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October 25, 2006

The Chocolate Life

Lately I've been a mite stressed out due to a number of problems and as a result I've been rather rudely ignoring my blogging obligations. That's not to say that I haven't been thinking about chocolate. After last weeks painful Dagobombshell (which might not be as bad as I feared - David Lebovitz got the scoop from Frederick Schilling of Dagoba) I really couldn't help but be thinking about chocolate. This is a bit of a roundup of what's been going on in my life and my head regarding my favorite food.

Dagoba, as I hinted in my post about them being bought by Hershey (*sigh*), has two new bars that they're bringing to market and they sound pretty interesting. The first one is their Prima Materia which is a 100%(!) cacao content bar. They put special effort into getting the perfect blend to keep the astringency down to a reasonable level. Normally I would shy away from a 100% bar, but I think that if anybody can make a good one it's got to be Dagoba. The second new bar is the Sambirano 65% sigle origin bar made with nothing but trinitario beans from the Sambirano region of Madagascar. This one I'm dying to try. An organic, single origin bar made with Madagascar sourced trinitario beans is one I don't want to miss. I'm quite curious about the one and eager to try the other so I think they are both going on my shopping list.

Speaking of my shopping list, I keep buying (and of course eating) chocolate, whether I blog about it or not. This past week I've been gnawing away at a Ghirardelli Intense Dark Citrus Sunset which has little orange and caramel bits running through it. Not a world-class tasting chocolate, but a nice thing to absent mindedly gnaw at while getting things done. The other thing I've opened and started to enjoy is a Valrhona Organic Dark Bar. Very nice stuff (not that I'd expect anything less from Valrhona). I'm probably going to work up a review of it (if I don't eat it too quickly - oh, that would be a sin) when I have a chance. Other than that I've not really eaten anything too special lately.

I have had something special to drink, though. Hot chocolate season is upon us again! Autumn seems to have given up early and winter is setting in (at least around here) and nothing chases the chill away like hot chocolate. Last winter disappointed and I didn't feel the need for hot chocolate nearly as much as I hoped. As a result I have a pantry full of leftovers (I need to check and see if any of it is still good - my Green & Black's and Dagoba are actual chocolate as opposed to cocoa and might have a limited shelf life). Hopefully I won't have the same problem this year (or at least I'll not buy quite so much as last year).

Hey, that's right! It's nearly November. I have a flight to New York scheduled for two weeks from today. Sadly, I think I'm going to have to cancel. My rabbit's health isn't what I would like it to be and I'm afraid that the stress of me taking off could make it significantly worse. While I want to go on this vacation I don't want to risk my bunny. I can cancel my vacation and only be out the cost of the plane ticket and use a portion of the money I'll save on hotel and food and shows and whatnot to put in a big fat order in at Chocosphere. It won't be the same thing as five days in Manhattan, but I'll be able to spend those days eating chocolate and spoiling my rabbit so it's a pretty fair trade.

I say that 'I think' I'm going to have to cancel but I've really been resigned to this for weeks and just haven't gotten around to posting about it. I put a lot of time and effort and thought into planning this trip and I hate to just put it aside, but the way I see it both I and New York will probably still be around next year and the city will probably still be crawling with fantastic chocolate. I figure that the baseball mantra of "There's always next year" will do me just fine for now.

Ok, lets put the unhappiness aside and close things up with a couple of recipes that have popped up in the last couple of days! First up the Kansas City Star have a recipe for Chocolate Chip Strawberry Muffins. I love muffins, chocolate, and strawberries so I might be giving this one a try. The Seattle Times have a muffin recipe up this week as well. They are offering up Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins which sound interesting. I haven't had many things combining chocolate and pumpkin, but those I've had have been pretty good so I might break down and give these a try.

All I got for you today!

October 19, 2006

Hersheygoba? Hershey Buys Dagoba!

dagoba.jpgOh, damn.

I was getting ready to do a post on the new single origin bars from Dagoba (I'll get to those later I guess) and then this lands in my inbox. It seems that buying Scharffen Berger wasn't enough for them and now Hershey has bought Dagoba. They don't seem to have ruined Scharffen Berger, but I'm not sure if a giant corporate beast can help but change a small-batch artisanal chocolate maker like Dagoba.

Let the FUD begin.

Press Release

October 16, 2006

Chocolate Skyscraper?

Funny that the same day I get the news of a massive chocolate igloo I also get news of a massive chocolate skyscraper. A French chef who works at the Hyatt in Chicago has built a giant chocolate skyscraper at FAO Schwartz in New York. The skyscraper, almost 21 feet tall, isn't a replica of any single building but instead is a hodge-podge of New York architecture. I'm hoping for a more detailed article in the future. The articles I've seen are small and don't offer a lot of detail so I'd like a little something more on this one but at least there are some good pictures. Check 'em out!

Chocolate Igloo?

Any time somebody builds something big and impressive out of chocolate I tend to be amused and enthralled. The inventiveness and scale they achieve in their creations always leaves me floored, and this is no exception. At the Eurochocolate fair in Italy (now added to the list of events I want to attend) they have built a full-sized igloo out of chocolate. That's over 3 tons of chocolate (if I'm converting from metric correctly). I'm torn between the shocking waste of 3 tons of chocolate and the cool absurdity of a chocoalte igloo. Neat stuff. The gallery at the Eurochocolate site is excellent (though their site is a little slow) so check it out.
News Article
Eurochocolate Igloo Gallery
Eurochocolate Non-Igloo Gallery

October 9, 2006

Review: sweetriot flavor 65

I always have trouble starting to write a review (almost as much as taking decent pictures). There are only so many ways you can say, “Hey, I bought some chocolate!” Eventually you just don’t know what else to say. You just don’t quite know how to open things up.

So, umm... guess what? I bought some chocolate!

The selection of treats at Whole Foods Market doesn’t seem to change a whole lot and around here it’s about the best thing going (that I’m aware of) so when something new shows up on the shelf I tend to get a little excited. So, when I found the lovely products of sweetriot (lower case intentional) waiting for me on a recent trip to the store I was quite a happy camper.

sweetriot make nibs (which they describe as cocoa ‘peaces’) covered in chocolate in one of three cacao percentages: a mellow 50% semi-dark, a more intense 65% dark (which I bought), and one more step up to 70% dark. All this nibby goodness is delivered in a small metal tin that reminds me of the metal boxes we used to get Band-Aids in (do they still make those metal boxes?) only smaller. And with a cooler lid. And cool art gracing the label on the tin. And lovely chocolate-covered nibs inside. And little cacao facts on a strip of paper (much like that in a fortune cookie) lurking among the nibs. It’s a miracle of marketing. Compact and attractive and filled with chocolaty goodness.

And speaking of chocolaty goodness (transitions are easier than openings I guess) their nibs are coated with a lot of chocolate. In the past I might have considered this a bad thing (I like nibs – a lot) but these really feel like a great amount of chocolate per nib. It makes for a nice balance between the chocolate and the nib. It’s good chocolate, too. I feel a hair guilty because I didn’t really give the chocolate a lot of thought and can’t even begin to describe it. It was good and plentiful. It was the sort of chocolate you eat and eat and then wonder where it all went. As there is only one serving per tin (and a paltry 140 calories) it is easy to eat them all before you know what happened to them. I had to hide them from myself so I would have a few left for the picture.

But wait, there’s more! Not only do they make great chocolate covered nibs in lovely tins with cool art and cacao factoids hidden within, but they do it all in a all natural and ethical fashion! Their product is all natural, kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free, GMO-free and produced in accord with the principles of Fair Trade (they are working on getting their Fair Trade certification). At first I found all of this horribly out of sync with the little tin that they were using for their packaging. I felt that if they insist on using these admittedly cool tins that they should be either recyclable or they should at least give you the option of sending the tin back to them. Well, guess what? A quick trip to their site shows that they are indeed recyclable and they do indeed allow you to send you tins back in and they also give you some nice hints for how to reuse the tins!

Great chocolate, great packaging, and great attitude. All this for the low, low price of only $6.00 (though Cybele has seen them in the wild for $5.00). Wait a tic. The tin only contains 1oz. A quick check on the old calculator would tend to put the price of these nibs at $96/lb ($80/lb if you buy at $5/tin). Yee-OUCH! That is not cheap. Cybele noted this as well in her review. Dagoba’s nibs run $36/lb, Scharffen Berger nibs run about $28.50, and Santander’s nibs run under $22/lb (darn, I have to try these now).

The price differential is kind of extreme, but only sweetriot comes in such a convenient, snack-sized tin of unsurpassed loveliness. At the end of the day it’s a great product with beautiful, convenient packaging in a prefect single serving size and whether it’s for you depends on what price you place on convenience. I loved these nibs a lot and was absolutely planning on buying more prior to thinking about the price. Even after thinking about the price I still want to buy more, but I’m also looking at alternatives (and feeling bad for doing so). Ignoring price this is a solid 9 out of 10. What effect the price has on that number is up to you. And whatever you think of the price, check their site out. Even if the price is a little steep for your blood they have very cool t-shirts.

Ok, so I love the product and think the price is more than a little high, but I see some potential options here. The tins are lovely and I could easily see them selling a more collectible style tin with more of the art on them. A sweetriot art pack (or at least some extra stickers with just the art on them). I also think that given their stance on reuse/recycling they should offer a big bag so you can refill your own tin. If you do an even cooler tin and give us the option to refill it with more sweetriot nibs bought in bulk for a (hopefully much) lower price then that would be spectacular. Not that they don’t have a great product, I just look for potential and, honestly, was thinking how great it would be to buy a big bag of Dagoba Xocolatl nibs and drag them around in my sweetriot tin – which I’m sure isn’t the type of reuse that they want to encourage. The availability of a big fat bag of sweetriot nibs would help keep thoughts like that out of my mind. That's my two cents for what it’s worth (not much, I'm sure).