Roxanne Browning

Thank you for being part of my chocolate world. It has been almost four years since Exotic Chocolate Tasting was launched. Many of you have been with me since the beginning appreciating chocolate in a whole new way. Just like you, I have evolved, too. With each experience I've been blessed with new insights that I can't wait to share with you.

This year has brought many changes to Exotic Chocolate Tasting. No longer focused on public events, most of my chocolate and wine pairings are for business socials, special occasions in homes, and not-for-profit fund raisers. With these changes comes unique challenges and great opportunities.

Recently Nicosia , a Sicilian winery seeking an importer chose to feature

295.jpg Roxanne and the Nicosia team at the Culinary Loft in SoHo. (click to Culinary loft)

their wines paired with chocolates to the New York City wine community. Fifth-generation owner, Graziano said, "When Roxanne proposed us to pair wine and chocolate, we were not totally convinced; we typically mix cheese and wine and making something different was out of our comfort zone. So we trusted in Roxanne, crossing our fingers, until the first piece 311.jpg of chocolate came in our mouth; then we understood. After the event, we had the feeling to be part of a community of high skilled people and we really want to build up a long time relationship." The event was a success and they have secured an importer. Read blog by Peter Conway, wine writer on the event

Already planning my third trip to Italy with my husband to explore the Northwest wine country of Piedmont, the Nicosia wine family invited us down to Sicily to learn more about their Etna wines. Well, of course, I said, "Yes!"

307.jpg Mt Etna, Europe's only active volcano

Lorenza could not be a more gracious host, starting in the waterfront town of Catania at the foot of Mount Etna, where the winery and vineyards of Nicosia are located. The grapes draw from its unique volcanic soil that give their wines its distinct flavor profile. After a traditional Sicilian lunch in their restaurant, Giuseppe gave a tour of a 200 year-old wine
making structure when women would stomp on grapes to songs, then 309.jpg fast-forwarded to today's methods. The experience of visiting Nicosia will live with me forever; the charm, passion, and hospitality of the Nicosia family matched the beauty of the winery and the wines. Link to photo album

308.jpg The next day Lorenza took us to the charming Baroque town of

298.jpg Roxanne, Pierpaolo, Lorenza, & Antonina

Modica, once occupied by Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries. There the Spaniards passed on the secrets of Mexico's Aztec chocolate making. Chocolate maker, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto , who has the oldest chocolate shop since 1880, gave us a tour and tasting led by six-generation Pierpaolo Ruta. Not only are the chocolates world class and held on to the original recipe of stone grounding the cacao beans, the bakery offers the best handmade cannoli I've ever had. A very different savory traditional little pastry stuffed with minced meat, 299.jpg chocolate and spices, called Mpanatigghi, was another surprise treat. Pierpaolo took the time to demonstrate to us this ancient art of chocolate making, then presented a gift of his chocolate bar collection. I hope to pair his bars with Nicosia Etna wines in a future event in New York. Link to photo album

Back in Turin (Torino), the beautiful capital city in the heart of 310.jpg Piedmont surrounded by the western Alpine arch, now known for the birthplace of Fiat, Vermouth and the chocolate capital of modern chocolate, I visited the finest chocolate maker Guido Gobino in the city center. Since 1946, this family-owned business has had an eye towards innovation with the respect for the traditional recipes of Turin. The classic Gianduja (chocolate and Piedmont hazelnut) was born here and the first

301.jpg Guido Gobino

wrapped chocolate in history. Luca escorted us to a private room for a tasting of all their chocolates. Gianduja, Cremino, a three layer square of chocolate and Gianduja, single-origin chocolates of South America, and many other confections. Ending with Vermouth and a surprise treat, a cracker with their award-winner, Cremino al sale, a Gianduja with sea salt, 302.jpg drizzled with regional olive oil on top. Amazing! We left with a gift of all their chocolates and a book, Chocolate Turin . Soon I will be able to feature their chocolates in select chocolate and wine pairing events. Link to photo album

In the rolling hills of the Langhe region of Piedmont, we met winemakers and winery owners of some 303.jpg of the famed makers of Barolo, Barbara and Nebbiolo. In Malvira , Massolino , G.D. Vajra , Vietti , Borgogno , and Banca Del Vino , the wine bank where they store most of Italy's wine in a castle cellar for historic preservation, we sipped vintage wines to not-ready-to-be released wines in barrel tastings. Again, meeting the most generous and friendly people, rarely leaving

305.jpg Meet Jairo Gustavo Neira, winemaker for Malvir

without a bottle or two. The wine community here has embraced the concept of chocolate and wine pairings as Nicosia has done in the south of Italy. Plans are underway to host chocolate and wine pairing events in New York City that will feature these fine wines. Link to photo album

After 12 days of collecting wine, chocolate, and many regional foods, the challenge was how to get 20 extra pounds back to New York safely! Not an easy task. We were like mules carrying the additional delicious treasures, along with our original baggage, through the airports, Immigration, customs, and security...all with success! I now have more friends in Italy and maybe more in New York, now that I have so much to share.

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Bean to Bar event in NYC's Soho

By Roxanne Browning , 2009-08-05
My first chocolate meet up was met with many chocolate enthusiasts in a Soho art gallery, a fitting place for the fine variety of chocolates and large photos that covered the walls. After testing many of the samples, we gathered for a presentation by Dr. Kristy Leissie, whose book Chocolate Planet is a memoir of traveling around the world studying the history and present of the cocoa trade routes. Enjoyed meeting fellow chocolate lovers The pictures tell the story.

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