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