I was recently surprised with the most wonderful, charming and beautiful craft that’s ever been given to me. Yes, it was for a craft exchange, and no, I have not yet made my half of the bargain. There are good reasons why I haven’t come through on my part, but they are unimportant, considering the beautiful new artwork adorning one of my large living room windows. Just take a look as this lovely thang:
I feel honored and grateful to have made such a wonderful friend. I’ll miss you when you move away, Martha. Who will motivate me to run long distances? Who will encourage me to embrace my love of The Bachelorette? Who will share in my love of fatteningly enjoyable cream sauces? Who will, when excited, respond to my Midwestern accent with one of equal caliber? I’m not sure, because you can’t be replaced. You represent everything that I have enjoyed about my time in Maine. Thank you.
But wait a minute, what’s that sneaky chocolate bar doing up there amidst the arty glass? Ah, I’ve got you hooked on sentimentality. This is actually a chocolate review in not much disguise!
Since I became cognizant of the at-times confusing world of craft chocolate cheer, I have done my part to observe, explore, and taste. In the case of Rogue Chocolatier, cheer is in fact a fitting choice, as I have applauded Rogue more, perhaps, than any other chocolate maker. For Rogue is more than a chocolatier. Founder and chocolate maker Colin Gasko sources the beans that he then works his magic on – roasting, winnowing, grinding, refining, conching, tempering, molding and packaging the chocolate himself.
Why do I love Rogue chocolate so much? On the surface, I am pleased that he pioneered craft chocolate for the Midwest, doncha know. And gosh, have I mentioned he was*** based out of Minneapolis?
Now you too can see how my Midwestern accent gets stronger as I get excited – – except I as a rule try to never say “doncha know” in serious (or lighthearted) conversation.
Back on task, I also love Rogue for, no surprise, the excellent quality of chocolate that Gasko purveys.
The 70% Rio Caribe bar comes to us from Venezuela’s eastern Paria Peninsula, off of a single estate’s Trinitario cacao. It contains only cocoa beans and cane sugar, a move from previous incarnations of the bar that contained cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla as well. Gasko told me that he removed these additional ingredients to refine the presentation of the chocolate flavor, which I heartily respect. Eliminating the vanilla and cocoa butter allows Gasko to create a more interesting and challenging natural balance with the Trinitario beans, which he ironically suggests “has hints of vanilla notes to it depending on the batch.”
As he suggested, removing cocoa butter from the chocolate bar equation results in processing challenges (to put it lightly), but also in a more flavorful end product. I found this to be exactly the case – – this chocolate was worth the effort. How much effort, you may ask? I’m no chocolate maker (although I’d like to be), but Gasko told me that the Rio Caribe is the most challenging cacao that Rogue Chocolatier works with.
On to the chocolate itself. Upon opening the packaging’s hooked closure, and simple plastic wrapping, I was greeted by a cocoa aroma that deepened into a nutty earthiness. Breaking off a piece of the unscored rectangle, I was reminded of another Rogue characteristic that I respect: thin bars with crispy snaps.
You may interpret that sentence to refer to chocolate, or to once-underdog rappers such as Eminem. Either way, you’re right, I think.
I found the initial chocolate taste surprisingly reminiscent of the chocolate in the countless Keebler E.L. Fudge cookies I enjoyed as a rowdy youth. That fudgy taste slowly developed a bitterness that reminded me of roasted nuts. It was so smooth on the palate, and even seemed to possess a fudgy, or chewy, texture. Pretty good for no added cocoa butter.
The packaging steers tasters towards notes of coffee, blood orange, and nuts. I didn’t taste much citrus in this particular bar. Behind the mask of truly deep cocoa taste, I tried to discern any viable note of vanilla. The soft undertones accentuating the roasted darkness of this bar related much more to vanilla than they did to citrus, or even coffee. However, I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so my coffee-tasting palate is rather limited.
Batches come and go. For a three-day turnaround on chocolate bars, Gasko is doing his part to ensure Rogue’s success, and I see it working. I’ve seen quite a bit of Rogue Chocolatier-positive press in the past year, and I look forward to more. All of this means that there will (hopefully) be plenty more incarnations of Rio Caribe for me to try in the future. And sure enough, cacao beans recently made the trek to Massachusetts*** from Venezuela, meaning a 2011 batch of Rio Caribe bars is in the works.
While Rogue’s Piura bar remains my favorite of the quartet (or is it Sambirano? or Hispaniola? I can’t decide), this bar is more than worth it for those who enjoy bitter, deep, complex flavors. If you have access to Rogue products at a chocolate shop near you – I bought this bar when down in Asheville at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge – what are you waiting for?
***Sadly, no longer based out of Minneapolis. What the Midwest once had…. the Midwest has lost. Gasko is now back home in Massachusetts: Maine’s natural-born enemy. Wah wah.
Follow Gasko’s ofttimes-fiery Twitter feed, if you feel up to it. I’m not a Tweedle-deedle-Twitter-der, but I find his witticisms top notch.
Rogue: now located in Three Rivers, MA. Read the following and weep, doncha know.