Check Out the Advance Copy of My Book!

It arrived on my doorstep over the weekend, and I'm super excited to share this with y'all in a few short months! I'll be posting sneak peeks of it each week, like the following photo: mouthwatering cocoa nib ice cream, a recipe that Alice Medrich kindly shared with me from her book.

Photo by Jody Horton

Photo by Jody Horton

Note: There's an affiliate link to my book in this post!

 

A Modern-Day Willie Wonka: Chocolate River Craft Chocolate

Photo by William Mullan

When Billie Bonkers tweets at 2 AM, we listen. That’s because the eccentric Portland resident makes the most exquisite chocolate in the world, using a process he invented in 2015 called bean to bar. The recluse hasn't been seen by anyone since that year, and amid his stream-of-consciousness tweets, once per month you’ll find him revealing an order form for new bars. But act quick: He sells out immediately, and then you’re out of luck until 30 days later, too long to live without chocolate.

But let’s step back a second. Bean to bar? In 2015, after making a fortune in the tech world, Bonkers decided that he wanted to revolutionize chocolate by making it from scratch. (It took Bonkers a few paces to find chocolate: He first experimented with pickles, kombucha, and gluten-free crackers before landing on the dark stuff.)

He traveled to Venezuela, where he found an expert farmer who mysteriously only goes by the initials “O.L.” With O.L., he imported dozens of cacao trees to a steam room he built in his enormous factory on the outskirts of the city. There, he apparently grows cacao onsite and ferments and dries the beans himself (well, with the help of O.L and his wife). He’s vehement that this part of the process is better than his “imposters’ attempts” at direct trade: He calls it no trade.

Then, using prized machinery that he invented himself or bought in Europe, he roasts the beans (in a modified clothes dryer), grinds (in an enormous machine from 1940s Germany), and smoothens the beans himself, using the aid of his most prized invention: a chocolate waterfall and river, which he uses instead of a conche. It’s rumored that the bearded twentysomething apparently takes boat rides down the river in his spare time. That’s how Bonkers ingeniously arrived at the name for his artisan company: Chocolate River Craft Chocolate.

Photo courtesy Flickr user CEBImagery

Then, after painstakingly making the paper for his packaging from scratch and letterpressing his own design onto that paper, he and O.L. hand-wrap each and every bar, then send it by carrier pigeon to its destination.

Of course, all of this is, as we said, rumor. Bonkers hasn’t been seen since he started the factory, in 2015, and only communicates through elusive Twitter rants—though his wife, who runs the books, marketing, and social media, responds to emails. We learned most of what you’re reading here after talking with a spy from Big Chocolate who preferred to remain anonymous; One big company, you see, is interested in acquiring the company and taking it national.

O.L. before he came to Portland (left); the only known image of Billy Bonkers (center); a carrier pigeon from Bonkers' factory (he only shoots on black and white film, right); images courtesy Flickr users Nathan RupertCass Anaya, and jwyg, respectively

Most of what we definitively know about Bonkers is the chocolate itself, which is all single origin and made with only two ingredients: cacao and sugar. Well, except for two bars that were recently released: coconut milk and infused bourbon.

But yesterday Bonkers himself reached out to me via Twitter private message and said that he will be opening the factory doors, to five lucky souls who find a golden ticket in one of his bars. Since he only produces about 500 bars per year, this gives us all pretty good odds, if we start buying today! Good luck to all: The factory tour will take place on April Fool’s Day.

Read More Stories!

Why Ritual Chocolate Uses Vintage Machinery

Patric Chocolate: The Chemistry of Flavor

Some Really Badass Female Chocolate Makers

Why Ritual Chocolate Uses Vintage Machinery

At the beginning of March I profiled one of my favorite American chocolate makers, Ritual Chocolate. I’d wanted to include some of the fascinating story that co-founder Robbie Stout told me about their conche, but, well, I wanted it in his dynamic words. So for the first time, I’m publishing a guest post on Chocolate Noise. Robbie, take it away!

In 2014 we bought a rusty, dismantled, four-pot longitudinal conche from Steve DeVries [one of the first American bean-to-bar makers, who now acts as an adviser and legend in the industry]. According to Steve, the conche was used by Swiss chocolate company Suchard for around 80 years and then had been hanging out in a barn in Hamburg, Germany, for the past 20 to 30 years. Even when we got it, it was still full of Swiss hay.

When we bought the conche, there was no guarantee that we’d ever be able to get it running, that all the pieces were still there, or that it would even produce good chocolate. So the endeavor to refurbish this conche was a leap of faith—one that was supported by all the old books we read about processing chocolate using turn-of-the-century machines.

For context, here’s a little history. Prior to 1879, there probably wasn’t any great chocolate for eating. Before then, it all would have been a little crude for eating chocolate and was better suited for making hot chocolate drinks. Then, in 1879, Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann, the founder of Lindt Chocolate, discovered the process of conching after buying an Italian-made machine that looked much like our longitudinal conche. Lindt found that processing chocolate for multiple days in this mixer achieved better texture and better flavor. From then on, Lindt conched all of its chocolate for eating. From about 1879 until about 1900, no one knew how Lindt made its chocolate so smooth, and this is part of where the reputation for smooth, Swiss quality chocolate was born.

As for our conche, we have a theory that ties into the Lindt conche origin story. Since the early 1800s, there has been a machinery company called Ammann in Langenthal, Switzerland. Originally it was called U. Ammann, and it mostly made farm equipment. Our theory is that when Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann discovered the conching process, he went to his relative Ulrich Ammann and asked him to secretly produce conches for Lindt. There is no evidence of this, but the time period and the last names align. Also, when Lindt’s secret of conching made it to the light of day, around 1900, U. Ammann was one of the first manufacturers to make conches available to other chocolate makers at the time. Our conche still has the “U. Ammann, Langenthal” insignia.

We had to make several adjustments and changes to get the rusty, old machine to work again. Using old photographs and drawings as our references, we made a stainless steel frame to support all four pots of the conche (back in the day they used brick). We also enlisted the help of Dairy Engineering, a company in Colorado that specializes in “sanitary liquid engineering,” meaning they build a lot of equipment for the dairy and beer brewing industries. The German motor and gear box were built to be operated at a different voltage and electrical frequency, which Dairy Engineering solved by using a variable frequency drive (VFD). Controlling the heat on these machines was also tricky: The engineers used glue-on heaters to heat the outside of each pot and installed a temperature control panel for each individual pot (which is handy for processing different batches of chocolate at a specific temperature).

Initially, they said the refurbishment would take about three months. Instead, it took a full year. This forced us to get creative with our process, but it all worked out okay. Also, when we relocated from Denver to Park City, Utah, we had to move this 15,000-pound, 15-foot-by-8-foot machine with us (an eight-hour drive). We had to hire a trucker to dedicate his entire load to this one delivery (that was expensive). And then to get it off the truck we had to hire a crane, a forklift, and a team to help navigate the conche into our factory.

Once it was in place, electrical installation was easy. The big task was to clean out each pot before use. This took a solid three weeks of elbow grease and a full batch of throwaway chocolate. Last, we had a lot of trouble with the heaters. After burning them all out, we ended up replacing and reinstalling all of them.

Finally, in March 2016, we ran our first batch in the refurbished Swiss conche. That was by far our most stressful batch. There had been so much thought and preparation leading up to this moment, and there was no guarantee things would work out. Per tradition, the first batch would run for three full days. As we had never left the machine alone to do its business, we had to babysit it for the first three nights. This meant setting an alarm for every two hours during the night, walking to the factory (we live close by), and checking temperatures and listening for mechanical problems. Things were mostly fine, except the belt was too loose, so we had to apply a belt dressing during every checkup to silence its screeching.

After three days, it came time to temper and mold our first batch of chocolate from the conche. What we tasted was definitely the best chocolate we’d ever made. The texture was smoother. The flavor was more delicate, yet it lingered longer than it had in the past. And the overall texture of the chocolate felt finer and more consistent. Needless to say, we were greatly relieved. After all the time, effort, and money that went into getting the conche running, imagine how disappointing it would have been if the results had been mediocre!

Since then, we’ve run about twenty 1,000-pound batches. We’ve had to make a few small repairs, but so far it’s running well. If anything, the quality has improved as we’ve been able to perfect the speed and temperature of the conching. Occasionally it can be a little messy, but that’s part of being old fashioned. With the current condition of the granite in each pot, we see no reason why this conche won’t be able to run for another 100 years (or more). And this is why we love old equipment—because it’s built to last.

Chocolit: Your Favorite Books About Chocolate

Earlier this week I asked y'all to tell me your favorite books about chocolate, and boy, did y'all get into it! Some people even sent in photos of their own bookshelves. (By the way, the title of this post comes from my favorite chocolate pun, from Jessica Ferraro of Bar Cacao.) People overwhelmingly loved two of my faves: Mort Rosenblum's Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Light and Dark as well as Sophie and Michael Coe's The True History of Chocolate. So many other good ones to choose from, though:

Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Light and Dark by Mort Rosenblum and Chocolate Wars: The 150 Year Rivalry between the Worlds Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury.
— John Cunin
My absolute favorite book about chocolate is Chocolat by Joanne Harris. It is the novel that was made into the movie.
— Carol Lang
A photo of my bookshelf. I’m French, so mostly are french, but there are some good American and English.
— Clément Gillot
“Your book is coming out in August!??! I want a copy!!! Yay!!!!! Art of the Chocolatier.”
— Amy Dubin, Janam Tea
I’m inviting you to pop onto my website and read my book review of Chocolatour. It’s a lovely read with pictures and descriptions that immerse you in the travels of the world of chocolate. Doreen Pendgracs is a smooth, deep writer.
— RoseMary Griffiths, Musings From a Redhead
Your shelf looks like my shelf! Mine is also scattered with ‘science of chocolate’ books though for the confection side of my business. My new favourite is Dom Ramsey’s book called “Chocolate, Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic, Become a Bean-to-Bar Expert”, published in September. It not only teaches the process of bean-to-bar chocolate making, it offers a great overview of several cacao-growing regions. And there are several delicious recipes in the book provided by chocolate professionals from around the globe. You’ll have to look through those to find out why it is my favourite. :-)
— Lisbeth Flanagan, Ultimately Chocolate
I love The True History of Chocolate by Sophie and Michael Coe.
— Lydia Studier-Tarzia, chocolatier
My fave book about chocolate is “Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light” by Mort Rosenblum
— Adam Burke
We are big fans of Los Guardianes Del Cacao, by Astrid Gutsche.
— Raaka Chocolate
Marcy Norton’s Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures for nuanced study of early European adoption (TY Carla Martin). The Essence of Chocolate by Sharffenberger & Steinburg encapsulates the beginnings of new chocolate. Some good recipes too, but for confectionary Jean-Pierre Wybauw’s books are indispensable.
— Bisou Chocolate
Bitter Chocolate by Carol Off should be required reading & The True History of Chocolate by Sophie & Michael Coe is brilliant (but we’re also big fans of Sandra Boynton).
— CocoaRunners
Chocolat by Joanne Harris every time!
— Andrew Baker, The Telegraph

Did we miss your favorite book? Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

 

 

 

 

What's Your Favorite Book About Chocolate?

I’ll publish a photo of my wine fridge full of chocolate another time, but today it’s all about my other chocolate library — you know, the one full of books.

Here’s a little pic of the shelf above my desk, with some classics like Maricel Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate and Sandra Boynton’s Chocolate: The Consuming Passion. I think I pick up The True History of Chocolate like once per week to remember what Sophie Coe has to say. Books have been even more on my mind lately because mine (about American craft chocolate) is finally coming out in August.

What’s on your chocolate bookshelf? And what’s your favorite book about chocolate?

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

Chocolate Noise Took Over Food Republic's Instagram

A few weeks ago I traipsed around New York City, eating all my favorites and sharing some delicious-looking photos with Food Republic's followers. Here, for your drooling pleasure, are all of those posts, in one spot.

February 12, 2017

Hey, Food Republic! I’m Megan Giller, the food writer and chocolate expert behind Chocolate Noise, and I’m so excited to take over @foodrepublic for the next three days! I’ll be showing you the best places in NYC to find the most delicious chocolate in the world—and I’ll probably eat more than my fair share. First up: chocolate for breakfast. I like to taste chocolate first thing in the morning, when my palate is fresh, before I’ve eaten anything else, especially chocolate from some of my favorite bean-to-bar makers. 

Hey, Food Republic! I’m Megan Giller, the food writer and chocolate expert behind Chocolate Noise, and I’m so excited to take over @foodrepublic for the next three days! I’ll be showing you the best places in NYC to find the most delicious chocolate in the world—and I’ll probably eat more than my fair share. First up: chocolate for breakfast. I like to taste chocolate first thing in the morning, when my palate is fresh, before I’ve eaten anything else, especially chocolate from some of my favorite bean-to-bar makers. 

I pretty much visit Raaka Chocolate's factory once a week. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is their tasting room, with tons of chocolate samples. But the best thing is watching the Cocoatown machines grind and refine cocoa nibs into chocolate. Sometimes they let me taste a spoonful straight out of the machine. This batch is their limited-edition strawberry basil flavor. 

I pretty much visit Raaka Chocolate's factory once a week. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is their tasting room, with tons of chocolate samples. But the best thing is watching the Cocoatown machines grind and refine cocoa nibs into chocolate. Sometimes they let me taste a spoonful straight out of the machine. This batch is their limited-edition strawberry basil flavor. 

Raaka makes bean-to-bar chocolate, which means they start with whole beans and grind and smoothen them into chocolate from scratch. Ten years ago there were only a few people in the country doing this; now there are around 200 American bean-to-bar chocolate makers. My site Chocolate Noise is all about this craft chocolate revolution. Raaka is a little different than most, because they don’t roast their beans; instead they focus on creative infusions rooted in the terroir of cacao (yep, cacao has terroir, like wine!). Here are big bags of beans from Tanzania, which is known for earthy and slightly fruity cacao. 

Raaka makes bean-to-bar chocolate, which means they start with whole beans and grind and smoothen them into chocolate from scratch. Ten years ago there were only a few people in the country doing this; now there are around 200 American bean-to-bar chocolate makers. My site Chocolate Noise is all about this craft chocolate revolution. Raaka is a little different than most, because they don’t roast their beans; instead they focus on creative infusions rooted in the terroir of cacao (yep, cacao has terroir, like wine!). Here are big bags of beans from Tanzania, which is known for earthy and slightly fruity cacao. 

Down the street from @raakachocolate is Cacao Prieto, another bean-to-bar chocolate factory. I love looking at this Victorian-era cocoa bean roaster: It’s enormous and impressive, and even a few hundred years later, it still roasts beans like a champ. And yes, they let me stand on a really tall ladder to get this shot! 

Down the street from @raakachocolate is Cacao Prieto, another bean-to-bar chocolate factory. I love looking at this Victorian-era cocoa bean roaster: It’s enormous and impressive, and even a few hundred years later, it still roasts beans like a champ. And yes, they let me stand on a really tall ladder to get this shot! 

Because I clearly haven’t had enough chocolate today, my last stop is Liddabit Sweets at Industry City. Liddabit makes handmade, locally and ethically sourced versions of the candy bars and desserts you loved as a kid, with their own whimsical twist, using @valrhonausa and @tazachocolate. So many chocolate-covered caramels with sea salt for the taking!

Because I clearly haven’t had enough chocolate today, my last stop is Liddabit Sweets at Industry City. Liddabit makes handmade, locally and ethically sourced versions of the candy bars and desserts you loved as a kid, with their own whimsical twist, using @valrhonausa and @tazachocolate. So many chocolate-covered caramels with sea salt for the taking!

February 13, 2017

Today's breakfast is this triple-chocolate cookie at Untitled at the Whitney, which blows my mind every time. Pastry chef Miro Uskokovic uses @guittardchocolate, an American bean-to-bar brand that’s been around since the late 1800s, and Chef Thomas Keller's gluten-free flour Cup4Cup. 

Today's breakfast is this triple-chocolate cookie at Untitled at the Whitney, which blows my mind every time. Pastry chef Miro Uskokovic uses @guittardchocolate, an American bean-to-bar brand that’s been around since the late 1800s, and Chef Thomas Keller's gluten-free flour Cup4Cup. 

Now I’m off to replenish my chocolate stash at Chelsea Market Baskets, which has an impressive selection of hard-to-find brands. I’m loading up on Ritual Chocolate and Amano Chocolate, two of the best makers in the country. 

Now I’m off to replenish my chocolate stash at Chelsea Market Baskets, which has an impressive selection of hard-to-find brands. I’m loading up on Ritual Chocolate and Amano Chocolate, two of the best makers in the country. 

I teach chocolate-and-cheese-pairing classes at Murray's Cheese from time to time, but today I’m here to grab a few chocolate bars and cheeses to satisfy a personal craving. The two seem like an unlikely combination, but if done right, it can be incredible, creating a mashup experience that transforms two great foods into the sublime. Murray’s is one of the only places in town to buy Pralus’ Infernale bars, a massive chocolate bar filled with praliné (read: the best fancy candy bar in the world), which I’m going to devour later. 

I teach chocolate-and-cheese-pairing classes at Murray's Cheese from time to time, but today I’m here to grab a few chocolate bars and cheeses to satisfy a personal craving. The two seem like an unlikely combination, but if done right, it can be incredible, creating a mashup experience that transforms two great foods into the sublime. Murray’s is one of the only places in town to buy Pralus’ Infernale bars, a massive chocolate bar filled with praliné (read: the best fancy candy bar in the world), which I’m going to devour later. 

Detour! I was headed home with all sorts of goodies for a late lunch, but Murray's is so close to Grom Gelato that I had to stop. Their chocolate gelato is extra rich and delicious because it’s made with Domori Chocolate, from Italy. On top of my hazelnut and pistachio, check out the single-origin Peruvian chocolate in all of its glory. 

Detour! I was headed home with all sorts of goodies for a late lunch, but Murray's is so close to Grom Gelato that I had to stop. Their chocolate gelato is extra rich and delicious because it’s made with Domori Chocolate, from Italy. On top of my hazelnut and pistachio, check out the single-origin Peruvian chocolate in all of its glory. 

Feast time! It’s all about the combinations, which I discovered while doing extensive research for my book (poor me, right?). I’m pairing Fruition Chocolate's dark milk chocolate with sea salt with Challerhocker cheese and that Pralus Infernale bar I mentioned earlier with Point Reyes Cheese's Original Blue. Both chocolates also pair well with this Nepalese oolong tea from Serendipitea. I threw in a baguette to pair with some single-origin Madagascar chocolate from Patric too, because why not? The fruitiness of the Madagascar chocolate with the buttery nuttiness of the baguette makes it taste like a fantastic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Feast time! It’s all about the combinations, which I discovered while doing extensive research for my book (poor me, right?). I’m pairing Fruition Chocolate's dark milk chocolate with sea salt with Challerhocker cheese and that Pralus Infernale bar I mentioned earlier with Point Reyes Cheese's Original Blue. Both chocolates also pair well with this Nepalese oolong tea from Serendipitea. I threw in a baguette to pair with some single-origin Madagascar chocolate from Patric too, because why not? The fruitiness of the Madagascar chocolate with the buttery nuttiness of the baguette makes it taste like a fantastic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

February 14, 2017

I have a meeting this morning at French bean-to-bar maker Valrhona’s Brooklyn offices. Fortunately for me, they always have plenty of chocolatey treats: This morning the chef is making heart-shaped raspberry and white chocolate macarons. In other words, breakfast! There’s not a storefront here, but L’Ecole Valrhona offers professional classes in its huge onsite kitchen, with superstar chefs like Ginger Elizabeth bakery and Lincoln Carson. 

I have a meeting this morning at French bean-to-bar maker Valrhona’s Brooklyn offices. Fortunately for me, they always have plenty of chocolatey treats: This morning the chef is making heart-shaped raspberry and white chocolate macarons. In other words, breakfast! There’s not a storefront here, but L’Ecole Valrhona offers professional classes in its huge onsite kitchen, with superstar chefs like Ginger Elizabeth bakery and Lincoln Carson. 

Now I’m off to learn more tricks of the trade from Michael Laiskonis, who runs the Institute of Culinary Education’s bean-to-bar chocolate lab. You’ll find him making chocolate from scratch pretty much all day and all night here, with plenty of samples to taste. All pastry students have to learn how to make chocolate as part of their program, and ICE offers classes for us mere laymen too. Here’s Michael pouring a freshly made batch onto marble to demonstrate tempering by hand.

After learning so much about how to make chocolate, I’m ready to ingest more of it, this time in liquid form. LA Burdick makes my favorite drinking chocolate in town, a rich, creamy concoction that doesn’t bear any resemblance to hot cocoa. I’m a sucker for single origin, like this cup of melted Venezuela. Also lots and lots of hand-dipped truffles, out of focus but delicious!

After learning so much about how to make chocolate, I’m ready to ingest more of it, this time in liquid form. LA Burdick makes my favorite drinking chocolate in town, a rich, creamy concoction that doesn’t bear any resemblance to hot cocoa. I’m a sucker for single origin, like this cup of melted Venezuela. Also lots and lots of hand-dipped truffles, out of focus but delicious!

I have a hard time not going to Stick With Me Sweets every day. Usually I live by the rule that the prettiest desserts taste the worst, and vice versa, but Susanna Yoon’s work is stunning and scrumptious. No surprise that she uses Valrhona. Liquid salted caramel pouring onto marble, get in my mouth.

I have a hard time not going to Stick With Me Sweets every day. Usually I live by the rule that the prettiest desserts taste the worst, and vice versa, but Susanna Yoon’s work is stunning and scrumptious. No surprise that she uses Valrhona. Liquid salted caramel pouring onto marble, get in my mouth.

Back at home, I’m making my husband’s favorite dessert for Valentine’s Day: chocolate-covered Rice Krispie Treats. Except I’m using Fruition marshmallows and Guittard chocolate. Want to lick the bowl?

Thanks, Food Republic, for letting me hang out with y’all as I ate my weight in chocolate over the past few days! It’s one of the dangers of the job, as you can see from the wine fridge I’ve turned into a chocolate fridge to the right of my desk. Now I better get back to editing the first pages of my book about American bean-to-bar chocolate (coming out in August)! 

Thanks, Food Republic, for letting me hang out with y’all as I ate my weight in chocolate over the past few days! It’s one of the dangers of the job, as you can see from the wine fridge I’ve turned into a chocolate fridge to the right of my desk. Now I better get back to editing the first pages of my book about American bean-to-bar chocolate (coming out in August)! 


Did I leave out one of your favorite places in NYC? Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

Is Chocolate a Health Food?

Ask any serious chocolate lover and they’ll say YES, both because it contains antioxidants and keeps them sane. Take Antidote, for example, a Brooklyn-based company that pioneered the raw/roasted combo that works so well.

“ANTI-STRESS, ANTIOXIDANTS, APPETITE SUPPRESSANT, APHRODISIAC, ANTIDEPRESSANT,” founder Red Thalhammer writes on her site.

Food for thought, and I’d love to hear what you think about this.


But the real reason I’m writing is that I’m fascinated by new chocolate maker K’ul Chocolate’s business model. Sure, they have some single-origin bars, but they focus on these superfood bars geared toward health nuts and athletes, like Endurance, a 70 percent dark chocolate with pumpkin seeds, protein, cranberries, and guarana. It contains 270 calories and 8 grams of protein; a cool mint chocolate Clif bar contains 250 calories and 9 grams of protein, with double the number of ingredients (including soy products). I don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat heirloom cacao and natural ingredients.

K’ul’s model is an interesting departure from the rest of the bean-to-bar crowd, and I’m curious to see if others follow suit.

Meanwhile there are a range of chocolatiers and confectioners who make “healthy” bars, such as Hu, which caters to the Paleo crowd. Compartes offers a vegan dark chocolate bar with kale, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds and Jcoco makes a milk chocolate bar with agave, quinoa, and sesame. I know kale and quinoa are trendy superfoods, but does adding them into chocolate make the resulting bar “healthy”?

For my book, I interviewed Dr. JoAnn Manson at Harvard, who is conducting the first extensive study on the powers of cocoa flavanols. Among other things, she said, ““Having chocolate in moderation is perfectly fine as a treat, but I don’t think it should be considered a health food.” I’m excited to share the rest of her thoughts with you in August, when my book finally (sigh) comes out!

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

Pretty Pictures of Cacao Pods

Happy Valentine's Day! Today is all about taking a deep breath and enjoying love in all of its forms, especially the beauty of the cacao fruit. If you haven't been to origin to see cacao pods in person, I highly recommend it. The colors are stunning, and the cacao pulp inside (which encases the raw beans) tastes great (kind of like lychee). I highlighted all of these photos on my Instagram page as well as tons more, and I wanted to share them here because they come from particularly cool companies. Enjoy!

Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter and I'll include it in the next Chocolate Today!

The Life and Times of CHOCOLATE, Part 4

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If you missed them, check out Part 1: How Chocolate Is Born, Part 2: How Cocoa Beans Become Chocolateand Part 3: Anatomy of a Fine Chocolate Bar.

Bonbon. It’s a short, cute little word (and it sounds even better if you say it with a French accent). You can pop a bonbon in your mouth and — snarf! — like that it’s gone. But it turns out it takes a ton of skill, effort, and time to make one of those little guys.

That’s why Ecole Chocolat and I put together a four-part series called "The Life and Times of Chocolate.” So far we cartoonized how chocolate is bornhow cocoa beans become chocolate, and what’s in a fine chocolate bar. This week we’re exploring the making of a bonbon. We hope to tell the story as simply as possible, and while we may not capture all of the nuances of the process, we hope people remember the image.

Since Valentine’s Day is upon us and we’re all buying chocolates for our loved ones (hint, hint), here are a couple things to consider about bonbons before we get to the cartoon.

What the Heck Are Bonbons?

I used to call all round things made out of chocolate “truffles.” But if you want to be technical about it, most of these little round shapes are actually called bonbons. That distinguishes them from other confections like marshmallows, turtles, caramels that aren’t covered in chocolate—you get the idea.

A proper truffle is typically filled with ganache, a delicious mixture of cream and chocolate. Bonbons, on the other hand, can be filled with chocolate mixed with fruit puree, caramel, nut pastes, and so on.

What’s the Difference Between a Chocolatier and a Chocolate Maker?

Usually on Chocolate Noise I write about chocolate makers, people who buy whole cocoa beans and roast, grind, and smoothens them into bars in their own factory (or some variation of that process). Think of a chocolate maker as an engineer, creating chocolate from the raw materials. But most of the time, the people who make bonbons are called chocolatiers. Most of the time chocolatiers buy premade chocolate, melt it down, and use it to make their own bars and confections. Once in a while they make their own chocolate and use that to create confections. Think of a chocolatier as a chef who uses a premade ingredient to create his or her own masterpieces.

The Cartoon

There are lots of ways to make bonbons, but we’ve highlighted how to make molded bonbons: First chocolatiers decorate molds with colored cocoa butter (many chocolatiers use a special gun that sprays colored cocoa butter into their chocolate molds). Then they pour in tempered chocolate to make a shell. Usually chocolatiers will fill a mold with chocolate and then tip it upside down so that all the excess chocolate runs out and you are left with a perfect outer shell that is not too thick or too thin. Next they add the filling (like ganache or caramel) and last close up the molds with more chocolate (called “bottoming”), making sure to scrape off the excess chocolate.

Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different ways to make bonbons, and that’s where a chocolatier’s skill and artfulness come into play. Some chocolatiers choose not to decorate their bonbons at all, particularly if they have a really intricate and pretty mold. Or some chocolatiers decorate with something else, and there are almost endless possibilities, such as gold leaf, or edible flowers. But a good bonbon will always have a thin, even chocolate shell; balanced flavors; and no air pockets.

Okay, Okay, Enough Talking, More Eating

Here are a few tips for buying Valentine’s Day chocolate candies and confections:

  • Buy locally made chocolates. This doesn’t always guarantee it’s better, but it’s nice to support our local communities, don’t you agree?
  • Look for perfect pieces. You shouldn’t see any leaking fillings or air bubbles on the outer shell.
  • Ask questions. Any chocolatier will be happy to talk to you about the type of chocolate they use, where it came from, and any other ingredients they use in their pieces.

(As always, thanks to Fernanda Frick for the amazing illustration!)

I Ate Chocolate Right Out of the Grinder

Happy Tuesday! Yesterday I spent the day at Raaka Chocolate in Brooklyn with Food.com, doing a couple of Facebook LIVE events with them. I could tell you about it, but it’s way more fun to watch!

In the first LIVE, watch me tour Raaka’s factory, eat fresh cacao pulp and beans, and taste chocolate right out of the Cocoatown machine (mmmm!).

In the second LIVE, watch me lead a guided tasting, talk about how to taste chocolate and give the inside scoop on bean-to-bar chocolate, and use Hershey’s as a prop of something I’d rather not eat.

Season 2 of Chocolate Noise Is Coming!

Ahem, is this thing on? I have an announcement to make: Season 2 of Chocolate Noise is starting on February 1!

When I asked y’all at the end of last year what you wanted to see from Chocolate Noise in 2017, so many people said they wanted more profiles. Luckily for all of us, I love writing longer stories about the best chocolate makers in America.

Starting February 1, look for one long-form story about a great chocolate maker per month for eight months. The stories will also be syndicated on Food Republic, one of my favorite sites, and I’ll be taking over their Instagram later this month to show their readers around New York’s most delicious chocolate.

Also look for the return of the Underground Chocolate Salon, more Chocolate Today blog posts, curated stories on Facebook, and a ton of pretty pictures on Instagram.

I can’t wait to share more chocolatey stories with you!

Love,

Megan

Your Top 5 American Makers

A few weeks ago I asked y’all a hard question: If you had to pick 5 makers (or bars) to represent American craft chocolate, who would they be? Seems a bit random, I know, but I was headed to Storey Publishing’s office to do a tasting for the team working on my book. 

I’m excited to tell you how excited they were to taste all of this delicious craft chocolate. I didn’t actually bring anything, because Storey has something like 100 bars that they’re photographing for the book, a wide array of jewels that made my mouth water just thinking about them. We filled the room and then some with people eager to taste the best craft chocolate in America, and they loved it. LOVED IT! I’m not going to reveal exactly which bars we tasted (you’ll have to wait for the book for that one), but we ended the day buzzing with the energy of the craft chocolate movement.

But back to the question at hand. So many of you guys wrote me such great answers. Here they are, in no particular order. (P.S. In this case, America included Canada too!)

“My favorite bean-to-bar maker of 2016: Madre, Patric, Rogue, Dandelion, Potomac”
—Ethan Lercher

“So hard to pick 5. I have 17.  Soma, Dick Taylor, Fruition, Amano, Map Chocolate”
— Pashmina Lalchandani, Choco Rush

“Please see my personal top five selection below.  They are not listed in any particular order; I couldn't possible rank them as my favourites out of these change regularly! Rogue Jamaica 75%, Dick Taylor Guatemala 70%, Fruition Hudson Valley Bourbon Dark Milk 61%, Dandelion Mantuano Venezuela 70%, Ritual Belize 75%. If you are counting Canada in American Craft Chocolate the Palette De Bine Wild Bolivie 70% Bine À L'Érable would probably just edge out the Dandelion bar.”
— Rob Sledmere, Pump Street Bakery

“I’m happy to share the work of these makers who I see as some of the newest and most exciting innovators in the American craft chocolate revolution: Map, Acalli, Firefly, Letterpress, Somerville Chocolate CSA, and of course I must mention a 6th: Enna Chocolate.”
—Enna Grazier, Enna Chocolate

“Fresco, letterpress, French broad are three that I particularly enjoy.”
—Jay Olins

“Askinosie: one of the first.  True career changer.  Inspirational. Committed to sustainability, the environment, and the farmers.

“Patric: true small batch. Became know for fantastic tasting bars enhanced by Alan’s commitment to the science of chocolate.  

“Raaka: young guys in Brooklyn with endless enthusiasm for educating ones palate to raw chocolate with great taste.

“Grenada: not in North America, but the extremely unique founder was American.  Tragically passed too young, created an industry that did not exist to help those who needed help.  Delicious bars at a good price point. 

“Dick Taylor: one of the first small batch bean to bar chocolate I tried when I began my passion for educating my chocolate palate a number of years ago, so it always comes to mind when I think of American bean to bar.  Beautiful packaging too. 

“Honorable mention to Mast simply because they are probably the most well-known bean to bar brand for those who are not very familiar with smaller brands.  Not my favorite by any means…too dry…but I enjoyed the educational tour when they offered it years ago and I do like the goat bar very much.”
—Helen Boltson

“Somerville chocolates. And Taza. #newenglandrepresent”
Tipsy Chocolates

“Dick Taylor. Fruition. Ritual. French Broad. Dandelion.”
Pinellas Chocolate

“Guittard, Dandelion, Tcho, Amano, Dick Taylor”
—Janice Marie Foote

“Here are six that truly represent American Craft Chocolate: Chocolate Alchemist, Raaka, Map, Cacao Prieto Potomac, Violet Sky”
—Robert, Campbell, Chocolate Alchemist

“soma (CA), fruition, akesson, patric”
—Nick Gutfreund

“Rogue, Patric, can Soma count as North America?, Dick Taylor, Amano?”
—Marty McCabe

“Here are a few that show a nice cross section: Raaka, Amano, Cacao Prieto, Pitch Dark, Undone, Potomac.” 
 —Chocolate Bar Suppliers

“Patric, Askinosie, French Broad, Cacao Atlanta, Map. These were only American. Canada, Europe, South America and Asia get 5 each too. I chose some pioneers because they paved the way and I am always happy for their success! I have a special mention to Kakawa Chocolate House for their drinking chocolate.”
—Sophia Rea, Projet Chocolat

“Askinosie, French Broad, Patric, Maverick, Dick Taylor”
—Antonella Tromba, Foodensity

“1. Dick Taylor Vietnam Tien Giang Limited Release Bar. 2. Dick Taylor Solomon Islands Exclusive Release Bar 3. Dandelion Chocolate Cahabon, Guatemala Bar 4. Olive & Sinclair Co's Sea Salt Dominican Republic Bar 5. Endorphin Foods' Passion Bar”
—Bevin B. Cooper Farkas, BumbleBDesign

“Aside from my own bars (Endorfin Foods), I'd say: French Broad’s Cacao Verapaz bar, Fruition’s bourbon dark milk, Dick Taylor’s Alto Beni bar, Raaka’s Bananas Foster bar, Askinosie’s dark goat milk w/ licorice, and Firefly’s Bay Nut bar. All exceptional bars, made with skills on the edge of our craft.”
—Brian Wallace, Endorfin Foods

“My 5 American Chocolate Bars are Askinosie Tanzania & Zingermans collaboration bar; I also love Dick Taylor’s limited edition Bolivian bar, Marou (they are American, right) Treasure Island, Lastly I like my dark krispie bar from my local place Graham’s Chocolate [not sure how bean-to-bar it; but it's good!]...”
—Adam Burke

“my 5: Amano Dos Rios, Solstice Bolivia, Cocanu Brass Bar, Durci Defiant, Patric PBJ OMG”
—Travis Isaacson

Don't see your favorite maker or bar? Weigh in and tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter and I'll include your comments in the next Chocolate Today!

A Day in the Life of French Broad Chocolates

Recently Jael Rattigan, one half of the amazing French Broad Chocolates, took over my Instagram for a week, with some really gorgeous photos of the amazing bars, truffles, and baked goods that they offer at their cafe. If you're anything like me, you're probably not on all the social media channels (Periscope? Snapchat?), and so I want to share them here to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to enjoy them. Below each you'll see her description of the action in the photo. Read the original Chocolate Noise profile here!

Hi, y'all! We're Dan and Jael, coming at you from French Broad Chocolates in beautiful Asheville, NC. We're taking over Chocolate Noise's Instagram all week. What began 10 years ago as a new marriage and a farmers market stand, where we sold truffles and caramels using OPC (that's Other People's Chocolate), has grown to include a web store, a bustling dessert restaurant (French Broad Chocolate Lounge, est. 2008), a chocolate and coffee boutique (Chocolate+Milk, est. 2014), and a Chocolate Factory & Tasting Room (est. 2012), where we directly source cacao, roast, winnow, refine, and temper it into bean-to-bar chocolate. Phew, that run-on sentence is how my life feels.

Through our mountain town courses an ancient river, the French Broad. The water it carries is the same water that nourishes our cacao groves, thousands of miles away. The French Broad reminds us that we are all connected, and through our chocolate, we seek to honor that connection. This photo is from a cleanup we did of our namesake back in June!

Our bean-to-bar chocolate is transformed into our collection of chocolate bars. With our thoughtful, locally-crafted packaging, we hope to share the stories behind the chocolate we humbly offer: whether it's our own love story, a special relationship with a cacao farmer, or a brilliant local coffee roaster. There are so many hands involved in bringing you this beautiful chocolate, and we hope to honor their contributions by telling their stories.

Since 2013, all the chocolate we use in our pastries, ice cream, drinking chocolates and confections at the Chocolate Lounge is our own bean-to-bar chocolate. About 4-5,000 folks pass through the Chocolate Lounge in a busy week, and we are honored to share the story of chocolate with our guests, in a beautiful space that allows our community to come together and enjoy each other's company.

Before Asheville, Dan and I lived and worked in the cacao-rich rainforest of Costa Rica for two years. At the restaurant we opened, Bread and Chocolate, we were able to source local chocolate for our handmade desserts, sparking our passion for cacao and all things chocolate. We still have a little cacao farm of our own there, where we're able to get our hands dirty, and learn about the challenges of cacao cultivation firsthand. While its production is too small to provide a substantial source for us, we are working with other local farmers in the area to import Costa Rica cacao for our 80% bar. It's a pleasure to remain connected to this region, which will always hold a special place in our hearts. 

5 Bars That Represent the American Craft Movement

Well, we did it! We crossed over into 2017, aka what's going to be a banner year for bean-to-bar chocolate. The forces are aligned; I can feel it.

I'm super pumped that my book about American craft chocolate comes out in August! Storey Publishing, my publisher, has been collecting quite an assortment of bars from every maker you can imagine to photograph for the book, but they haven't eaten a single one. Nope, they've been patient, and later this week I'm going to spend the day with them, leading several chocolate-tasting sessions. If you had to pick five bars to represent the American bean-to-bar movement, which would you pick? I have a rotating assortment, but I want to hear from you.

I'm also going to see the designed pages for the first time! I saw a sneak preview a few months ago and loved the playfulness of it, but this is going to be the real deal. I can't wait to share it with y'all in August!

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

What Would You Like to See From Chocolate Noise in 2017?

Photo by Jody Horton

Photo by Jody Horton

Y’all, it’s been an awesome year here at Chocolate Noise. I’ve published stories about some of the best craft chocolate makers in the country on this site as well as places like Fortune and Saveur, hung out with chocolate lovers at my Underground Chocolate Salon, written a book (coming out fall 2017, sigh), and even compared Criollo cacao to Justin Timberlake. But my favorite part of each day is hearing from you and strengthening our community.

I’ll be pretty quiet over the next few weeks while I stuff my face full of Askinosie peppermint barkDick Taylor gingersnap chocolate, and other holiday goodies, as well as visit my family and do all of those other holiday-type things. But I’ll be thinking about you and how to make Chocolate Noise even better in 2017.

So what would you like to see from me in the new year? More in-depth profiles? More recommendations about chocolate bars? More quotes from readers?

Tell me at megan@chocolatenoise.com or on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter!

Watch My Video on Saveur!

Photo by @evansungnyc

Photo by @evansungnyc

I’m super excited to show you guys this video I made with Valrhona and Stick With Me Sweets, called “From Bean to Bonbon”! Saveur just published it on their site, along with a more detailed story I wrote on the entire chocolate-making process from start to finish, called, "Everything That Goes Into Making a Chocolate Truffle." As many of you know, it's a lot of work to make that delicious little morsel.

Come Taste Chocolate and Cheese With Me!

Some gorgeous cheese at Murray's!

Some gorgeous cheese at Murray's!

Chocolate and cheese make perfect bedfellows, as I discovered while researching my book (which features tons of pairings). That’s why I’m super excited to teach a chocolate-and-cheese-pairing class at Murray’s Cheese in NYC next week, on Dec. 14, with my friend and cheese expert Christine Clark.

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). There are only five tickets left, so make sure you get your spot asap!

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!

The Life and Times of CHOCOLATE, Part 3

Until a few years ago, I never thought about what was in a chocolate bar. Chocolate, right? Turns out there can be all sorts of ingredients, from cocoa beans to soy lecithin to nasty preservatives in the industrial stuff.

That’s why Ecole Chocolat and I put together a four-part series about where the heck chocolate comes from called "The Life and Times of Chocolate." So far we cartoonized how chocolate is born and how cocoa beans become chocolate, and this month we’re tackling what’s in a fine chocolate bar. We hope to tell the story as simply as possible, and while we may not capture all of the nuances of the bean-to-bar process, we hope people remember the image.

So without further ado, here it is! The primary ingredient in a fine flavor chocolate bar is cocoa beans. “Fine flavor” means high-quality cocoa with more nuanced flavors (usually from the Criollo and Trinitario families, if you want to get nerdy about it). Almost all craft chocolate fits into this category. Then to varying degrees there’s cocoa butter and sugar and, in some cases, vanilla, all skipping around like they’re in the most delicious musical ever.

As I hinted above, not all fine chocolate includes added cocoa butter and/or vanilla. In fact, the American craft chocolate revolution was founded on two-ingredient chocolate: chocolate made using only cocoa beans and sugar. Now many makers add cocoa butter and some even measure in some vanilla. There's also fine milk chocolate, fine white chocolate, and fine chocolate with inclusions like sea salt and almonds.

But rest assured that fine chocolate does not include anything beyond these ingredients in their base chocolate recipe: You won't find vegetable oil or additives like PGPR (yuck). That's part of what makes it stand out so much from the crowd as something delicious and worth eating.

 Stay tuned for Part 4 of this cartoon series next month!

(Thanks to Fernanda Frick for the awesome illustration.)

Notes From the Underground Chocolate Salon

A few weeks ago I visited Seattle for the Northwest Chocolate Festival and hung out with all the serious chocoholics, including feeding them bean-to-bar chocolate and confections made with that chocolate in my session on Sunday. While I was in town I figured I’d dust off the ol’ Underground Chocolate Salon, which is on a break for the next few months, for a very special session, at Chocolopolis.

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 time it was a packed house, with so many good palates that I didn’t know which way to turn. We also heard some great first memories of chocolate bars, including sneaking baking chocolate out of the cabinet — and liking it!

The selections, as you’ll see, were mixed. You might notice that I’m editorializing these comments more than usual, since the tasting went very differently than I’d expected.

Noir d'Ebene 55% Chuao

This bar came from a relatively new maker in Chicago and was completely untested ahead of time!

Tasting Notes: Looked bloomed, but it turned out to be luster dust or some other sort of gold dust; gritty, floral, burned; “hiding behind sweetness,” as a 55 percent Chuao is pretty unusual; “sweet maple aftertaste”; “coffee, like mocha”; “early attempt”

K’ul 70% Los Rios, Ecuador

A new company out of Minneapolis, K’ul uses heirloom cacao for its bars; this one is made with heirloom cacao from the Hacienda Limon estate.

Tasting Notes: “Apple Jolly Rancher,” coffee grounds, ash, banana; high astringency at the start but a good melt; fatty, fruity finish; “slick mouth”

Lonohana 70% O’ahu, Hawaii

Maker Seneca Klassen grows cacao himself on his estate in Haleiwa, O’ahu, and then ferments, dries, roasts, and turns the beans into chocolate all by hand. (The bar’s official name is Kanahiku, by the way.)

Tasting Notes: Smells like licorice, nice aftertaste; “sour coffee bitterness,” “like a young Cabernet,” smooth texture, especially for a bar with no added cocoa butter; woody at the start, green walnut/grapefruit peel astringency at end

GoodNow Farms 77% Nicaragua

This brand-new company out of Massachusetts just launched its first bars, and we got to try one!

Tasting Notes: Smells like hay or leather; sandpapery on the tongue, like it hasn’t been conched at all; “feels like a pumice stone”; bitter, moldy, sour, lots of people making bad faces while tasting it

Chocolarder 80% Madagascar

This brand stole the show at a past salon, with even super experienced tasters going crazy for it. But this time around, something else happened…The curious thing is that the beans come from Akesson’s Estate, which many makers use to create delicious bars.

Tasting Notes: Black licorice, slow melt, plastic, tires, possibly due to improper storage?

Domori 45% Camel Milk

Yes, you read that right. Domori has started making milk chocolate using unusual milks, like camel.

Tasting Notes: “Tastes like a camel;” gamey, grassy, caramel, great melt, “like buffalo”; “like I’ve been invited into a hut to taste the local beverage and sipped it out of politeness”

Chocolaterie Tessa Single-Origin Truffle

Leftovers from my talk at the Northwest Chocolate Festival! This Austin-based chocolatier uses bean-to-bar chocolate to make confections. This one was made with Fresco’s Madagascar chocolate.

Tasting Notes: fruity, caramel, sumptuous, “hint of Easter chocolate”