The Way to My Heart...
My favorite book as a child was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I must have read it 50 times. My favorite part is when Roald Dahl describes the taste that Charlie experiences when eating his Wonka bar once a year on his birthday, how he savors even the unwrapping of the bar, the crispness of the paper, the anticipation of what was to come. Growing up in England without too many frills myself I dreamed of being a grown up who could buy and eat as much chocolate as I wanted. And I do. With early independence it was all about your regular chocolate bars from the corner store: Twix, Snickers, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, a Kit Kat, all of which I can still go for every now and then (though mostly in a stony pinch). But as the years have passed my tastes have become more needy. They understand the complex layers of taste that can exist in a single food. I have come to savor quality over quantity and this has opened up a whole world of chocolate heaven. So, here are a few of my favorite chocolate bars of the moment that passed my drool test and sent endorphin waterfalls coursing through my mind. Don’t forget to eat your chocolate at room temperature - it tastes so much better.
Valrhona – Jivara
Milk Chocolate (40% cacao)
Made in France since 1922.
I love creamy chocolates vs. sugary chocolates. This chocolate is so smooth and creamy it just melts away no effort required. It’s absolutely delicious, with a faint fruity smell and a lovely milky color and sheen. It’s a little on the sweet side with strong caramel overtones, which works for me, but not for everyone. The packaging is very European with a sexy matt black and gold box and the pleasure of opening a tight layer of foil to get to the prize within. Perfect to take a couple of bars to a dinner party for dessert. $7.50 for a 2.46oz bar
Mast Brothers Chocolate (72% cacao)
Made in Brooklyn, USA.
$10 for a 2.5oz bar.
This small artisan chocolate company caught my eye in various small independent cafes and gourmet delis due to its very fancy wallpaper packaging and Basquiat inspired logo. At $10 a bar I paused, but being a big believer in supporting small businesses I justified this purchase soon after. They only have dark chocolate options and as much as I would love to be one of those terribly sophisticated folk who only like dark chocolate, I am not. However, I was still very tempted by their flavors, which include Dark Chocolate with Fleur de Sel and Dark Chocolate with Pecans and Maple Syrup, the list goes on with seasonal choices. All their chocolate is made by hand by two brothers in a 100 year old factory in Brooklyn. The brothers have the perfectly groomed-to-look-ungroomed beards that seem to be the accessory of choice for most male ‘Burg dwellers these days and along with their aprons Daniel Day Lewis would surely play them in the bio pic.
I tried the Dark Chocolate, Almonds, Sea Salt and Olive Oil and it was really great. The color is almost black and the almonds and salt stick out of the bar in a perfectly organic yet clearly considered style. It has a pleasantly rich bittersweet taste with an interesting hint of olive oil and the whole almonds and sea salt grains make for one excellent bar of dark chocolate. Warning: The Dark Chocolate with Black Truffle and Sea Salt is intense, only go for this one if you really, really love truffles. I was excited to try it but the truffle flavor was way too strong for me, it gave me a shudder.
Vosges Haut Chocolate
Naga Bar – Sweet Indian curry powder, coconut flakes and deep milk chocolate (45% cacao)
$7.50 for a 3oz bar.
Vosges makes great chocolate. Most of their chocolate has a 14 day life as no preservatives exist within. Vosges has opened my mind up to an endless array of chocolate and her many lovers. Mo’s Bacon bar was an obsession for a while - any chocolate bar that takes me to my knees with it’s richness has a place in my heart. But the Naga bar is my favorite. The dried coconut flakes are embraced by the creamiest milk chocolate and a smooth yet spicy left over flavor of curry powder lingers warmly in your mouth for quite a while afterwards. It has warmed me up on many a cold NY winter night with its exotic tropical ingredients. In my opinion Vosges stands up to the Swiss and Belgium chocolate I have tried in my life so far. Vosges is a woman owned and operated company with truly green values. Bravo.
Toffee & Almonds in Milk Chocolate (33% cocoa)
Made in Boulder, CO. with Belgium chocolate.
$3.29 for a 3.2 oz bar.
I have come to love these chocolate bars. Great price, great taste. It’s made from Belgium chocolate, which is a bit like drinking wine in France, its all good. The toffee is in gritty pieces within the chocolate creating a great tension and almonds are just the perfect nut to partner with chocolate, total soul mates. Chocolove bars are cheap enough to indulge in regularly and come in other great flavors like Dark Chocolate with Crystallized Ginger and Dark Chocolate with Cherries and Almonds. Having a lower Cacao % makes it more palatable for the masses, and it has a good aesthetic including a love poem on the inside of every wrapper – you might find a Whitman poem or a Shakespeare sonnet - making it a perfect gift for anyone anytime, including yourself.
Finally, our good friend (and U.C. contributer) Scott makes his own version of a Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar and made me a bar to taste. His version has the additional ingredient of cayenne pepper alongside the crispy bacon bits and course sea salt grains. Hershey bars are gently melted just so and the ingredients scattered across the softly melted chocolate and then the freezer sets the bar. The finished product is extremely good looking in that perfectly home-made way and the taste is extremely rich and sweet. The cayenne pepper stopped me from eating too much of the bar, it’s pretty intense.