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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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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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The Chocolate You Find In Strange Places

Kentucky

Kentucky (Photo credit: lalunablanca)

I’ve always been an advocate of getting off the interstates and main roads and finding what moves you in places you don’t expect to find much of anything. If you travel, you know the grim progression of gas stations, fast food joints and souvenir stands that line this nation’s roadways like tourist-teasing sentinels, out to get your money in exchange for what you think you want, as well as what you need.

But sometimes, getting off the road gets you a special find – like a chocolate bar you haven’t tried before.

On my recent trip up north, I found most of my best chocolates in small artisan shops in North Carolina and Ohio. But in a chain grocery store in rural Kentucky, I got lucky. We stopped to pick up sandwiches for a picnic lunch, and I wandered over to the candy aisle, just to check and see what kind of confections rural Kentuckians were consuming. And there I spotted it: a chocolate bar called Heidi Grand d’ Or 75%.

The bar is made in Romania, and it turns out that it is one of a line fine bars, including an 85% and several spice, nut and fruit combinations (cranberry, orange, mint, coffee, almond), pralines and seasonal novelties. A helpful map on their website (http://heidi-chocolate.com/store-locator/) shows that the company’s reach is fairly extensive, with stores in the U.S., Canada, Australia, China and parts of Europe and South America. While you cannot order the product directly from the company’s site, you can check the locator map for a store near you. The map for the U.S. locations isn’t really helpful, but it’s a start. Or you can head to a Kroger in rural Kentucky and find it there.

And the taste? Dark, rich and intense, without heavy sugar and too-strong woody notes. The 75% is a balanced and enjoyable bar, with one square going a long way.

Gourmet shops and artisan chocolatiers are always going to be a great source of true favorites and untried chocolate. But take time to take a side trip, leaving the Google map or Garmin behind. Something new could be as close as that shack near the tracks – or the shelf at the local grocery store.

 

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