Izard Chocolate

Izard Chocolate

San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Portland are all places that come to mind when I start thinking about makers of bean to bar chocolate. Little Rock, Arkansa though? I can’t say it even crossed my radar, until I found Izard Chocolate, that is.

Nathaniel Izard founded Izard Chocolate in 2014. At the time it was the first chocolate company, of any sort, ever, in Little Rock. He’s set the bar high for anyone who wants to follow. His lineup of single origin and flavoured bars are stellar, and I was fortunate enough to get to review a selection of them right before Christmas of all festive times.

I tried bars from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Belize, as well as a flavoured Icelandic Sea Salt bar.

Forget leaving the best for last, let’s start with it right off the bat. Now that’s not to say that all of the bars weren’t amazing, but the Dominican one was just so unique I fell in love with it immediately. Imagine a blueberry pie-flavoured chocolate bar and that’s what you get with this one. Vanilla bean is one of the ingredients and it does wonders to accentuate the characteristics of the dark berry flavoured Dominican cacao. You wind up with notes of baked goods and actually have to remind yourself that you’re eating dark chocolate. Two thumbs up.

The tasting notes on the Haitian bar describe it as, “tasting like you’re eating a brownie without actually eating a brownie.” It’s a pretty apt descriptor. This bar is pure cocoa and fudge. As it lingers in your mouth, it is nostalgically reminiscent of Tootsie Rolls. Very low acidity and not a much fruitiness with this one. It’s pure chocolate chocolate.

I’ve tried quite a few Maya Mountain cacao bars from Belize and this one is definitely up there. It was super smooth and melted gorgeously on the palate. Notes of raisin and dried cherries came through on the forefront, with a pleasant acidity on the back end. The Icelandic Sea Salt bar tasted quite similar (I neglected to snap a pic because I was too eager to get it into my mouth given my affinity for salted chocolate).

If any lessons were learned from my Izard Chocolate tasting, it’s that you don’t always have to go for the big guns if you’re looking for incredible chocolate. Some of the best bars are being made in places you’d never expect. Be thorough in your searching and you never know what you’ll find.

*As always the opinions here are my own and I thank Izard chocolate for graciously supplying the chocolate for tasting.

Cultura Chocolate

Cultura Chocolate

Cultura Chocolate

Need some stocking stuffers for the chocoholic in your life? Look no further than Cultura Chocolate‘s small single origin bars. At only 23g a pop, they pack a punch. They are small but mighty, some might say.

Cultura is a company out of Denver, Colorado, producing bean-to-bar chocolate with cacao sourced from Belize, Guatemala, and Haiti.

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The 75% Belize bar is figgy and rich, with hints of smoky tobacco. It’s definitely best suited for that dark, mysterious friend who you never know what to buy for.

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Cultura offers two Haitian bars, one at 70% and the other at 85%. Both have nostalgic notes of malt that evoke memories of childhood chocolate consumption. Such qualities make them ideal for anyone you know who’s a kid at heart (go for the 85% if they’re an especially mature kid with a well developed palette).

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Last but not least, the 70% Guatemala is probably the fruitiest of the bunch, with notes of raisin and citrus. For lovers of the acidity of Madagascar cacao, this is definitely a bar to broaden their horizons. It’s for that person in your life who can be a bit sour at times, but is really a sweetie deep down.

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Cultura has single origin bars for the entire spectrum of chocolate loving people in your life, but let’s face it, the best gift is getting to taste-test all of them.

*Cultura graciously provided the chocolate for this review but the opinions here are my own.

Cello Chocolate

Cello Chocolate

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Even within the realm of handcrafted, bean-to-bar chocolate, there’s quite a lot of variation when it comes to the size of different operations. The more commercial they get, the more I start to question the legitimacy of what they are doing (yes I’m talking about you Mast Brothers). Rather I love finding the hidden gems of the bean-to-bar world. The brands you may have never heard of before, but definitely deserve the recognition.

Cello Chocolate is just that. They only make about 15 pounds of chocolate a day, but they are using beans from origins I’m pretty sure I’ve never tasted before. And if this site is any indication, I’ve tasted a lot of chocolate.

Ned and Debi Russell own Cello (they named it as such because Ned actually plays the Cello and draws similarities between the way good music and good chocolate can resonate with a person), and are producing their chocolate out of Nevada City, California. With Ned’s background in chocolate product development and Debi’s background in sales, they’ve brought their experiences together to bring bean-to-bar chocolate to the world. Having taken several trips to Belize, Trinidad, Ecuador, and the Dominican, they’ve spent time hand-picking the beans they want to use, and learning traditional, local methods of chocolate production to bring back to the US.

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Cello makes 6 different bars that I was fortunately enough to get to taste test recently. They were all unique, but one of the especially standout ones was their Trinidad bourbon barrel aged bar. They actually brought bourbon barrels back to California with them from Kentucky in order to make these chocolate. You very much get honey and sweet corn notes from the aging process in the bourbon barrels. I can’t say I’ve ever tasted chocolate like it.

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Another one of my favourites was the Ghana with sea salt. My love for salted chocolate is definitely not unknown, and combining this with an origin I had never tried before made for a win win. It had a richly chocolate flavour but also a fruitiness to it, which was brought out even more so by the salt.

The Costa Rica bar was also notable, largely due to its smoothness, and the nutty, coffee-like notes it offered. But honestly, if you’re looking to try any origins that are lesser known than your typical Madagascar or Dominican Republic bars, Cello has you covered.

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If you want to try the bars for yourself, you can order them online here. The set would also make a great gift for the chocolate aficionado in your life!

*The chocolate for this article was graciously provided by Cello, however the opinions here are my own.

Starchild Chocolate

Starchild Chocolate

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I’m typically a purist when it comes to chocolate, but sometimes you stumble upon a product that has managed to find a balance between letting the chocolate itself shine through, while adding additional ingredients that elevate the characteristics and nuances that are already present. Enter Starchild chocolate, a company producing single origin and fine flavoured bars out of Willits, California. Their chocolate contains a minimal number of ingredients, namely cacao and cacao butter, with the kicker being that it is all sweetened by coconut sugar. As founder of Starchild chocolate, Ash Maki, puts it, “the most noticeable difference that I taste anyways is that when you bite into a piece of chocolate made with regular sugar you taste the sweetness first for ten or so seconds then the chocolate flavors develop. When biting into a piece of ours you taste the chocolate first thing and the sweetness is very even through the entire flavor development process.” While you don’t necessary notice the flavour of the coconut sugar itself, it’s an excellent complement to the chocolate, which it lets shine through more so than normal sugar does.

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I was fortunate to get to try 4 of Starchild‘s bars: Ecuador Wild and Raw, Tanzania Kokoa Kamili, Rio Tuma Nicaragua, and Salted Caramel Almond. All are 70% bars but tasting them side by side, the spectrum of flavour profiles is quite astounding. The Ecuador Wild and Raw is made from unroasted cacao beans, so it really is just the fermentation process that contributes to the flavour profile. In contrast, the Rio Tuma Nicaragua bar is richly chocolatey, with alkaline flavours of cocoa powder coming through, very reminiscent of a homestyle chocolate cake, or batch of brownies, without that excessive sweetness. Then there’s the Tanzanian bar, which recently took home bronze in the Americas category and silver in the USA category at the International Chocolate Awards. For me, the standout aspect of this bar is its texture. It’s lusciously smooth and creamy, so much so that it could easily trick you into thinking it’s milk chocolate. The flavour is soft, subtle, slightly fruity, and not surprisingly, very easy to eat. Last but not least, the Salted Caramel Almond is made from Ecuadorian cacao, sprinkled with chopped salted caramel almonds. Salt and chocolate with the additional of crunchy almonds? This one is especially munchable!

Want to try some for yourself? Check out Starchild’s online store and order yourself some coconut-sugar sweetened chocolate today!

*The chocolate for this review was kindly supplied by Starchild, however the opinions here are my own.

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Firefly Chocolate – An interview with founder Jonas Ketterle

Firefly Chocolate – An interview with founder Jonas Ketterle

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Jonas Ketterle didn’t plan on becoming a bean-to-bar chocolate producer, but the story of how his Firefly chocolate came to fruition is as organic as the brand itself. Built on relationships with producers and other members of the bean-to-bar chocolate community, he strives to inspire awe and wonder through a medium we can all get on board with, chocolate.

From mechanical engineering at Stanford to chocolate making, how do you explain that transition?

It was kind of a prolonged one. I went into engineering because I love building things. I was working on renewable energy technology in developing countries, specifically on solar energy. I eventually quit because it was too much travel and I was more interested in early stage product development. I went on a trip to Mexico and discovered chocolate making. It was the best chocolate I had ever had and the first time I connected to the process of making chocolate. I’ve always been a chocolate consumer growing up, typically Rittersport bars hiking and such. After I came back from Mexico I started thinking about chocolate. I built my own winnower and began learning through failure after failure.

Have you done any formal training or are you self taught?

Entirely self taught. I learned to monitor texture, humidity, and other variables through trial and error and a lot of Google queries. After about 2 years of experimenting I got it to a point where people were interested in buying my chocolate. I switched to all 85% cacao and an only coconut palm sugar sweetened product. At that time I actually took on a part time job back in solar energy and didn’t ever think I would ever do chocolate full time. But in July 2015 I took the leap.

Where do you get your cacao beans from?

Currently, all of my cacao beans come from southern Belize. They produce high quality beans and foster socially and environmentally conscious practices. I used to use many origins, but decided to go deep into showcasing one origin. I like cacao from Belize because it is very complex, with a balance of fruitiness and nuttiness. It also makes an excellent 100% bar and pairs well with the flavour of the coconut palm sugar I use. Also, I took into account how I felt after eating it – it made me feel good. We’re now selling 100% dark cacao for drinking chocolate. Many people are interested in using chocolate medicinally as a super food.

We are also looking into new origins, like Tanzanian cacao, to pair with some of our different flavours. I never thought I would make chocolate with beans from Africa because central/south America is closer. We are also experimenting with Costa Rican and Dominican beans.

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What’s your favourite bar in your lineup?

Well that’s like choosing which of your children is your favourite. How I’m feeling dictates what I choose to eat. Maca is my go-to for stamina. On a hot summer day, it’s crunchy almond and sea salt. Spicy chai is for mornings to wake up. Coconut cream for when I want a real treat. Plain dark chocolate, well I eat that every day. It doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it, so if you want to eat it every day, eat it every day.

What are some of your favourite lesser-known bean-to-bar chocolate producers?

Starchild. They also use coconut palm sugar, and I would happily eat their chocolate every day. They have (or at least they used to have) almost identical chocolate making machinery to us, so we would share similar stories of frustration and joy.

LetterPress is also producing great bars out of LA.

What are you goals with Firefly moving forward?

I view chocolate as social currency. Beyond doing a good job sourcing and ensuring sustainability, it is a tool for social change and living happier lives. Actually the name Firefly comes from the fact that chocolate can inspire awe and wonder, just like fireflies.

Awe and wonder are elusive; hard to plan, but powerful and beautiful. I find that consuming chocolate makes me more susceptible to experiencing awe and wonder.

I’m really excited about creating high quality dark chocolate (85% or higher) and am increasingly fascinated with 100% chocolate. I want to make chocolate that surprises people. Many taste it thinking that they will never like 85% cacao but they do.

Overall, I think chocolate is a lifestyle. There are a lot of positive health benefits that come from eating what we want regularly. Chocolate is a way of life, and it is also a bridge to other areas of the world, other communities.

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