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Black Mountain Chocolate

By Casey, 2009-01-22
Cross posted from The Chocolate Note In the small mountain town of Swannanoa, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, we meet up with David Mason, 36 year-old founder and chocolate maker of Black Mountain Chocolate the newest American micro batch producer.David and his wife Sarah, both native Floridians, were attracted to the Asheville area by its reputation as an artisan and foodie community, and here raise their two year old son, Trent. Black Mountain Chocolate opened its doors September, 2008, and so far it's been mainly a one man operation. Sarah handles the books, David's mother and in-laws, who live an hour away, come to help a few days a month. Otherwise it's just David, alone in his 3,000 square foot factory, making chocolate in 100 lb. batches.David takes something of a less is more approach to his chocolate. Black Mountain Chocolate is conched for a relatively short 24 hours, and neither vanilla nor soy lecithin are added, like many other micro producers are now also veering away from adding. Black Mountain Chocolate is made using organic cane sugar, among few in the chocolate world to do this, since most chocolate makers do not want the dark flavors from the molasses left in unbleached sugar imparted to the chocolate. The chocolates are presented in an unusual format for an eating chocolate, tasting drops packed in small tins, the same weight as an average bar of chocolate.Current origins on offer include Dominican Republic (La Red,) Venezuela (Carenero Superior,) and Nicaragua (Matiguas). David is proud of his involvement with La Red and explains La Red is a co-op started by Peace Corps volunteers in Dominican Republic, and is the model that everyone would like to have. The 30 minute documentary Chocolate Country is about La Red." About his choice of the more uncommon Nicaragua origin, he says "I got to know a guy in Tennessee and he introduced me to cacao in Nicaragua. You dont see a lot of it in the US theres an organic chocolate company in Belgium that gets all of it but l was able to get a little bit from my source. They are trying to build up their market in the US. He sent me some samples of the Matiguas and that is the one that people seem to like the most I thought it was really good. The beans are very clean and well fermented with a nice aroma, when you open up some of the bags of beans, you can get all kinds of interesting things in there! This was was just very nice when it came here, it seemed like they spent a little more time on the beans. The chocolate has a really smooth and nice flavor. And I have some other beans from down there as well that I havent released yet."David has a background in agronomy, and attended the University of Kentucky. Between then and now, he has called nearly every southern state home for awhile. He has also worked in several fields, including manufacturing, owning an orchid nursery, landscaping, and most recently, golf course management. It was during the latest career that he was introduced to the ways of cacao. David shares with The Chocolate Note the story of how chocolate called to him, his vision of chocolate, and reveals a little known faction of chocolate connoisseurs. Chocolate Note review follows. First cacao encounter I was working as an assistant golf course superintendent, and we contracted employees from Mexico ten months out of the year, and one of the employees was from Oaxaca. She was telling me about their culture, and how they were surrounded by cacao. She brought me some chocolate from her family recipe and I became intrigued by that and started doing it looking around online and researching. It was more of a hobby, and I had one of those jump-off moments and thought, "Lets go in a different direction and lets give this a try!" That was 2005, the first time I made chocolate in 2007 I started the business. Those first two years were a lot of learning, experimenting, setting up the factory and all those good things. Bought small quantities of beans from various places, roasted them in the oven. I was making it for friends and family just having fun with it.I've always been a foodie, and enjoyed cooking and different types of food. And chocolate kind of blends the foodie part with the agronomy. Once I learned how cacao is grown, harvested, and processed from the farmer aspect it was really intriguing to me. Why tasting drops? Its about exploring it more taking your time not just eating it. Kind of that slow food thing. Let it melt in your mouth. I want people to experience the different beans, I want them to understand tasting chocolate. And its kind of a slow start for me. These tasting drops are a precursor to our signature line of bars that will be coming out in the spring. I kind of had the idea of the tasting drops it was the way I was analyzing beans to begin with when I was getting samples. I thought this is an interesting way to put it out to the public and get feedback and see what people like and kind of guide me to our signature line. Tasting drops will stay as a product. Whenever we get beans from a new source, we will make a limited amount of these tasting drops and keep that going. The bars will be more widely distributed. The tasting drops are nice but they need some kind of an explanation for people who are not familiar with single origin chocolate and what we're doing. Taste testers My son Trent loves the chocolate, he's funny. One morning I was getting ready to go to work and I heard him in the kitchen. He had opened up a tin where we keep the chocolate, there were only a couple of drops left . He said "Dad, you need to go work make more chocolate almost empty go to work!" (laughs.) That's one thing that's interesting, a lot of the kids that we've given it to, at first they will spit it out. Then after awhile, they start to like it! So we are trying to build a community of two-year-olds eating dark chocolate! (laughs.) Trent comes to the factory, he sees the bags of cocoa beans, he sees pictures of the cocoa pods, he kind of knows the whole process, and he seems pretty excited about it. Chocolate passion Before 2005, when I learned that chocolate came from a bean, it was just a candy. Learning about it almost became an addiction. The first time I got beans in the mail, I roasted them and it was amazing. I wasnt a dark chocolate connoisseur. I carry a cocoa bean around in my pocket all the time just to remind me of why I am so just taken in by this. Its the experience its not just what I do with the bean when I get it and what I do in the factory, its what went into growing it and getting it to me, and even the history beyond that is so deep. It is intriguing all around. The fruit is coliferous, where it grows off the side of the tree, of the millions of kinds of plants there are only hundreds where the fruit grows off the side of the tree. Its just everything about it its just mystical there are hundreds of years of research and millions of dollars spent to determine just what makes the chocolate flavor. It keeps people baffled. Chocolate Note review About the choice of organic sugar, I fully support this move, and do not mind the few additional darker notes in the chocolates. In fact, white sugar and I are not very good friends, and it has long been a desire to see all chocolate makers use organic cane sugar instead of C&H and what have you. So I'm a fan, and this gave me a different experience with chocolate, there is something unique about Black Mountain chocolates, certainly not due only to the use of organic sugar, but to be sure also to some of David's methods. In each of the micro batch producers we find something unique, and it's a fascinating experience to explore them all, and to compare side by side their different styles. Each of three of origins did have strong common notes of molasses, pepper, and apricot jam. Whether due to the sugar or to the methods we cannot be certain, perhaps a combination. We are treated to a nice long finish with each chocolate. Carenero Superiorrating: 8.9 This origin has been done quite well by the likes of El Rey and Domori, El Rey famously so with the Apatame and Icoa chocolates. Here is a dazzling chocolate that measures up to the standards set by these esteemed makers. Here we have a slightly different take on this always complex and interesting chocolate. An earthy chocolate that evokes fresh mounds of dirt, rivers, and mud. A spicy, woody, peppery chocolate that is almost downright zingy. Even if normally complex with plenty of darker notes, here Carenero is less fruity than elsewhere, and overall the chocolate comes off as a bit "darker" than what one might normally associate with a 70% chocolate. The organic sugar accounts for part of this, to be sure.aroma: oak, raisin, walnut, cinnamon, resin, clove, marshmallow, plum, anise, molasses, licorice, honey, banana, coconut, mango, orangeflavor: anise, hyssop, honey, lilac, toffee, dew, caramel, carrot, pistachio, honeydew, cardamom, mint, thyme, lemon, pepper, blackberry, wine, coffeefinish: tobacco, grape must, currant, green tea, cantaloupe, coffee grounds, caraway, salt, lime juice, strawberry, coconut pie, black pepper, cayenne pepper, molasses, earth, sea foam, apricot Matiguasrating: 8.7 Tangy and refreshing is how I would describe this chocolate. Begins with a smoky, woody, leathery aroma, and ends with a sweeter, fruitier side in the late finish.aroma: leather, smoke, anise, cardamom, strong perfume, wood, rose, lilac, blackberry, green grape, cocoa pudding, sapling, apricot, peanut, walnut, orange juice, tomatoflavor: licorice, honey, oat, caramel, cinnamon, turpentine, dirt, clove, strawberry, nougat, ginger, lemon, jasmine, orchid, mushroom, musk, meringue, margarita, currant, pistachio, oak, bourbon, banana, fruit and vegetable juice cocktailfinish: plum, almond butter, butterscotch pudding, rum raisin cookie, orange juice, pumpkin seeds, allspice, black tea, vanilla, molasses, grass, herbs, rust, citrus zest, mint, hay, peach, pear, pine nuts La Redrating: 9 Dominican Republic cacao is behind the universally applauded Michel Cluizel chocolate 'Los Ancones,' and seems to be rapidly becoming the "It" origin among the micro batch crowd. The Mast Brothers, Rogue Chocolatier, and Taza have all taken triumphant swings at this terroir. Clearly some fine beans coming out of this area, and we find a chocolate worthy of the competition in Black Mountain's version. Very complex, rather intense chocolate, with some unique characteristics. I'm sure I won't find a plate of spaghetti marinara and a side of yams in another aroma. The finish starts out like a pear caramel tart accompanied by a strong spiced coffee, while the long finish leans into more bitter, astringent flavors.aroma: honey, molasses, yam, orchid, oregano, tomato, pasta, apricot, strawberry jam, bread dough, cinnamon, nutmeg, raspberry, must, blueberry, oat, red fruity wine, unripe melon, wheat fieldflavor: tobacco, tangerine, caramel, pear, strawberry, cocoa wafers, grape jelly, graham cracker, oak, maple syrup, walnut, agave nectar, milk, lily, lilac, cantaloupe, almond, crab, musselsfinish: black licorice, lime, earth, seeds, grapefruit, coffee, anise, cream pie, pear, ashes, cigarette, wine
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Rogue Chocolatier

By Casey, 2008-03-12
Colin Gasko has released his next three origin chocolates Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Trinidad. Like his first two releases, these chocolates are all 70%.My earlier post about Rogue Chocolatier has all the background info and includes reviews of the first two bars, Ocumare and Sambirano. Trinidad and Hispaniola chocolates were purchased at Kitchen Window, and the Jamaica was purchased at Surdyk's. All are currently available on the Rogue website . Word from Colin is that Ocumare stocks are depleted, and everything else is about 3/4 of the way there, and he says there are only about 50 Sambirano left. He says that after it's all gone he may focus mainly on making Hispaniola for awhile. As my review below would indicate, these three are as much a success as the first two, with the Jamaica perhaps being Colin's best work to date. So everyone is encouraged to get all of these chocolates while they still can! Here are a couple of media updates, if you want to have a virtual visit to Colin's factory. A video from local TV, and an NPR radio segment.


Hispaniolaorigin: Northern Dominican Republicrating: 8.9The aroma comes out with a very strong pia colada sensation, which returns again in the finish. There is a strong perfume or floral essence that I cannot yet name. The flavor has a wonderful intense plum. Evokes waterfalls and canyons. This chocolate is distinctive and delicious. Add to that a long and tangy finish, and all in all this Hispaniola makes for a unique and memorable taste experience.aroma: banana, leather, pia colada, mango juice, raspberry, wine, cherry, honey, twigs, almonds, dirt, champagne, pine, cinnamon, red licorice, sweet tarts, cognac, perfume/cologne/floral, blueberryflavor: pine, cherry, wine, plum, grapefruit, olive, red currant, sunshine, lemonade, berry jam, fig newtonfinish: wine, ash, blackberry, leather, mango, papaya, pia colada, watermelon rind, grape juice, bermuda onion, whiskey, lemon, honey, freshest milk, orange, pear, caramelTrinidadrating: 8.9Now those of you who have read the earlier post may recall that when I visited the Rogue factory, I tasted an early sample of this bar, and found it much fruitier than my other experiences with Trinidad, which I have also very much enjoyed, the Amadei and Pralus. In that sample the coconut was intense and very forward and there was also a wallop of banana in the flavor. Now that Colin has tweaked this chocolate a bit more, it has changed a tiny bit. The banana was here in the flavor this time, but less so, and the coconut was really subdued, really not in the flavor but mainly the aroma. Very strong pine notes in the flavor. This chocolate has a nice buzz to it, and then later comes out with a calming effect accompanied by soothing caramel notes.aroma: coffee, leather, tent, pine forest, spruce, blackberry, cologne, cedar, pine nuts, mushroom, pine bark, molasses, coconut, pia colada, strawberry, dew, grass, melon, orchid, sea breeze, champagne, pineapple, golden honey, caramelflavor: pine, banana, apple, orchid, cranberry, macadamia, strawberryfinish: cherry, wood, caraway, leather, mushroom, blossoms, clove, blueberry, burnt sugar, graham cracker pie crust with cream pie, cinnamon, caramel, lime, grass, dirt, turpentine, soy, mildew, olive, peppermint, salt, plum, honey, coffee with a little lemon caramelJamaicarating: 9.3Delicious flavor and quite an aroma very complex. This is a refreshing and satisfying chocolate with a lovely orange honey sailing in and out of the long and interesting finish. Forward champagne/berry dominates the flavor and aroma, but is balanced by plenty of interesting earthy elements and spice.aroma: leather, champagne, coffee, black pepper, raspberry, ocean, pistachio, patchouli, pineapple, clove, cinnamon, coconut, burlap, licorice, nut, rye, dried cherry, peach, pine forest, oat, sourdough, jade, djram, pine nuts, chestnut, oak, muddy water, raisin, carrots, green pepper, grapeflavor: cinnamon, paint, tarp, floral, nutmeg, raspberry, oreos, pineapple, fig, strawberry, yogurt, clove, mintfinish: mud bath, clay, dirt, banana, mint, wood, cherry, rose, lime, sea urchin, starfish, gelatin, metal, burlap, bread, orange blossom honey, honeysuckle, moist woods, cinnamon, rye, caramel, oat, nuts, rust, cereal grains, evergreen, cigarette tobacco, mist, must, pearlsCross posted from Chocolate Note
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Last November Canadian Competition Bureau began investigating Canadian divisions of Hershey, Cadbury, Nestle, and Mars on suspicion of price fixing. Last week, the German Federal Cartel office raided the offices and seized documents from the German headquarters of Nestle, Kraft, and Mars, for the same reason.Read more on BBC and ABC News Cross posted from Chocolate Note
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Rogue Chocolatier is the newest American bean to bar chocolate maker. Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this efficiency apartment sized chocolate factory was started just a few months ago by Colin Gasko. Aside from the fact that he has created what is most likely the world's smallest chocolate factory, there are a few things you should know about Colin. He is 22 years old, he doesnt own a car, he does a lot of the work himself, he has not yet been to a cacao plantation and he makes fantastic chocolate.

A bean to bar chocolate manufacturer means a maker who does everything from the raw bean, starting with cacao beans that have been fermentedand dried by the grower, but not yet roasted. So the beans are takenall the way from this raw state to a molded bar of chocolate by thesame maker. The process begins with sorting, then roasting, thenwinnowing and cracking, then grinding, then mixing, then conching. Andthen there is tempering, molding, cooling, and wrapping. Colin does nothave employees, and much of this is his one man show. He is helped outby his father four days a week, and a friend pitches in ten hours aweek. Colin often relies on friends for transportation.

Therearent many bean to bar makers in the world, some 50 or so at lastverified count. About 20 are in the United States. When I say verified,it is because bean to bar has become a desirable label denoting anartisan maker, and so many chocolate companies seek to elevate theirstatus by claiming to make their chocolate bean to bar, but they are what else fudging the truth!

Sowithout a car, Colin gets rides, takes the bus, or rides his bike tohis Southeast Minneapolis warehouse space each day, which happens to beright next door to nationally known Twin Cities chocolatier B.T.McElrath, and there he usually spends 14 hour days perfecting hischocolate.

This manufacturing operation is all in one openspace, with one small storage alcove in the back, where Colin storeshis beans in 5 gallon plastic pails
there is no room for large sacks of beans. As we progress along thetour, he says things like I use this as my cooling room, as he makesa sweeping motion to the wall in another part of the space, just acouple feet away from the conching room we are standing in, which isthe middle of the room. This funky metal rack is the room where thebars cool inside their molds resting on shelves. There are maybe 50bars in the cooling room today. And some 100 more against another wallawait their packaging in their very own wrapping room.

Much of the equipment has been custom built to a scale fitting the digs. The batch size at the time of my tour is small
30 lbs. A new conche is being built and is slated to arrive next month, and this will increase batch capacity to 200 lbs.

Colinprefers a shorter conching period of about 18 hours. He conches toabout 20 microns. The chocolate is currently aged one month. He prefersto age for two months, and says this will become possible when thebatch size increases with the new conche. With increasing demand due toa recent article in the local weekly City Pages, and such small batches, it has been difficult to let the chocolate sit a full two months as of yet.

Thefirst time Colin got the idea to go into business as a chocolate makerwas one year ago, only six months after the first time he had made hisown chocolate at home. He had been making truffles for awhile and foundthat to be limiting and an already crowded field, and so decided toembark on a little home made experiment, and his first bars were madeusing equipment from Chocolate Alchemy , aone stop shop for the home chocolate maker and the same way others havegotten their start. Like many other small batch artisan makers, Colinis teaching himself the trade by reading old manuals, consulting withother artisan makers, and by the experience of trial and error.

Colinhas eaten a lot of chocolate since he was a boy. When the tides ofchocolate making in this country began to gently turn toward a moreartisan approach, he took notice and became an early fan of ScharffenBerger when their first bars came out in the early 2000s.

CurrentlyRogue offers a Sambirano and an Ocumare, both at 70%. The next originson the docket are Trinidad, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. I had achance to sample the Trinidad, Im a big fan of this origin, andcommented to Colin that what I liked best about his take on thisinteresting bean was the way he handled the coconut, differently thanTrinidad bars Ive had by other makers (namely Pralus and Amadei.) Andwith a smile he proudly told me that it was a trick he had pulled tobalance the coconut and fruit, and this was the reaction he was goingfor.

I also had the chance to sample some raw, unroasted cacaobeans (below) for the first time, they were from Jamaica. I found themmuch less bitter than I had anticipated, and with a sweetness I did notexpect
still evidence of the sweet cacao pulp before some of its delicate flavor is roasted away. I really enjoyed it.

Colinoffered me a sample of the Ocumare, then the Sambirano, and he wasanxious to hear my response to his work, and kept pressing me for morefeedback than simply good. I told him that he would have to read therest on the blog. I told him I need to give this the full treatment,with the fresh palate in the morning, and he said la Chlo! Yesexactly, I replied, la Chlo!

Chlo is Chlo Doutre-Roussel ,whose name is inevitably encountered early on in the world of finechocolate. Her famous little pink book, the introductory manual Chocolate Connoisseur ,is familiar reading to most of fine chocolates initiated. More aboutChlo and her book later on the Chocolate Note. For now lets say sheis notorious for her six a.m. chocolate tastings, conducted with afresh palate
no eating first!

Colintold me that he had just recently received an email from Chlo, whoheard about Rogue from the City Pages article, and is already on thescene offering guidance, asking questions, without even having tastedRogue chocolate. She has been encouraging him to stop using vanilla,which many in the new artisan movement are tending to omit. Colin doesnot use soy lecithin, also becoming more common practice among artisanmakers, and he uses nondeoderized cocoa butter. He would like to takeChlos advice and experiment with no vanilla, and also with no addedcocoa butter down the road. He would like to play with otherpercentages, but at this time his plans are to unveil the Jamaica,Trinidad, and Dominican Republic as 70% bars, sometime later this year.He is also working on a blend using some of the above origins plusArriba, and this will likely be a limited edition run.

Colinlooks forward to these and other experiments and admits he has a lot tolearn, and that his palate is still developing. When asked if he wouldhave a presence on the chocolate salon circuit next fall, he said hemay not be ready. He really wants the chocolate to be as close toperfectly where he wants it to be as possible, even if he thinks it isnot too far off now. For the time being he is content to work withsolid bars
no flavored bars, no milk chocolate, no bonbons. He is happy to explainthat since he only processes cacao, sugar, and vanilla in his workshop,his products are currently 100% vegan, gluten, nut, and dairy sensitivefriendly!

And what chocolate bars other than his own is he happyto eat? I like the Theo Ghana, thats a good one for that nice cocoa-ykick. And I liked Scharffen Bergers last Cuyagua, once it settled alittle bit, for a couple months. And he can't say enough good thingsabout Steve DeVries and his chocolate. Steve has served as a source of inspiration and guidance to many of the newer artisan chocolate makers.

Andso, as promised, I have conducted my morning tastings and present myconclusions below. Colin himself is not so into these rituals aroundtasting
times of day, palate cleansing, special methods No, he says I just put it in my mouth and chew. For his first twoefforts, I will say Bravissimo! As to the new chocolate, I look forwardto having new Rogue chocolate to put into my mouth and chew!

Wherecan you get Rogue chocolate? Outside of a few Twin Cities retaillocations, currently limited to the Kitchen Window, Surdyk's andKopplin's Coffee, it is currently only available through Rogue Chocolatier. And once you've ordered online the rest is simple, you know what to do
put it in your mouth and chew!

origin: Venezuela (Ocumare Valley)
rating: 9.2

An Ocumare to get your motor running. The champagne explosion is balanced by an appropriate amount of coffee and bitter notes.
Don'tlet the fact that my flavor notes are the shortest fool you, the tasteis is the most amazing part. The finish has an aromatic herb bouquetthat is best described as sprucey. More often than with any otherchocolate I have so far tasted, I had the feeling that there weredistinct flavors and aromas which I should be able to recognize, butwas not able to quite name. "What's that, oh, wait, what's that?"

aroma:raisin, currant, mint, olive, tobacco, banana, coffee, blackberry,walnut, cranberry, must, soy/tofu, bee pollen, blueberry, raspberry,leather, palm tree

flavor: chocolate, coffee, plum, cranberry, nutmeg, banana, bouquet of fruity wine/ champagne, bouquet of tropical fruits

finish: cream, coffee, dirt, hay, tobacco, mint, plum, water chestnut, hibiscus,
doughnuts, bouquetof fruity wine, silk, mushroom, honey, bouquet of aromatic herbs: sage,lavender, and spruce, resin, lemon, cinnamon, apricot, flax seed,smoked fish, dandelion wine, orange, tomato, strawberry

origin: Madagascar (Sambirano Valley)
rating: 9.1

Forthe aftertaste, at first I thought, "This finish is not so stellar asthe aroma and taste had led me to expect," but every time Ithought,"Okay, that's it," it kept coming back, if subtly, with wavesof the most pleasant chocolate, overlapped at turns by nectar,marshmallow, craisin, and rose. So that by the time it really was done, my taste buds, like a child just finished with a ride at the fair, said "Let's go back and do it again!"

aroma:leather, cherry, walnut, almond, champagne, banana, blueberry,chocolate, dirt, coffee, caramel, nutmeg, cinnamon, floral

flavor:coconut, banana, chocolate, rose, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry,wine, bilberry, peppermint, hay, lime, plum, caramel, mint, mango

finish:blueberry spritzer, zinfandel, old leather boots, shoebox, lemon, lime,mango, white wine, Chardonnay, lime jello, cigar, toffee, plum, coffee,green apple jolly rancher candy, clove, lavender

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Chocolate blogs

By Casey, 2011-01-02

I've created a Google custom search engine for chocolate blogs, with a few other sites included that also have writer opinion/discussion. Of course TCL is included, along with 70%, plus a couple of review database sites which are not strictly blogs. The idea is to compile review/opinion sites, and general chocolate blogs.

We used to have a list of chocolate blogs here on TCL, don't know what became of that project, but this is a way to search all blogs at once, in case you want to find out what everyone and their mother is saying about Domori Javablond or Venchi absinthe, or just some general chocolate search terms.

This search engine is available on The Chocolate Note , or you can add the search to your own blog or site, and you can also just use this engine's Google home page here , (where of course there will be some ads.)

I know Clay has created a custom search for use here on TCL, and that has to do with all chocolate web. Curious to know if anyone else has some interesting custom chocolate searches they are using also.

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