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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.

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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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China Wants Our Chocolate?

If you’ve been paying attention to the business news in any publication, blog or newscast, you know that in terms of consumerism, China is big. And China is getting bigger. In a country of 1.3 billion people, there are now over one million millionaires, and they like the good life. They play golf, maintain multiple bank accounts, buy electronics and fine jewelry and travel internationally. Oh, and they are interested in chocolate. Not ravenously, obsessively interested just yet. But it’s coming. The signs are there, including the World Chocolate Wonderland in Shanghai, opened in 2011, where everything from Ming-era vases to the Qin Shi Huang Terra Cotta Army is crafted in chocolate,

Lawrence Allen, a business leader, author and former executive with both Hershey and Nestlé, wrote a fascinating book on chocolate and the Chinese; specifically, the almost limitless market offered in this vast country versus how to market a product so loved in so much of the rest of the world to a population virtually unaware of its existence until the mid 1990s. The book, Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of China’s Consumers (AMACOM, 2009) is not merely how the “Big Five” confectioners brought their products to Chinese consumers, who are certainly an eager and interested population. It’s about formulating new products to cater to their specific tastes, managing the minutiae of government regulations, building and staffing new factories, distribution strategies, pricing and ultimately learning (or not) that in order to manage expectations in such a huge new market, the old strategies were often of little or no use. It was not simply a matter of throwing a big-money, mass marketing campaign out there, hoping it would stick with consumers. China is not just big, it’s changing very fast, as Allen reminds us:

Despite China’s radical transformation over the past three decades, it is still a work in progress. In the last few decades there has been a historic mass economic migration in terms of consumer power that has made hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers physically, culturally, and financially accessible to multinational companies. As China’s distribution infrastructure and quality retail environments continue to penetrate ever deeper into the country, with each new air-conditioned supermarket that opens, tens of thousands of people will suddenly have access to chocolate for the first time. As this process continues, even if 20 million of China’s near billion inaccessible consumers emerge each year to become accessible consumers, it will take another half-century for all of China’s citizens to make this passage.”

If you want to find out more about where chocolate is (literally) going next, Allen’s book charts that path. He keeps the technical and economic jargon simple and tells the story from an insider’s view, with an eye towards keeping the reader who loves all things either chocolate or Chinese interested.

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And speaking of where chocolate has been: two more from my Canadian stash:

72% Rogers Darker Chocolate: “Darker” meaning darker than some of the other bars in their line. This is pure Canadian kitsch, from the raised maple leaf on alternating squares to the fact that it’s made in Canada. It’s a very sweet bar (sugar is the second ingredient) with good snap  and a somewhat acidic finish. It’s not life-changing, but it is a respectable bar.

Dolfin 70%: This bar from Belgium isn’t just contained in the usual rip-open plastic. It’s encased in a classy envelope-style plastic wrap as well. Presentation means everything and takes nothing away from this slightly bitter beauty, which hits all the right notes of plum, citrus and earth.

 

 

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Toronto Travel: Record-Breaking Twenty Bars!

Chocolate on top of chocolate: taking a hot cocoa break at Soma Chocolatier, Toronto.

Chocolate on top of chocolate: taking a hot cocoa break at Soma Chocolatier, Toronto.

And you thought starting this blog with 19 chocolate bars from New York City was a little absurd. I brought home 20 bars from Toronto.

Talk about leaving no bean behind.

We did a lot of walking in our week away. Between the poutine, the peameal bacon (neither of which I was overly fond of), the pastries (which were excellent, thanks to the many small French bakeries) and the food of a dozen ethnic neighborhoods, we had no choice. Toronto boasts a considerable immigrant population, with more than half its residents born outside of Canada, and 20 percent of all of Canada’s immigrants residing here. Over 140 different languages are spoken in Toronto, and the city’s varied cuisines reflect the newcomers’ tastes. Luckily for the chocophile, this means never having trouble finding a new or favorite dessert, bar or beverage. I found new-to-me brands in upscale markets, in grocery and drug stores and in specialty shops such as bookstores and the outrageous Soma Chocolatier, a spot that came highly recommended, and turned out to be a high point of the trip. I’ll be reviewing them over the next few months, starting with two bars:

Valrhona Abinao Puissant & Tannique ((Powerful and Tannic) 85%: The box is dark. The wrapper inside the box is dark. The second you open the box, you smell the darkness. Powerful, indeed. And you are drawn to this bar, done as well as everything Valrhona does. It’s rich, strong, not as bitter as you would think 85% would be. Fruity and woody with a perfect balance of cacao and sugar.

Camino Fair Trade Organic 55%: This ought to be better, given that it’s from Switzerland and despite the fact that it’s organic. It’s got a nice, chewy texture, but the smell and the taste are just plain “off.” The odor and flavor are reminiscent of raw citrus and metal; that classic conundrum I’ve run into so often, even with the well-known organic/fair trade bars. The idea is good but the execution, not so much.

 

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