Tag Archives: sea salt

get yerself some fine, hand-crafted sweeteeth

7 Sep

As the semester sets in and I puzzle over the rules of thesis preparation, the first chocolate bars from my recent trip to Sugar Sugar begin to surface. Chocolate crumbs dwell in the corners of my mouth. And there is no better example of excitement than the look on my face when I get to open up two bars from Sweeteeth, a hip southern chocolate operation made by hipster(s) for hipsters. And other chocolate enthusiasts.

Sweeteeth is fresh outta North Charleston, South Carolina, and is the brainchild of John Eric Battles (chocolate guru, maestro, virtuoso) and Christina Vandiver (economic strategist, entrepreneurial wizard). While having never spoken with either of these individuals, or read anything detailing their claims to be virtuosos or wizards, I’ve been won over by their products from afar for sometime, and have been looking forward to my chance to claiming a piece of this hip history in the making.

Battles uses single-origin chocolate from the Republic of Colombia for all of his creations, which include several unique varieties of chocolate bars as well as interesting truffles. I purchased the two bars available to me at Joni’s shop on the day of my visit: the A’Chocolypse (Popping Ginger), and the Sea if for Caramel (Salted Caramel) bars. They made it home safely, although the caramel bar developed a dangerous ooze factor – which once contained, became a non-threat.

I love the themed use of creatures on the wrapping paper of these bars. Various extinct things on the Popping Ginger bar – what if a massive chocolate apocolypse is what killed the dinosaurs? – and the expected sea beasts on the (sea) Salted Caramel bar.

The A’Chocolypse bar is comprised of 70% dark chocolate, candied ginger, and popping sugar (whatever that is… I was hoping for Pop Rocks. Nope). The ginger and sugar are laid on the bar in generous proportion, but as the ginger is thoroughly candied, the aroma is mostly one of chocolate.

The chocolate itself does not taste terribly complex, but my particular bar has an initial flavor that I can only think to describe as “old” chocolate. While this flavor disappears with the melding of surface sugar and ginger, it leaves me wondering if the chocolate is, in fact, old. With no expiration date to be found, I can only guess.

This ginger hater didn’t have a problem with the spicy addition to the bar. Having consumed an over-the-top-but-delicious ginger beer this past weekend, I have been in training to enjoy this chocolate for at least 72 hours. When one of the large pieces of candied ginger is broken open, its spicy-sweet nature permeates the eating experience. However, the taste is not overwhelmingly ginger. I believe the sugar mellows out the chocolate’s flavors, as well as those of the ginger.

Where the A’Chocolypse left me wondering if the chocolate had been sitting around for a short while before being shipped to Sugar Sugar (the time it took the animals on the packaging to become extinct?), or if this particular batch of Colombian cacao is simply less than stellar, the Sea is for Caramel wowed me. This caramel-filled bar is truly terrific, as in, you need to try it. Now.

Growing up, I loved Caramello candy bars – the oozy caramel, the biting down on each liquid square of joy. This bar takes the Caramello to a new, hand-crafted level; I never want to descend back to that candy bar’s lower echelon again.

Sea is for Caramel combines 62% dark chocolate (of the same Colombian origin) with sugar, heavy cream, glucose, butter, vanilla bean, and sea salt (fleur de sel for you frilly French types). While I’m not used to seeing some of these ingredients in my chocolate bars, I’m also not very used to eating the best salted caramel I have ever tasted… inside of a rather delicious chocolate exterior. These are impressive claims that I am making, yes. But having tasted many versions of caramel – and having created several sha-tasty versions of my own – I know just how excellent this caramel is.

The chocolate tastes much better in this bar. It tastes darker than the 70% of the A’Chocolypse, but perhaps this is due to the burnt nature of the caramel; in addition, the sea salt sprinkled on the bar acts to accentuate the overall dark feeling of the chocolate and of the caramel. The chocolate layer surrounding the filling is quite thick. As the caramel is capable of oozing out of the bar no problem, I appreciate the thickness of the chocolate walls in attempting to staunch the flow. Also, and more importantly, I like the chocolate’s thickness because it serves as a reminder that this is a chocolate bar (with an excellent filling to accentuate the chocolate), rather than merely a candy bar using the chocolate as a vessel for holding some processed innards.

My only near-complaint is that all three segments of the bar are connected, meaning that once you bite in, the caramel is set in motion (m-ocean?). While not a problem, really, it does make sharing difficult; eating the bar in multiple sittings also means you’ll be doing a fair bit of wrapper licking. Again, not really a problem.

My favorite extinct beast was this stink-eyed wooly mammoth / snuffleupagus, lurking, yet alluring, under the outer packaging.

While unimpressed with the chocolate in the A’Chocolypse, I found the concept and ingredients to be rather fetching. I would like to try this bar again, along with about 35 of the Sea is for Caramel bar. There are several other Sweeteeth bars left to try, that promise to be as inspired as those featured here. Props to Battles for coming this far since 2008, when his company began. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with (for my body’s mouth) in the assuredly-sweet future.

Sweeteeth Chocolate

Find them on Facebook. If you’re in the Charleston, SC area, call 843.532.6408; if elsewhere, 864.915.4691. If you don’t like making phone calls (like me), purchase their products here.

journey with me, square by square: grey towers and olive & sinclair

30 May

I’ve just returned from the most marveloustest trip I’ve ever experienced. It was a whirlwind, and it was a bit tiring, but that is what U.S. holidays are for: to recuperate from days of sunlight and miles of pavement. For me, at least.

Ya see, I ventured deep into the South.

I also ventured deep into two chocolate shops. The first, previewed for you last week, was the French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, North Carolina. The second… we shall get to in good time.

I have mentioned that one of my chief interests is forestry, forest management, and the like. I would like to use the following series of posts to detail my voyage, as it pertained to my interests in America’s varied and abundant natural resources. However, I would like to do double duty, by combining each waypoint of interest with one (or more) of the chocolates and sweets I picked up along the way. I hope you’ll join me, square by square of chocolate, as I relive the roughly 4500 miles put onto my (somewhat sturdy) car – from Maine to Florida, and back again.

The first stop was Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford, Pennsylvania. This historic house and property were home to Gifford Pinchot, who was the first Chief of the US Forest Service, as well as governor of PA. He was a staunch believer in conservation and sustainable forest management, following up a shady family history of opportunistic lumber baron-style management with sound scientific principles and goals.

He formed the Society of American Foresters, of which I am proud to be a member. He picked fights (for lack of a better word) with John Muir and other like-minded before-their-time hippies who opposed commercializing nature. This is because he didn’t believe in putting large, scenically beautiful areas off limits from management just because they were beautiful. He embraced thoughtful management that minimized waste. He promoted a solid education for forestry students. He was interested in eastern white pine, just like me. And, perhaps most excitingly, he created fishing kits for use in World War II lifeboats, and taught the U.S. Navy how to extract fresh water from fish. What a dude.

Fittingly, the first night of the trip was (coincidentally) spent in Gifford Pinchot State Park, south of Harrisburg, in south-central PA.

I realize now that I didn’t take any photos of the house. We arrived late in the day (a common theme to the trip), with little time to enjoy the grounds, let alone take a tour. Peak tour season was not yet in swing at Grey Towers, although now, several weeks later, it is. The exterior of the home was beautiful, and I can only imagine the interior to be just as lovely and majestic.

If this homes and gardens talk bores you, how about ogling the first chocolate bar I enjoyed during my travels? Labeled as authentic “Southern Artisan Chocolate,” Olive and Sinclair creates chocolate that I have been excited to try for some time. And the bar did not disappoint.

Olive & Sinclair is a bean-t0-bar chocolate maker hailing from Nashville. While I didn’t make it to Nashville on this trip, I found this bar available for purchase at Asheville’s French Broad Chocolate Lounge. O & S advertising really appeals to me. I love the color schemes, fonts, and bar size, as well as the strong emphasis on the word chocolate over the brand name.

They source single origin beans for their bars, which range from the simple (if you can call beans with complex flavors simple), to the interesting – think cinnamon and chili, or buttermilk and white chocolate (not yet available). Even I, hater of white chocolate that I am, would be keen to try a white chocolate bar made with buttermilk. Most interestingly to me, their chocolate is stone ground, just like my old friend Taza (who I realize I haven’t mentioned here before).

Hoping for a grittiness similar to that found in Taza’s chocolate discs, I was initially surprised when there was a complete lack o’ gritty. However, this merely served to show how versatile stone ground chocolate can be texture-wise. I first tasted this chocolate after an insanely lengthy (yet humorously short-distance) plant hike in North Carolina, which I will detail for you later. At that time, I only noted that the 75% cacao in the bar was deep, dark and mysterious. Okay, maybe I only thought “ooh, dark!” I also noted (even though I was driving) that there was a great amount of salt, which was not overpowering when eaten salt-side-up, salt-side-down, or when letting it melt on the palate.

Given a recent discussion following Victoria’s review of an O & S Salt & Pepper bar over at The District Chocoholic, I was expecting an unbalanced mess of salt on the bar. As this wasn’t the case with my experience, I was pleased. In comparing this bar to the one Victoria reviewed, I see that hers was 67% dark, while mine was 75%. Plain bars available from Olive & Sinclair indicate that the 75% cacao originates in the Dominican Republic, while the 67% hails from Ghana. Perhaps this helps to explain the differences in our great chocolate experience bonanzas.

This chocolate is a fine example of the bitter notes that I so love from dark chocolate. The salt brings this out, and the flavor intensifies as the chocolate dissolves. I see this as a great bar for those who are intimidated by darker percentage chocolate, as complex and flavorful cacao is showcased nicely and somewhat gently here. Eat it quick for bursts of flavor, or let it melt to let the flavor build.

Olive & Sinclair’s website suggests that this bar is “mighty tasty with a full-bodied tanic priorat.” Sorry, guys, I don’t happen to have any powerful red wines made of Garnacha or Cariñena grapes from the Denominació d’Origen Qualificada Priorat in northeastern Spain laying around in my (non-existent) wine cellar. Bummer. We’ll have to be content imagining how wonderful that mighty tasty flavor combo must be.

 

If you like tasty chocolate, I think that Olive & Sinclair’s 75% cacao Sea Salt bar is a safe bet.

If you like full-bodied tanic priorats, let me know how you chose to become such a knowledgeable wine snob. I could use some pointers!

And if you like historic estates, Grey Towers seems to be about as good as it gets. Located in rural PA, but close to New York City, it was free to wander the grounds. There were tree species – and poison ivy – galore, a lovely hiking trail through the forested grounds, crazy orange newts-things crawling around as if just learning to walk, and an old water tower-turned-art. My sage major advisor once told me that Grey Towers is a mecca for foresters, who should all visit it, stat!

I argue that Grey Towers is a mecca for all. As someone who is concerned with general public knowledge on and opinions of what forest management is all about, I see sites such as Grey Towers as starting points for positive sources of information. Citizens are concerned with the environment, which is great. But most know little about the history of forest management in the country, or around the world, let alone the efforts dedicated to it today. Grey Towers serves as a great introduction to these topics.

Phew. That’s about as political as I’ll ever get, I promise. Go buy some chocolate!

Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Co.

1404 McGavock Pike Suite C
Nashville, TN 37216

http://www.oliveandsinclair.com/

Also peruse the Oliver & Sinclair blog at your leisure.

If you are in the Asheville area, you can pick up this, and many more fine chocolates (some of which I will soon be showcasing) from:

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

10 S. Lexington Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801

Hours
Sunday-Thursday 11h00-23h00
Friday/Saturday 11h00-24h00

http://frenchbroadchocolates.com/

Finally, if you find yourself in northeast Pennsylvania, consider visiting:

Grey Towers

151 Grey Towers Drive
Milford, PA 18337

Summer Hours (Memorial Day weekend through the end of October)
Grounds open daily from sunup to sundown
Tours run daily 11h00-16h00

There are special, three-floor tours of the house at 10h00 and 16h00 on weekends. Tours are run by the US Forest Service, and cost $6.00 for adults.

For more info:
Grey Towers National Historic Landmark (US Forest Service)

Grey Towers Heritage Association

coasting along with coastline confections

25 Apr

Coastline Confections is a Maine company founded in 2008 with a mission to create high quality chocolates and confections, with quality ingredients, to be sold at quality prices. While I’ve seen these quality products for sale around the state, I’d never before chosen to indulge in them, because……. their packaging didn’t appeal to me.

Yes, I am a fickle chocolate eater. I prefer my chocolates to not look like they were designed for a seventh-grade business fair, despite how delicious the interior product may be. Coastline Confections, with their near-cheesy font and borderline-blurry photos, had slipped off my radar long ago. Last week, however, I decided to grow up, and try some chocolate from this local company.

At the Old Port Candy Co. in Portland, where I like to go to satisfy my cravings for Choward’s Violet Mints, I surveyed the selection of Coastline Confections products available for my enjoyment. Themes of white chocolate, peppermint, and more white chocolate assailed my hopeful eyes. I’m not a white chocolate fan. One of their bars sounded interesting, as it contained lemon and poppy seeds, but those flavors were mixed into, you guess it, a white chocolate bar. Despite these initial qualms, I chose two safe bars that would be hard to mess up: one flavored with orange, the other with sea salt.

 

I thought that I would recreate the rusty ironwork from the chocolate bar package above, hence the cheery image selection. Photographing rust is endlessly exciting, and look how easy it is to create not-so-blurry images!

Moving on to the chocolate itself. I wasn’t amazed by anything here, but I wasn’t disappointed either. Like I said, it’s hard to mess up orange or sea salt. The two bars that I bought were billed as Coastline Orange Dark Chocolate and River Mill Dark Chocolate with Maine Sea Salt. Given that another of their dark chocolate bars (the Lobsterman) is distinctly labeled 70%, and described as:

Dark Chocolate. Bitter. Rich. Belgian.

For the true lover of fine dark chocolate, the Lobsterman is the only chocolate bar that you will ever need [Really??? But I hope for so... much... more...].

I’m guessing that these bars may be less than 70% dark. That’s fine with me, I like to mix it up now and then, as long as the mixing of “it” doesn’t involve any sort of white chocolate.

The Coastline Orange Dark Chocolate bar is smooth and mellow. A faint to moderate orange aura hovers above the chocolate itself, which snaps crisply (almost too crisply) when broken into segments. The taste is mostly the same as the scent. Nothing too exciting for those who like orange, and nothing heartwrenching for those who don’t. When tasting this bar, I didn’t rush to eat many squares, but that was probably because I had already been chowing down on some Easter candy. Oops, this was on Saturday – it wasn’t Easter yet!

I enjoyed the River Mill Dark Chocolate with Maine Sea Salt more than the orange bar. It had a hint of texture on the underside of the bar (sea salt, I hope), and again, was not overly flavored. But aside from featuring salt rather than orange, I couldn’t discern any differences between the two bars. I’m guessing they were made from the same couverture. Callebaut, since the Lobsterman was labeled as Belgian? Perhaps.

For only $3.00 each, these were worthwhile purchases. Grocery store selections nearly match this in price, although their unit price is probably less (am I the only person my age who loves to shop based on unit price??). Still, I would buy these again. I suppose I feel positively about supporting Maine’s economy, although I usually leave such issues to the rascally and rapscalliony Paul LePages of the world, and go for exciting worldly chocolate.

I’m also glad that I finally tried these bars, given my unfounded concerns over their packaging. However, I’d like to see more flavor, and more wow, out of a product that – despite claiming to be interested in quality – does relatively little to alter its couverture. As Coastline Confections was founded in 2008, perhaps they will continue to refine and improve their methods, and wow me someday soon. For now, they will likely be satisfied with being a touristy Maine product for people from away to pick up for their loved ones back home.

Peruse your way through…

Coastline Confections

7 Corey Rd
Cumberland Center, ME 04021

http://www.coastlineconfections.com/

For more on where you can find their products, refer here.

And when in Portland, you too can get your fix of delightful Choward’s Violet Mints by visiting the:

Old Port Candy Co.

422 Fore St
Portland, ME 04101

Summer Hours
Monday-Thursday 10h00-21h00
Friday/Saturday 10h00-22h00
Sunday 11h00-18h00

Winter Hours
Monday-Thursday 10h00-18h00
Friday/Saturday 10h00-21h00
Sunday 11h00-18h00

http://www.oldportcandyco.com/

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