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Boston is a (cacao) bean kind of town

After far too long away from writing this blog, I am back. Buying, tasting and reviewing, but most of all, enjoying the chocolate the world offers.

A recent trip to Boston (planned and for the fun of it) resulted in the purchase of about a dozen bars, most of them found in several fine gourmet shops around the Harvard University campus. The weather was cold and rainy most of the time,  but nothing dampens what visitors expect from this city – history, food, culture and  people who are proud to be from here. The city is big, and seeing it all means breaking it into sections and wandering a section at a time. Plan to walk a lot, and don’t hesitate to use the city’s public transit. Buy a weekly unlimited pass and go everywhere without ever pulling out your wallet again. Do the touristy things, like the Tea Party ships, Faneuil Hall, Harborwalk and Fenway Park, but go off the beaten path, too. Wander the old stone streets of the North End, where family owned shops are still the norm. Head out to Dorchester’s Polish Triangle for old-fashioned delis and working-class vibe or tour the Harvard and MIT campuses and find the small student pubs, bars and bookstores.

For a nearly 400-year-old city (founded in 1630), Boston still has a lot of surprises. And the chocolate I found is one of them. Here are two bars I found in a shop called Cardullo’s:

Dolfin 88% (Belgium): Heavily wrapped with an outer plastic pouch enclosing a sealed inner package, the bar was difficult to get to, but worth the work. From the second I opened the package, the woody, earthy scent emanated forth. The first and last taste were very strong on the wood and smoke, but middle notes were roasty with coffee tones. A very dark bar in every sense of the word.

Chocolat Bonnat Porcelana 75% (France): In contrast, this Venezuelan-sourced bar with nothing but buttery smooth, with a little trace of vanilla.  You could eat a lot of this bar without noticing the decrease, unlike the Dolfin.


Cacao instead of coca?

It doesn’t sound right, given what I know about illegal drugs and drug addiction in general.

But apparently, it’s true. Farmers in regions infamous for producing coca leaves, the base product of cocaine, are turning away from this type of farming and growing cacao trees instead. It’s a great thing for chocolate lovers, but cocaine should be a more lucrative crop. Why are growers dumping cocaine and turning to cocoa beans?

The bloodshed and violence involved in coca production is well-known and widespread, but over the years, it has escalated to the point where innocent family members have been killed or sent to prison, and farm land confiscated. In Colombia alone, there have been almost half a million drug-related homicides and 81,000 hectares of land lost to coca production since 1990.

The loss of cocoa production in other countries once well-known for their beans. Ghana and the Ivory Coast, once prolific cocoa producers, have seen their crops reduced due to the effects of El Niño, aging trees and a diminished population of farmers.

With the loss of cocoa beans from familiar countries, buyers are looking for new sources, and they are finding them in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. While the drug war will likely never fully be won by the good guys, the fact that farmers are taking a stand and converting their land, investing the time and plantings and then waiting up to five years for their first cocoa harvest (coca leaves, on the other hand, could be harvested up to three times a year from a single planting) shows not only goodwill, but good sense when it comes to investing in a sweeter and safer future for everyone.


A few bars I found recently:

Sucre Candied Violet Bar – Made by a Nigerian-born chocolate maker who lives in Louisiana, it’s tropical in its fruit flavor, and the candied violets a crunchy bit of fun. It’s a nice bar to break up and have with coffee as a dessert.

Chocomize – New York-based company that lets you create and order your own bars online, but I found a few varieties locally. The one I tried had unsalted pecans, hazelnuts and almonds. The chocolate itself is on the sweet, mild, milk chocolate end of the spectrum. The whole nuts were a novelty you don’t often find in even the better bars.

Domori Arriba Ecuador 70% – The biggest problem with this little .88-ounce bar is that there just isn’t enough of it. From the beautiful box and foil wrapper to the buttery, vanilla flavor of the dark bar, this is just a class chocolate act.



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Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


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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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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Chocolate Festival returns in October

The Olive Tap will be back this year with their line of cocoa-based oils.

The Olive Tap will be back this year with their line of cocoa-based oils.

It’s been a year since the Nova-Southeastern University Arena went from athletic forum to chocolate fantasy, but the time has come for another Festival of Chocolate. The two-day event is open to the public and will feature everything from candy-making equipment to local artisan chocolate makers to a chocolate-inspired fashion show and a chocolate-chili cookoff.

Talking to show producer Aileen Mand (a former Walt Disney World producer), this looks to be a bigger and more diverse show than last year. And Mand knows both chocolate and how to put on a good show. Her husband is Edgar Schaked, third-generation German chocolatier and  founder and franchise owner of Schakolad Chocolates. Together, they run Indigo Creative Productions to run the chocolate festivals and have opened Chocolate Kingdom, an interactive tour of their bean-to-bar factory near Kissimmee. Their lives don’t just revolve around one of the world’s favorite foods; their lives are chocolate-filled, cocoa-colored and pretty sweet.

The show will feature sessions teaching chocolate and wine pairings, cookie-stacking contests, raffles, an interactive display showing the history of chocolate and some cacao-based foods that you probably don’t have in your kitchen right now, such as marinades, balsamic vinegars and and dry rubs. And if you’ve never had cocoa-based olive oil or a brigadeiro (the hottest sweet treat from Brazil), this is your chance.

The Festival of Chocolate is scheduled for Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Oct 13 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advanced tickets for the show are $12 for adults and children ages 2-12 are $10. Tokens for samples are purchased separately and inside the arena; samples are priced from $1 to $5. Advanced tickets may only be purchased until 5 p.m. Oct.11. After that time, they must be purchased at the box office, and an additional $1 will be added to the purchase price.


And to get you in the mood, a little something from my stash:

Madécasse 44% Arabica Coffee: I’m a fan of anything this company makes, even if it does fall in the milk chocolate range. This is smooth, with a fine crunch of coffee nibs that flavor, but don’t overpower the taste of milk and butter in the chocolate. Another winner from this incredible line of products.




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