Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Chocolate Bar Review

Chocolate bars
You wouldn't know it by looking at me, but I'm in training. In March I'll be on the tasting panel for the Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon and I take this responsibility very seriously. In fact, I snagged as many bars of chocolate I could at the Fancy Food Show to prepare for my judging. Ok, that's not completely true. I took the chocolate bars because I love chocolate.

The samples of chocolates I tasted are very random. I took bars and mini bars from any chocolatier who did not literally tape the bars into the boxes, prohibiting me from taking any. Why anyone would exhibit at the Fancy Food Show and NOT provide samples of their products is beyond me. But believe me, there are plenty of them. I also took some samples from a company that makes chocolate intended to be paired with wine. I will review those another day.

There is a bit of a debate that rages on about chocolate, both about percentages and about single estate versus blends. Frankly, I don't get it. I drink wine that is produced from a single estate and wine that is a blend of different grapes. One is not necessarily better than the other. Because I prefer dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate I only snagged darker bars, but really, the obsession over percentages is just silly unless you are baking and a recipe calls for one versus another. It's chocolate people. Eat, enjoy, stop fretting!

So here are the bars I gathered for a little in-home tasting:

Amano is one of the great American chocolate producers. Please lord, don't let them ever sell out to Hershey's! I am particularly fond of their Ocumare bar which I have raved about in the past. Not to get too deep here, but there is a complexity of flavors that I find tantalizing. So what I do think of the the Amano Jembrana 70% cacao? Me like. But to be honest, it's a little one dimensional. It's super fly, I mean, super dark and if you are in the ultra bittersweet camp, this bar will make you happy. It's dark but also sweet. I got a spicy nutmeg finish and rich caramel tones. It's from Bali. Did you know there was chocolate in Bali? I didn't!

Another American chocolate company I greatly admire is Guittard. I am proud that they are local, still family owned and operated. They make a very comprehensive line of chocolate that is a favorite of many pastry chefs and chocolatiers. When the government attempted to legislate a decrease in quality to save chocolatiers money, Guittard fought it tooth and nail. Nice. They also made a generous donation of 4 pounds of chocolate to the Menu for Hope fundraiser. Super nice. Personally, I am devoted to their chocolate chips. Since I do favor a more bittersweet bar, I thought I'd try their ultra dark bar, E.Guittard Nocturne 91% cacao. This bar made me swoon. It has a bitterness and a pleasant astringency but also notes of raspberry and cherry.

Santander produces only Columbian chocolate. The Santander Columbian Single Origin 70% cacao bar is not as smooth textured as some of the other chocolates I tried, but it has a very pleasant nuts and coffee flavor I liked.

The Republica Del Cacao 75% Manabi chocolate from Ecuador is fairly mild. Made from Cacao Arriba, it is particularly fragrant. I got both floral and almond flavors. It was very pleasant and interesting to compare to the other chocolates, but less intense.

I liked the Republica Del Cacao 75% Los Rios chocolate better than the Manabi, but it also had a very sweet character to it, reminding me of vanilla and tropical flowers. If you're going to be a chocolate geek, and don't let me stop you, I would recommend including these Ecuadorian bars in the mix.