Saturday, January 2, 2010

Your Resource for Small Chocolatiers around the Nation

To start off the new year, Sisters and Brothers, we'll start with a new retailer to our Sacraments here on The Chocolate Cult.  Your Chocolate Priestess won a $25 gift certificate from Foodie Blog Roll in one of their monthly (November) contests.  This was for RegionalBest.com, and they had a good selection of chocolate products, so I went there to shop. 


I bought these three items and ended up paying $3 extra, for some of the shipping costs.  It turned out all three products were from the same chocolatier, Grocer's Daughter Chocolate, but I hadn't planned to do that.  I had hoped to get 2-3 products from different companies in order to show the variety at RegionalBest.com.  However, I had two factors constraining me: the amount of the gift certificate and the shipping costs.  In order for this to be a Sacrament I can't have paid money for the chocolate — that just isn't fair to those chocolatiers who make offerings to us.  I could have gotten one big item or several smaller ones, but I wanted to reveal more variety, so I looked at smaller products.  That's when I ran into a big problem that resulted in over an hour of shopping: different chocolatiers use different shipping methods.  In part, this is not RegionalBest.com's problem, because they are more of a clearinghouse or middleman for various foods from smaller businesses.  Even though they can't control how these other businesses ship their products, they could provide the shopper with more information.  First, they could list what shipping method is used in the product descriptions.  This was hit and miss at best; most of the time I had to go to the checkout to see the shipping method, then delete something and try again.  Second, they could make it possible to search or group the products by shipping method if it was important to you.  Why was it important to me?  Each different shipping method costs another fee, and that meant fewer varieties of chocolates to share with you all, Sisters and Brothers.


The first chocolates I will reveal are the 1.1 ounce truffle duo, which has two flavors: Honey and Rosemary.  They are in a simple cardboard box, and the flavors are labeled, as you can see.  The ingredients label is very simple: Chocolate, cream, honey and rosemary.  It does have soy and dairy in it, if that is a concern for you.  Each truffle is 1.25 inches in diameter and rises up an inch, making this a nice mouthful, which you know I will not eat all at once so I can reveal its full nature to you.

I try the Honey one first.  It smells like darker chocolate and has a golden mark on the top; the chocolate is cool in my fingers and begins to melt if I hold it for a while, confirming it is made from pure ingredients and free of preservatives.    Taking a bite I discover a very dark, solid center that feels a bit grainy and thus very cocoa-like in texture, and it almost immediately creates a slight buzz, confirming what my nose suggested: very dark chocolate.  In that first bite, I taste no sweetness at all.  In the second bite there is a hint of sweetness.  During the course of the four wonderful bites I make this truffle last for, the sweetness builds, but I wouldn't say it was honey unless I'd been told it was.  Letting a bite melt on my tongue intensifies the cocoa, so if you want more sweetness, keep chewing.   The principal essence is really this wonderful dark chocolate, which is fine for me, but it doesn't really fulfill the label of Honey.

Next I turn to the Rosemary flavored truffle, and it smells identical to the Honey but has a green mark on top of it.  This one is a bit different in shape, standing at 1.25 inches tall and making it appear a bit odd for truffle but confirming that these are likely handmade candies.  Inside is the same dark chocolate center, but this has a definite rosemary flavor to it that intensifies the bitterness of the truffle.  In terms of promised taste, this one wins out of this duo.  In terms of my own preference, I like the honey best, but both provide excellent dark cocoa flavor and a very thick dark chocolate shell covering a lovely solid center.


Next I want to look at the "Caramel Medley," which has three flavors: Berry (the ingredient list says raspberry) Nutty (the ingredient list says hazelnut) and Sea Salt.  The ingredients also say that at least one of these has coffee, but I won't know which one this is until I try it.  The Berry has a red mark on top, the Nuts has flecks of nuts, and the striped ones are the Sea Salt.  To show you the pieces better in the picture I had to zoom in far enough that I cut off the label, but it is there for identification.  Each caramel has a one-inch base and then gently slopes inward, rising to 0.75" tall.  They have no dairy in them, but they do have soy, for those of you with allergy concerns.

I'll start with the Berry flavor and mention again that raspberry is really overdone by chocolatiers, in my opinion.  This has a strong raspberry scent to it along with the dark chocolate when I raise it to my nose. The bottom of the chocolate shell is very thick and makes a loud snap when I bite.  Inside is a very berry-flavored semi-soft center that tastes nothing like caramel at all. Indeed, a consultation of the ingredients list reveals no caramel in these — I recently made caramels at home, so I know the ingredients, and none are here.  Why are these called a "Caramel Medley" at all?  Before I even try the other flavors I feel a bit betrayed by the title of these.  I'm expecting caramel, but I will get none.

The "Nutty" variety smells only like dark chocolate.  The shell is thinner, and it breaks open and into pieces when I take one bite, the soft inside oozing out.  It tastes primarily like dark chocolate, with maybe a hint of coffee and hazelnuts.  As with the truffles, the darkness of this really pleases me, but the other flavors are too subtle in this variety.  Again, not caramel as promised.

Finally I try the "Sea Salt" variety, and I know what this should taste like — heck, I've made sea salt caramels, so I know how the amount of salt can affect the taste.  Given the record so far on the non-caramels in this medley, I can't say I'm very hopeful, Sisters and Brothers.  The stripes of chocolate on the top extend over the sides, which I think is a testament to their handmade quality.  There is a nice salt fragrance mixed with the dark chocolate when I breathe in over one piece before taking a bite.  Inside is a firmer dark chocolate filling than the previous two pieces in this box, and the salt flavor seems primarily confined to the very top of the piece.  It is very easy to put too much salt in chocolate, but I think this piece has a wonderful balance, and I like it a great deal.  Now if these had only been caramels as advertised I'd give them a good review, but as it is, Sisters and Brothers, I can only say these are not caramels.


This leaves us with the "Maple Nibs" mix, which is made of 65% cocoa nibs, almonds and maple syrup.  As  you can see in the photo, it looks a bit like a trail mix.   They came in a plastic clamshell container that has a recycling mark on the bottom and which your Chocolate Priestess will certainly recycle, as she does with anything she can.  Inside is 2.5 oz. of the nuts, nibs and syrup, but they smell like almonds more than maple or chocolate when I open the container. Some of the almond pieces are huge, but I take a small collection of nibs and nuts stuck together with syrup instead.  Nibs themselves are crunchy, as are nuts, so this is a very noisy treat that provides a very interesting texture as I chew.  The principal flavor is really the almonds, because after several chews the nibs and maple disappear.  You shouldn't eat these fast; you need to chew it a lot or you'll risk choking, so ultimately there is not a great chocolate flavor to be had here.  Instead, if you like almonds with a hint of cocoa bitterness and maple sweetness, you may like these.

This is a retailer Revelation, even though I happened to review only one chocolatier's products.  RegionalBest.com has several other chocolatiers you can choose from as well as other products from Grocer's Daughter Chocolate.  The thing to be wary of is those shipping costs, so it may take you longer to shop than normal if that fee concerns you.  This site also links to non-chocolate products as well, though, so you can find a variety of food items from around the USA that you may never have heard of.   Just go and take a look around, and you'll find chocolate in several categories of products.

Just a note, Sisters and Brothers, that today, January 2, is also another potential "Chocolate on the Calendar" day: in the Catholic tradition it is the feast day of St. Macarius the Younger (also called St. Macarius of Alexandria), a 4th-century patron of confectioners.  So today you have two reasons to consume some chocolate: our normal Saturday Sacrament and this feast day, if you are Catholic or simply wish to honor a confectioner who turned to a life of the spirit.  If he'd only had chocolate, he could have stayed a confectioner and done both!

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

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