Since Christmas I've had several unexpected but inspiring chocolate experiences. As I've been very busy recently blogging have not been a very high priority, so unfortunately these stories have been a bit delayed in reaching the world. However now they are finally ready, and as the saying goes; better late than never, and I must say that this especially applies when it comes to chocolate! Also note that this is a special post and that I won't make it a habit to regularly review specific chocolates on this blog. I've made an exception in this case due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding each of the chocolates described below, including a nice bit of innovation, impressive entrepreneurship and an excellent example of social media marketing done right.
Now, for the first piece it was December 2008 and I was visiting the Christmas market in the German city of Kiel. While looking around for gifts and goodies I stumbled across a stack of beautifully wrapped black and gold chocolate-bars. The bars were Christmas-flavoured 70% chocolate-bar with cinnamon and coriander from the famous Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory in Switzerland, so I just had to get me some of those. After bringing them safely home destined for the holidays I eventually tasted them, and I have to tell you: they were good. Really good, and very christmassy too.
The bars had a nice dark colour and were quite thin and separated into breakable pieces, each piece with a thicker bubble of chocolate filled with a rough spiced praline. The aroma of the spices were clearly noticeable through a nice earthy chocolatey taste, and the tastes were very well balanced. As Lindt bars often are the chocolate was distinctly bitter, especially in the after-taste, but not so in an overpowering way. All in all, a great find for the holidays!
Healthy chocolate; as shown on TV!
Jumping forward to February, I was attending a networking event where I got talking to a guy who was in the early stages of creating and marketing a new class of healthy chocolates inspired by the raw food movement. Their brand Sjokoladeprinsen was a competitor at Skaperen ("The Maker"), a televised entrepreneurship-competition on Norwegian TV2, and they were looking for partners. With my higher than average interest in chocolate we immediatly hit it off, and I was invited to come along to meet the team at the live semi-finals that were taking place the very next day. I naturally took this opportunity, and after they managed winning the day I was treated to one of the first production-samples of their healthy raw chocolate.
To keep it a certified raw-food the chocolate can not be heated above 42°C during production, meaning it is not roasted or shelled like regular chocolates are. As it is during the roasting that most of the chocolate taste develops fully, removing roasting from the process naturally affected the taste quite a bit. Being unroasted the chocolate had a very pure unprocessed chocolate-taste without any of the usual sub-notes you can find in most chocolate, and it was also more powdery than regular chocolate as well as nearly completely devoid of any after-taste. To keep the chocolate healthy adding sugar was of course also a no-no, so the chocolate had instead been sweetened with natural aspartame from birch, giving it a very cold and lingering sweetness. These things caused the chocolate to fall quite below my usual expectations, but it was still very much on par with most regular mass produced confectionery-chocolate, while at the same time being much healthier. All in all a very good first attempt.
Eventually the chocolate-makers went on to win the entire competition securing one million NOK in funding. With these funds a set of limited edition healthy chocolates with plain, orange and mint-flavours were released by the end of May, branded as Sjokoladeprinsens Ekte Sjokolade ("Real Chocolate by the Prince of Chocolate"). Using more professional production equipment for this release the powdery issues were gone and both colour and consistency of the pieces was very nice, but by being moulded into thick chocolate hearts the chocolates were almost too hard to bite into. As before the taste was still good despite lacking depth, making it a great munching chocolate! I'm told that regular bars of Ekte Sjokolade are in the pipeline for a fall release in Norway, with hopes to quickly go international as well, so these chocolates are definitely something to keep an eye out for.
Camaya chocolate slabs
My third and most amazing special chocolate moment occurred in March. Being a fine chocolate afficionado I follow a selection of chocolate-blogs to get new impulses, and one day the Chocolate Note had a review of some Cashew & Sesame bars by the new artisan chocolatier Camaya that looked really delicious, so I left a comment on the blog saying just that. Later that very same evening I surprisingly got a email from Anita at Camaya, saying that if I replied with my address they'd mail some samples of their chocolates for me taste at no cost. I naturally jumped at this opportunity, being very impressed by their outreaching social media strategy, and just a few days later I found a set of three Camaya chocolate slabs in the mail. Very impressive!
In addition to the above-mentioned Cashew & Sesame slab, I also received a spicy slab with Chilli and a milk chocolate slab with Mango & Cardomom. The slabs were uniquely created with pieces of fruits and nuts melted into the top, and while this made the slabs somewhat quirky to eat, the taste more than make up for it.
Starting out with my declared favourite slab, the ingredients list on the back states that it was a 60% created with Belgian chocolate, I'm guessing couverture from Callebaut. The slightly salted cashews was glazed and covered with sesame seeds before added to the slab, a perfect match for the dark chocolate making up one of the best nutty chocolates I've ever had: salty, sweet, and just a tad bitter at the same time, combined with a rich dark chocolate taste. Yum!
Next I took on the mango-slabs, which turned out to be the hardest to eat due to the large pieces of tough dried fruits, making up 10% of the slab! The dried fruits could preferably have been juicier and a bit more flavourful, but this didn't detract much from the otherwise very good and velvety 33% milk-chocolate perfectly rounded with cardamom in both aroma and taste. Absolutely a recommended pick for milk-chocolate lovers.
Finally I went for the last of the three, a chilli chocolate. Very spicy chocolates like these are usually a special treat, and this one was no exception. A powerful chilli burn spread in my mouth almost from the instant I bit into the slab which was covered with chilli-seeds, and as the dark 60% chocolate melted the burning chilli moved further back and chocolate notes started covering the tongue. However this didn't last very long before just the hotness from the slowly waning chilli was left, overpowering any residual chocolate notes that would otherwise be left. While I must say that this slab was a bit too hot for my tastes, especially to begin with, the quality of its pure chilli burn was the most amazing I've had in a chocolate, so if you are into hot chilli chocolates I'm sure you'll eat this one up.
That unfortunately is all I had for you tonight, but stay tuned for more postings about chocolates and other topics, eventually :-)