritual). Meanwhile at the International Chocolate Awards 2015 (the 2016 winners haven’t been announced yet), 18 American companies won awards: Only 3 of those were won by companies with female and male owners (Millcreek Cacao, Fruition, and Ritual) and only 3 were won by lone female chocolate makers (Starchild, Castronovo, and Ethereal).

Culled from your responses on Facebook to my piece and a story by Roxanne Browning, here’s an admittedly incomplete list of female chocolate makers in the U.S. This includes women who make chocolate on their own and who are part of a female-and-male team that makes chocolate together. (Thanks to Brady Belinski at FlavorsofCacao.com for an amazing list and resource.)

 

Sole Female Makers

Carol Morse at Acalli

Melanie Flores at Anahata

Nicole Trutanich Bar Au Chocolat

Peggy Bondurant Blue Scorcher

Regina Monaco at Bronx Grrl Chocolate

Jennifer Wicks at Burnt Fork Bend

Kristen Hard at Cacao Atlanta

Denise Castronovo at Castronovo Chocolate

Erika Chavez-Graziano at Cellar Door Chocolates

Carrie Anderson at Chocolate Compromiso

Patricia Tsai at Chocovivo

Karla McNeil-Rueda at Cru

Lynn Kronschnabel at Del Sol

Laurie Rice at Dulcinea Craft Chocolate

Mary Ervin and Sara Miller at Ethereal Confections

Nichole Warner at Fresh Coast

Mackenzie at Map Chocolate

Katja Reitemeyer at Marin Munchies

Elena Sirignano at Mayacama

Daphne McClure at Moloa’a Bay

Makesha Duncan at Night Owl

Journey Shannon at Noir d’Ebine

Erin Andrews at Indi

Julie Waterman at Indulgence

Nancy Nadel at Oakland Chocolate Co.

Lisa Nelson at Roots

Julie McLean at Sibu Sura

Tracy Thompson at Sjolinds Chocolate

Samantha Fox at Source Chocolate

Kasey McCaslin at Stone Grindz

Rebecca Ankenbrand at Sweet Minou

Julie Farrell at Tease

Lauren Heineck at Wknd Chocolate

 

Female-and-Male Teams

Leslie and David Senk at Arete

Tamara and Zan at Batch Craft

Callie Neylan and Will Dixon at Bellflower

Tracey Britton and Eli Curtis at Bisou

Mary and Carl Matice at Cao Artisan

Debi and Ned Russell at Cello

Katherine Reed and Josiah Mayo at Chequessett

Janet, Tim, and Kevin Straub at Creo

Gila and Joel Dar at Dar

Joanne and Dan Sundell at Dark Forest

Jael and Dan Rattigan at French Broad

Renee Shuman and Logan Byrd at Frolic

Dahlia and Bryan Graham at Fruition

Sarah and Colin Hartman at Harper Macaw

Lauren Blanco and Preston Stewart at Hello Cocoa

Corey and David Menkes at LetterPress

Marlene and Paul Picton at Maverick

Stephanie and Andy Jackson at Middlebury

Dana Brewster and Mark DelVecchio at Millcreek Cacao Roasters

Barbara Wilson and Joe Meza at Mindo Chocolate Makers

Radinal Latuconsin and Yohanse Makmur Molucca

Katy Oursler and Stephen Beaumier at Mutari

Sandra Bedoya and David Mejia at Nibble

Alix and Toby Gadd at Nuance

Lisa and Jim Rast at Nutwhats

Tiffany and Ben Howard at Pinnacle

Katelyn Fox and Damaris Graves at Pomm

Rhonda, George, and Patrick Zender at Ranger

Anna Davies and Robbie Stout at Ritual

Celeste Walker and James Hull at Snake & Butterfly

Crisoire and Eric Reid at Spagnvola

Robin and Bob Williamson-Simoneaux at SRSLY 

Brittany and Ash Maki at Starchild

Tiffany and Richard Dull at Tchefuncte

Michelle Holland and Scott Moore Jr. at Tejas

Kristen and Josh at Terroir

Kristen and Adam Kavalier at Undone

Alison and Hans Westerink at Violet Sky

Paige and Bob Leavitt at Vivra

Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt at Xocolalt

Maureen and Jim Elitzak at Zak’s