Small shop goes to the ICAs and brings home the gold

At the 2015 International Chocolate Awards Americas competition:

Two thousand entries.

Over 65 judges.

Four days of trying, tasting, selecting and deciding.

And it came down to three major awards for Stuart’s Castronovo Chocolate:

  • A gold and silver award in a single category (Micro-batch – plain/origin milk chocolate bars; the gold for their Columbia, Sierra Nevada Dark Milk 63% and the silver for their Dominican Republic Dark Milk 50%).
  • An overall gold award in the specialty category for their Rare Cacao Collection (Columbia, Sierra Nevada Dark Milk 63%).

Looking over the extensive list of gold, silver and bronze award winners, it’s obvious that Castronovo Chocolate is in an illustrious league with the world’s best: the winners’ list includes names like Soma (Canada), El Rey (Venezuela), Pacari (Ecuador), and many U.S. micro-batch chocolate makers, such as Amano, Rogue, TCHO, Chuao, Dick Taylor and Dandelion. It’s a big deal to get this far, and it’s the constant attention to the literally small details that bring a chocolate maker to the ICA: making 100-pound batches, using single-origin beans that are sorted by hand, a bean at a time, roasted in small amounts and crafted into bars and confections that are sold in their shop, online and in select stores in the area. And doing that every day, experimenting with different beans, different roasts, different flavor combinations and the hard part: painstakingly convincing the three-bars-for-a-buck crowd that your artisan product is not just better-tasting, it’s better quality and better for you. It’s going to greenmarkets, coffee bars, specialty markets and gourmet grocers and getting your product out there.

This achievement isn’t something done by the dilettante or the part-time candy hobbyist. To get to this prize-winning level, you have to live with and work at this far more than full-time. You have to love it, and want everyone you come in contact with to love it, too.

Oh, and there’s one more stop on the awards trail: the International Chocolate Awards’ World Finals, coming up in October and taking place in London. We’ll be watching.

Castronovo Chocolate, 555 Colorado Ave., Stuart, FL. Phone (561) 512-7236 . Hours: Mon-Sat 2:00 pm-8:00 pm.


Two bars from my stash, both from Italy, both from my Chicago trip:

La Baretta Di Golosi di Salute Luca Montersino 72%: It certainly deserves a salute! Creamy, buttery and sharp with notes of raisins and berries.It’s a lot of name for a chocolate bar, but worth the purchase.

Domori Morogoro-Tanzania 70%: Four squares of elegant, slightly smoky, roasty goodness. Neither sweet nor bitter, but somewhere in between. The kind of chocolate I want after a large meal.

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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Trouble brewing in British chocolate

Two recent announcements from the confectionery business, one from each side of the Atlantic, don’t represent any kind of surprise as much as they invoke a laugh or two.

The first is that the formula for the insanely popular Cadbury Creme Egg will change…sort of. The eggs will still use Cadbury chocolate, but not the dairy milk chocolate that has been part of the formula since their “hatching” in 1971. Mondelez International, a spinoff company of Kraft Foods (the parent company of Cadbury) announced this change last month, along with the tidbit that the number of Creme Eggs sold in the . multipak will decrease from six to five, while the price remains the same. The changes only affect Creme Eggs sold in the United Kingdom; U.S. consumers will see no change.

The other change will affect U.S. candy consumers, at least those who love their British sweets. The Hershey Co. has reached a settlement with Let’s Buy British, a top importer of British products, to stop importing British candy bars into the U.S. Hershey claims the reason for this is that too many of the British products looks similar to American products, which constitutes a patent infringement and also confuses Americans as to which product is which.  The owner of a New York City tea shop which carries a number of British imports had this to say on their Facebook page:

“May we politely suggest that if you think Toffee Crisps look like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups your eyesight is a much bigger problem than your chocolate bar confusion.

The change to the Cadbury Creme Egg hits at the heart of tradition. Love them or loathe them, almost 300 million of them are sold between the U.S. and the U.K alone at Easter time. Why anyone would mess with wild success in the interest of making (or saving) a little more money (Kraft Foods’ net income in 2013 was $2.7 billion) seems completely unreasonable, yet totally expected in this money-driven, quality-be-damned-and-compromised world.

And as for The Hershey Co. thinking Americans would be misled and confused by packaging; well, they could be right. We might be misled into realizing that the good stuff is what’s coming across the pond after all, not the watered-down, sub-par pseudo-chocolate they keep cranking out. So if you want to make your voice heard, just #BoycottHershey on social media. Or sign the petition.

And enjoy some of the good stuff I’ve had lately:

Soma 69% Peruvian: I stashed this one from my Canada trip, and even after long storage, it was still good. A compote of plums, raisins and berries makes this, along with all the other Soma bars, worth the ticket to Toronto. O Canada, you should be proud of this company.

Vanini 86%: Made in Italy from Amazonian beans, the inner wrapper has a long and detailed history of the cacao’s origins and uses. And speaking of uses, this is a good one. This cacao dates its earliest use to the Mayo Chinchipe culture, around 3,500 B.C. It’s a rich, dark, woody bar with shades of tobacco.

Pergale 72%: Sounds Italian, but it’s from Lithuania. It’s a fun bar; soft and chewy, with a flavor of berries and orange. It’s a little too sweet to consume in any quantity, but nice when you need a quick fix.








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Ebola and chocolate: a recipe for disaster?

Choice items from a local greenmarket include Castronovo Chocolate's latest bars

Choice items from a local greenmarket include Castronovo Chocolate’s latest bars

As if there weren’t already enough threats to the world’s chocolate supply, there could be one more: the Ebola virus.

Politico published an article last week detailing how the disease could affect the upcoming harvest. With borders shutting down between those African nations that have yet to experience an outbreak, and those with a massive problem, workers will not be able to move from place to place to harvest beans. Ghana and Ivory Coast, two of the world’s top cacao-producing nations, get their workers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – three nations experiencing the worst of the Ebola crisis. While the cacao beans mean money, Ebola means death, and stopping the spread of the disease has meant taking the drastic measure of closing national borders.

What does this mean to the chocolate-consuming public? Higher prices, of course. But the industry is responding with monetary donations from members of the World Cocoa Foundation to get medical aid to those countries fighting to stop the spread of Ebola. Chocolate makers with processing plants in Africa are also training their workers on how to avoid getting sick in the first place, and hoping that an educated workforce will be a healthy workforce.

But this isn’t just about chocolate. The fear, superstition and lack of sanitation that is helping to spread Ebola is also fueling the failure of other food crops as well. A sick population cannot farm anything, let alone cacao beans. That could mean starvation on top of disease. And that could make the chocolate shortage seem minor by comparison.


A few to review:

Castronovo Chocolate, a bronze medal winner at the International Chocolate Awards this weekend, has two new bars: Nicaragua Dark Milk with Fleur de Sel (60% Trinitario Cacao) and a White Chocolate with Lemon Oil and Lemon Sea Salt. The Dark Milk tastes darker than 60%, but not in a bitter way. The salt tone is prominent, but neither overwhelming nor gritty. I admit to a prejudice against white chocolate on principle, but theirs is a pleasant surprise. There’s not much sweetness, and more of a tangy lemon peel effect to the bar. The salt is much farther in the background in this bar, and the overall taste is like a small shot of lemon meringue pie without the goopy, sticky mess.

Varlhona Jivara 40%: buttery, milky and smooth, this is yet another reason why this manufacturer’s product should be on everyone’s taste test list.

Mast Brothers 73% Dark Chocolate with Almonds: A thin bar with big, chunky almonds. Woodsy and crunchy with a sharp citrus aftertaste.

Bodrato Dark 64%: The first of the two dozen bars I purchased on a recent trip to Chicago. It’s a show-off, packaged in clear wrapping. On the sweet side, with plum and raisin overtones. Very good eating, with good snap and shine.


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Taste Test: Trader Joe’s vs. Fresh Market

We recently welcomed the opening of both a Fresh Market and a Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood. I happen to like both stores; although on the pricey side, they offer a full range of foods and services, both offer high-quality house brands and excellent customer service.

Is Trader Joe’s 85% store brand bar a better buy than Fresh Market? Courtesy of Wikimedia.

But what about the chocolate?

I’ve tried house brand bars from both stores, both 85% cacao, and here’s what I found:

The Trader Joe’s bar, which lists the bean origin as Colombian, was a thin, snappy bar (there are two per package, in case you’re inclined to share) with a lot of fruit, a little smoke and the bitterness you would expect from this percentage. Fresh Market’s bar has no country of origin, it’s thicker and chewier, with hints of butter and heavier smoke.

The two bars are roughly the same weight, and the price difference is less than a dollar. Both had good shine, no bloom and the logo imprints on both bars were clear,

So, which is better? I liked the Trader Joe’s bar a bit more because of the fruit, but I would not decline the Fresh Market if it were offered. Either one is a good and satisfying purchase.


And on the other end of the price spectrum, I invested in a bar of Chocolat Bonnat Porcelana recently. And by invested, I mean I paid around $25 for a single bar. I think it means I have officially gone over to the dark side, figuratively speaking (literally speaking, I’ve been there for a long time). This product sings when you open the package. The aroma is passionately chocolate, and the flavors of raisin, dark caramel and coffee make it seem crazy not to buy it. This is a bar to nibble, savor and save for special occasions.



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Chocolate Prices, Demand Rise; What’s Your Solution?

Will the quality chocolate fade away, or just become part of the good life for a very few?

Will the quality chocolate fade away, or just become part of the good life for a very few?

A recent article in the New York Times sounded the alarm once again: we like our fine chocolate, and we are paying the price.

Cacao and chocolate prices are expected to rise dramatically this year. In the U.S., consumers can expect to see a 45 percent increase, British consumers will likely see a 25 percent increase

Part of the problem is sheer demand, especially for dark chocolate. Over the years, the proliferation of better-quality chocolate has sensitized our tastes, if not our wallets, to the idea that having the best is worth a little more money, because it takes less consumption to really enjoy fine chocolate. And of course, there is the health data on why a little dark chocolate a day helps keep the health blues away. Emerging markets in China and India, where chocolate consumption has typically been among the lowest in the world, are bringing pressure to chocolate makers already stressed by smaller supplies due to poor weather conditions and a lack of needed investment in cacao-growing nations, which exist in a finite number within just ten degrees of the Equator.

And the making of fine chocolate is an ever-changing art. Creators cannot offer the same truffles and pralines year after year. New flavors must be brought into play, with the understanding that each market has its preferences and tastes. Additional ingredients cost money; small-batch chocolates are already expensive to produce, and no chocolate maker worthy of the artisan label is going to use anything but the finest fruits, nuts, alcohol bases, flowers, spices, coffee, tea and herbs.

What do we do? Buy now and hoard? Consume less? Buy bars and specialties when you travel, at their source, and bring them home? Personally, I’ve done all of the above. Then again, I paid about US$ 45 for two bars of Bonnat from a local shop that stocks French specialty foods. There is always that fourth option: spending the money and doing without something else.


And speaking of recent buys:

Camino Fair Trade 70%: Swiss-made, kosher and organic. Also very chewy, tangy-citrus to the point of tropical in flavor. And while the snap and shine aren’t especially good, at least the classic organic metallic flavor is missing.

Soma Black Science Equator 67%: Buttery, vanilla, dairy. Not bittersweet, but not remotely like any milk chocolate you’ve ever had. I’ve said this before with other bars from the artisan Canadian company: I’d happily go back to Toronto for more of everything they make.


2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Thanks for reading!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized


Cacao In Space And A Taste of Toronto

The antique grinding wheel at Soma Chocolate in Toronto.

The antique grinding wheel at Soma Chocolate in Toronto.

Have you heard the one about the chocolate bar hitching a ride to the moon?

OK, it’s not going quite that far. But just to show you that even the very best must be enjoyed in the very farthest reaches of the known and populated universe, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX have contracted with NASA to restock the International Space Station with a package of treats put together by Douglas Hurley, the husband of one of the space station’s residents, Karen Nyberg. That package will include chocolate. This is the maiden voyage for Orbital Sciences; let’s hope the company keeps up the good work. No word on the brand of chocolate being delivered, but when you are far from home and choices, is it true that any chocolate is good chocolate?

And from my latest tastings: Toronto’s version of sin in a civilized place: Soma Chocolate. Soma has two locations in the city, and to walk into the Distillery District location, and observe the antique grinding wheels at work, watch the tempering and dipping and forming of bars, pralines and truffles is to observe expertise meeting exquisite and both of them having a damned good time. With flavoring elements ranging from Douglas fir and bergamot to whiskey and Poprocks, you will enjoy buying, trying and following them on Facebook to see what’s coming out next.

Here are my thoughts on two of the six bars I bought:

Soma Black Science 70% Criollo: A hint of both raisin and coffee in this slightly bitter bar. A square or two is enough to satisfy; it has great balance, and it’s very smooth.

Black Science 70% Trinidad: The same percentage as the Criollo, but smokier, with more of a citrus finish. This bar is easier eating; you could go through half of it easily and not feel overwhelmed.


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