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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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Castronovo Chocolate: Round 2

DSCN0902They are closing in on the May 1 opening date for the Stuart store, but Denise and Jim Castronovo still found time to introduce me to two more chocolates in their line: the 71% Criollo Cacao Peru, which I admit I’ve had stashed in the chocolate fridge, saving for the right tasting time, and their latest creation, the 72% Wild Amazon Cacao from Venezuela. When I stopped at their booth at the Palm Beach Gardens greenmarket last week to pick up the Venezuelan, I had the opportunity to talk the ears off of two very nice ladies who were looking over the Castronovo’s bars, trying to decide if they were worth a try.

I told them about my previous experiences with organic chocolate and explained why it was important to support a local artisan making quality product. They did buy, hopefully because they wanted to and not to make me shut up. No doubt they thought I was a company “plant” disguised as an ordinary citizen who just happened to wander into the market.

No shill here; just a happy consumer who’s pleased to find local organic chocolate that tastes like no other organic chocolate out there. You can find out more about the company at https://www.facebook.com/CastronovoChocolate.

As for the two new bars:

  • The Venezuela bar is sweet on the nose, but bitter on the bite. It’s got a nice snap, good shine and the cacao flavor is very pure, with a classic bittersweet “tang” on the end. You can easily enjoy the entire 1.25 ounce bar.
    The Peru bar has less tang, more mildness and a mouthful of fruit flavor, with strawberries very pronounced; so much so, you’re almost looking for seeds between your teeth. But no dental floss needed here. This is a great way to enjoy the best of both worlds.

 

 

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Can Inexpensive Chocolate Be Good?

Moser Roth - chocolate from Aldi

Moser Roth – chocolate from Aldi (Photo credit: lightsight)

I visited an Aldi store that opened recently near my office, and of course, I had to find out if there was any chocolate on the shelves.

If you know anything about the Germany-based Aldi chain, you know it’s a discount grocery store that carries very little in comparison to most American supermarkets. No floral, photo, pharmacy, fresh bakery, salad bar or deli counter. Just the basic, mostly private-label choices of produce, prepackaged breads, dairy, fresh meats, frozen seafood, paper products and health and beauty goods.

I’ve written about the chain for another online publication, but not about their chocolate. I found two bars to try, and decided for the price (less than $3 for each eight-ounce bar), it was worth the risk. If they were awful, it proves that money can and does buy the best. If they were at least acceptable, it proves that quality can come at a favorable price.

The two bars I tried, Choceur Dark 45% and Moser Roth 70% were tasted at the same time of day (7 a.m., which is my normal tasting time) on two different days.The Choceur Dark is from Austria, and the best thing I could say is that it was pleasantly OK. The bar had shine, but no snap. The flavor was a little tangy, not as sweet as you would expect this percentage, but there just wasn’t much to distinguish it from any drugstore bar.

The Moser Roth was closer to what you’d expect from a high-end bar. Bitter, with a decently deep chocolate flavor, but nothing that would make you buy more of it, even for the price. It’s not bad, just not very satisfying.

Both bars contain vanillin, the artificially synthesized vanilla flavor, which certainly didn’t help the flavor profile. If you’ve eaten the highest-quality chocolate for a while, even a small amount of the poor or middle-of-the-road stuff is unpleasant to the palate. I understand the need for products like these. It’s an opportunity for people of limited financial means or those with a genuine lack of chocolate knowledge to obtain the best. Both are a step up from the mass-produced morass. Not a very strong step, but a step nonetheless.

 

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The End Is Near: The NYC Stash Is (Almost) Gone

From Top Of The Rock to the end of my stash: I miss NY

A year ago, I brought nineteen bars of chocolate from New York City home in my backpack. I walked streets and rode subways, scrutinized store shelves, endured cold, rain and the TSA at Newark to get them here. Amazing how time goes by, yet the city, and in fact the entire east coast is facing another freak storm, like last year at this time (except this one is bigger, badder, colder, wetter; a superfreak version of the 2011 storm).

And they are nearly gone. Only two bars remain and one will be reviewed here.

It’s been a learning experience so far, to put it mildly. I’ve spoken to artisan chocolatiers and people who just love to eat the good stuff. I’ve faced blank stares from people who don’t understand why I do this, and big smiles from those who totally get it. I’ve had my requests for information ignored, and also been welcomed with open arms, all my questions answered and a taste or two of product along the way. I’ve found that just like in any other profession, you have some really good folks who want to share their passion, and some who think that anyone who is asking about their process is a spy out to ruin them. I’m learning not to take rejection personally, and cultivate the connections I make, while enjoying the new products along the way.

Along with some of the products I found at the recent Fort Lauderdale show, here’s the penultimate NYC stash bar:

  • La Maison du Chocolat Marao 60% Dark with Bursts of Roasted Almond: I loved it when I found this shop on a rainy Thursday afternoon in Manhattan. All decorated in shades of chocolate brown and serving cakes, coffee, teas and silver trays of chocolate, it was a chic reason to get out of weather. This bar is a little on the sweet side for me, and the almond addition doesn’t burst so much as melt away pleasantly, because the pieces are so small. But it’s a good bar, one you can share with a friend or a child who isn’t fond of bittersweet bars.
  • Cacao Art Palet d’ Or: from the Miami-base chocolatier (http://cacaoart.com/Chocolates5.html), this little work of art is so dense and dark it will actually make you shiver. And the bit of 24K gold leaf on top is just a bit of gilding on an already perfect lily.
  • Sweet Treats Brigadeiro Pistachio Truffle (http://sweettreatsbrigadeiro.com/): I used a knife to slice through this, just to see what the texture was like. The best way to describe it is “mud pie consistency.” The website refers to the inside of the truffle as “dough,” which is probably a bit more elegant. Suffice to say it’s somewhere between frosting and fudge, and the nuts are just there for fun. Their classic truffle, with a 70% shell covering the same center, is a bit closer to what truffle “purists” probably consider a “real” truffle. What can I say? It’s different in Brazil, but it’s not a bad thing. Sweeter, heavier and guaranteed to feed your fix with just one.
 

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Are You Smarter Because Of Chocolate?

Dr. Franz Messerli, a Swiss-born hypertension expert, has put forth a theory that is interesting to many and surprises not a single person whose daily habit includes at least a bite of high-quality chocolate:

Smart people very likely eat chocolate, and it may even help their cognitive function.

In a paper recently mentioned in Forbes and published by the New England Journal of Medicine, Messerli presented mathematical correlations between the number of Nobel prize winners per 10 million population and the consumption of chocolate per capita. He ran the numbers in 23 countries, and the results place Switzerland in first place for both the number of Nobel winners and per capita consumption: 31 winners and a per capita consumption of 13 kilograms (28 pounds, 10 ounces) per year. Sweden was second with the same number of winners as Switzerland but a much lower per capita consumption at 6 kg (13 pounds, three ounces) per year, and Denmark, in third place, got the numbers back to their expected levels: 25 winners and 9 kg (19 pounds,13 ounces) per person per year.

And the United States? A mid-pack runner at 10 Nobel winners and a per capita consumption of 5.5 kg (12 pounds, two ounces) per year per person. At the bottom of the list are China and Japan. If Sweden is excluded as the exception to the rule, the results are pretty linear and support the theory, which Messerli admits arriving at by observing the history and not by any type of random, controlled trials.

Is Messerli just having fun at the expense of the world’s geniuses? Or is there something more to his hypothesis? Is his paper one more piece of proof that chocolate is not only good for the body and the soul, it’s also good for the brain?

While you ponder that deep thought, consider these recent bars and truffles I’ve tasted recently:

  • Cafè Tasse Noir: A dark chocolate with a distinct vegetable taste. There’s a corn note at the beginning, which I’ve never experienced before, followed by the classic dark, strong Belgian chocolate. The bar has good snap and a slight wine aftertaste.
  • Christopher Elbow #1 Dark 70: This bar smells deep, snaps deep and it’s shiny. It’s a 70% that’s 100% excellent. It leans more towards the fruit/wine spectrum rather than the sweet side, This is a bar you can eat, use for confections or for fondue. You will savor it in any form you use it.
  • Cacao Art Limón Truffle: A truffle I found at last week’s Fort Lauderdale Festival of Chocolate. The expected rich pillow of smooth chocolate, and then the sudden hit of lime on your tastebuds like a just-mixed mojito. Is it a lime truffle with a chocolate chaser, or a chocolate truffle with a lime kick? Doesn’t matter – it’s good!

    Will these make you smarter? Or are are you already intelligent enough to eat a few a day?

 

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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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Chocolate, Ale and Wine Just Fine in Columbus, OH!

The modern and elegant interior of Le Chocoholique

There’s this shop on the south end of High Street, the main north/south drag through Columbus, Ohio. And although it’s wishful thinking that they could move closer to me, it’s just a good thing that this place exists at all, in a city I happen to like and visit once a year.

Le Chocoholique, open since 2010, is a dark and elegant space with cafe seating, coffee drinks, a wine bar offering chocolate-friendly wines, ales and cocktails, and trays of impossible-to-try-them-all pastries and chocolates. You’d have to visit many times to work through the selection, and even then, you’re likely to get frustrated (in a good way), since flavors get switched out and new ones added regularly

Where to start? Just look at the adult beverage list, with offerings such as Joel Gott Relative Red 2000, Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc and Steele Cuvee’ Chardonnay, plus a variety of dessert wines. For ales, there’s Brooklyn Brewery Chocolate Stout, Hell or High Watermelon Beer and Well’s Banana Bread Beer. Want a chocolate-covered pretzel martini, or a dulce de leche martini with those truffles? You can get them here. Coffee drinks are available in everything from black pepper fig to cardamom rosewater to ginger passionfruit, plus classic espresso, Americano, cappuccino and hot chocolate.

But you are here for the chocolates. And please, try a variety of the most unusual: the Velvet Elvis (with peanut butter, banana and bacon), Hellishly Hot Peanut Butter, Olive Oil, Ghost Chili, lavender Fleur de Sel, rosemary caramel, Limoncello espresso, Bleu cheese and any of those flavored with liqueurs and spirits (Courvoisier, Absolut, Maker’s Mark and Remy Martin). There are plenty of “standards” flavored with fruit, nuts, maple syrup, spices, coffee and honey, too.

Le Chocoholique also does pies, brownies, cupcakes, chocolate fondue, gelato and specialty desserts including tiramisu, creme brulee, Sacher torte and cheesecake. It’s a cocktail boutique, a coffee lounge, a chocolate specialty shop, a bakery, a wine bar; it’s enough calories for the day and sweet selections for several months. And it’s a can’t-miss stop in the Short North district.

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The shop also carries a selection of bean-to-bar chocolates, including a brand I had not tried: M. Recchiuti. I bought the Orchard Bar, which is a semisweet chocolate bar studded with caramel syrup-coated mulberries, toasted almonds and currants, and the Dark Milk Bar. Dark Milk sounds like a contradiction of terms, but the taste is anything but confusing. It’s an excellent compromise between on-the-mild-side milk and fruity-finishing 85% dark. If you are on the fence when it comes to either milk or dark, this bar will knock you right off your perch.And while the Orchard Bar sounds like too much going on in a three-ounce package, it isn’t. There’s enough fruit and nuts to keep you interested, but not so much as to mask the chocolate quality. A thumb’s up for each of these!

Le Chocoholique (http://www.lechocoholique.com/v1/), 601 North High Street, Columbus, OH. Phone (614) 223-4009. Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m, to 10 p.m., Thursday and Friday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6: 30 p.m.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Chocolate, Gourmet chocolate

 

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