The Ninth Annual Northwest Chocolate Festival took place in Seattle, WA on November 11-12 this year, and I was excited to attend for the second time. It has sure expanded from my first visit two years ago. It is the top show for artisan chocolate in North America, and one of the best in the world. My favourite aspect of this event is the large Education Program: each day there is a full schedule of workshops, classes, and seminars to attend. These range from speakers sharing stories from origins & farmers; tasting workshops to try fresh cocoa pod fruit, traditional drinking chocolate recipes, baking, and chocolate pairings such as wine & cheese; technical workshops on evaluating chocolate, roasting cacao, tempering, genetic diversity; supply-chain seminars; book-launches; and many more. The most difficult part is choosing which session to attend. And that's all in addition to the exhibitors on the main show floor and all of their information and tastings. Really, one weekend is not nearly enough to absorb it all!
Our weekly Saturday Chocolate Tastings are back for the fall!
Each Saturday, we pick a chocolate maker or cacao growing region to feature, and open 4-6 bars for you to taste, compare, and explore! Saturday Tastings are usually ready to go at 11:30am on Saturday mornings, and run until 3:30pm (or the samples run out).
Check our social media to find out what we are featuring each week! You can find as @thechocpro on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
One of the most commonly cited differences between commercial chocolate and artisanal chocolate is that big commercial producers use beans from West Africa and craft chocolate makers do not, preferring beans from New World sources such as South America, Central America and the Caribbean. The implication here is that West African beans are of poor quality and suitable only for mass-produced industrial applications. It is a refrain that gets repeated time and again, but is it really true?
We've heard some pretty crazy stuff over the many years of running The Chocolate Project and answering questions. The internet is a prime source of shockingly inaccurate information about the chocolate world and so here we'll try to set straight a few of the most common myths. Keep reading here to learn more!
We talk a lot about single-origin chocolate here and wax poetic about exotic flavour notes and rare strains of cacao. Yet rarely do we pay tribute to the magical substance that makes up most of a chocolate bar: cocoa butter. Once cacao beans have been roasted and winnowed they break up into nibs, which look like coarse brown gravel but are in fact more than 50% cocoa butter. A heavy stone grinder and the magical combination of time, heat, and motion reduce the nibs down to minute particles, each enrobed in its own tasty jacket of fat.
Conching further refines this process and tempering provides a finished chocolate that has sheen, snap, and a lush and gloriously slow melt.
So just what is it about cocoa butter that is so special?
The process for converting the fruit of the cacao tree into chocolate is a complex one. Fermenting the fruit pulp and seeds together is the first critical step and one that is not well understood by chocolate lovers. In today's blog we will take some basic steps toward explaining this remarkable transformation.
Our recent trip to Costa Rica this January was an eye-opener in many ways. The pristine rain forests and volcanic mountain slopes of this Central American country should be capable of producing sublime cacao. Historically though, Costa Rica has only rarely fulfilled this potential. For decades most Costa Rican cacao has been the Amelonado-type Forastero grown in large open field blocks, similar to how bananas and sugar cane are grown. This type of mono-cropping is a recipe for disaster with cacao and, sure enough, in the early 1980s a fungal disease called Monilliasis virtually wiped out the entire nation's production.
As we've been preparing for our huge craft chocolate retrospective we have planned for November 18th and 19th, I have been overwhelmed by the response and level of input from many of the world's finest chocolate makers. In the process of soliciting bars from them I have been asking why they keep at it, what advice they would give to up-and-coming chocolate makers, and what they feel is the future of the craft chocolate industry. Their responses have been enlightening, to say the least. A few constant themes have emerged and I feel informed enough to draw up a brief summary based on their input.
Which also has me thinking about the world of Chocolate Awards and how they play into all this. There are a number of organizations that taste, rate, and issue awards for chocolate bars and confections. The two most prestigious are the International Chocolate Awards (ICA) and The Academy of Chocolate Arts (ACA). You might think of these two as the Oscars and the Golden Globes of the chocolate world.
The process of conching is unique to the chocolate industry and critical to the production of fine chocolate. Yet it remains an arcane mystery to most chocolate lovers. Join us in today's blog as we delve deeper into the wonders of the conche...
We get asked many questions about storing and collecting chocolate. With the warm days of summer approaching it seems like a good time to tackle this subject. A dark chocolate bar is a remarkably stable and durable product, yet many people seem unsure of just what to do with it once they've bought one. It is best to think of a fine chocolate bar just like a fine bottle of red wine and treat it the same.
We've curated our three collections for the month of June, and shipping is free! Choose your preferred Collection (Dark, Serious Milk, or Eclectic) and check out which five bars are on offer this month!
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This month's blog is not about chocolate so much as it is about the the cool associations that happen between creative people. Artisanal chocolate makers seem to have an affinity for others who are trying to craft a quality product in a pure and ethical way and lately many of them have been partnering with these folks to create some very interesting bars. Shawn Askinosie was one of the first and his “CollaBARation” line showed just how far down this path one could go.
While there are many issues in the cacao industry which we could, and likely will, address in this blog, one that rarely comes up in chocolate discussions are the issues of farm and forest management. I'd like to offer a few assorted bits of related info. Perhaps they will have you think of this crop in a way that might change your perspective on cacao.
While cacao has been used as a food product by Mezoamerican peoples for over 3000 years, the "chocolate bar" has only been around since the 1850's. Before that chocolate was enjoyed primarily as a beverage. There are over 80 different varieties of cacao trees used for making chocolate. Like apples, or wine grapes they all have their own unique flavour profile and some are far superior to others.
Just how geekish are we feeling? Grab your favourite chocolate bar and read on here...
We are back from our extended holiday and set up again in the Hudson Public Market. Plenty of news to report but perhaps the biggest concerns the Chocolate Project itself. We tried to push the boundaries last year in terms of product selection, classes, tastings and representing more bean-to-bar chocolatiers than ever before. Our goal was to see if Victoria was truly ready for a full-time artisanal chocolate retail experience. We are happy to report that 2015 was a huge success (thanks to you) and we have very big plans for 2016