I recently celebrated a birthday. It was a glorious day that included many things.
A broken oven (not mine). A pannukakku – my favorite breakfast treat since reading about it over at Mélanger. A three-hour ferry ride in Casco Bay with a minor amount of seasickness (mine), a lost earring that soon became found, but only after a mild panic attack (again, mine), an epically-proportioned meal of Lobster Diavolo for two (and hence, partially mine). And of course, a few thoughtful and wonderful gifts.
Although my favorite gift may have been a bracelet and earrings set made out of flat, grey Lake Superior stones (thanks mum and dad!), a close runner-up was a gift card to an excellent kitchenwares store in Portland: Le Roux.
I have been buying chocolate at Le Roux since I moved to Maine, as they have one of the region’s best selections. And sure enough, the remainder of my gift card (after purchasing a metal bowl and a butter dish) was spent on a strange, but intriguing, bar of chocolate.
Enter La Fabbrica di Cioccolato Leone (the Leone Chocolate Factory), which has been producing chocolate since 1857. Located in Torino, this company makes all sorts of confections, and also creates chocolate bars, overseeing their production from the roasting stage onward.
I picked up their Absinthe Dark Chocolate 74% bar, not knowing what to expect.
There was a lot to read on the bar’s box. Not knowing a speck of Italian, I referred to educated guesses, and an online translator, to let me know what this chocolate was trying to tell me.
To refuse the imitations. To demand marks. With cocoa beans roasted by us. Concave hollow flat. And my favorite: The deep notes of the mysterious elixir of Green Fairy.
My translation might be hit or miss. But there’s no mistaking that this Assenzio, or wormwood, bar was venturing into new chocolate heights. Or perhaps concave hollow flats.
So, absinthe. The anise-flavored spirit that has been villainized as an addictive psychoactive drug has also been memorializd in the work of Degas, Manet and van Gogh, among many others.
It’s mind-altering effects have long been promoted by its drinkers, as well as its opponents. However, it’s apparently perfectly safe. Surprised? I find it surprising. Take that, lame Moulin Rouge movie.
Oh yes, except for the minor footnote that too much pure wormwood oil can cause seizures and acute renal failure. But don’t worry, that would likely only happen were you to make a batch of phony absinthe at home, and not know what you were doing. Or how to measure.
So was the chocolate an addictive and pyschoactive experience?
Well no, not really. Science was right once again.
The chocolate has a strong anise aroma, but also hints at coffee and bitter chocolate. Here’s the thing – I can’t stand the flavor of anise. Licorice repulses me. I eat fennel only because it looks cool on the produce shelf at the grocery store. And star anise looks nice in a pot of mulled cider, but that’s about it.
Why did I buy this, you ask? Absinthe invokes Art Nouveau imagery in my mind, which I’m a fan of. Mucha, Klimt, Gaudí. I like plants and flowers. I like curved lines. I agree with the mindset that art should be a way of life. Aside from the decorative arts, this chocolate is just so strange. How could I resist?
Moving on to the taste, which I just successfully postponed with a short paragraph about the youth style philosophy and style movement of 1890 – 1910. Allowing the chocolate to melt on the palate, a bitter sense of absinthe and spirits pervades my senses. It reminds me of cough medicine, until the chocolate kicks in. Still, slow is not the way to eat this chocolate. When eaten more quickly, it tastes a bit less like Vicks VapoRub, and a bit more like well-herbed chocolate. A strange but thrilling experience, even though no green fairies appeared near my head during tasting.
An aftertaste of bitter herbs and chocolate lasts, lasts, lasts.
I want to recommend this bar, but I can’t. It made me feel a bit ill, as I imagine the real deal would as well. Fortunately, absinthe is now legal in the US, so perhaps I’ll verify that statement in the near future. Meanwhile, if you try this chocolate, I wish you the best. If you like it, you have a stronger stomach than I do.
Pastiglie Leone srl
Via Italia, 46
10093 Collegno (Torino) – Italy
Note: I would easily fall for another of Leone’s products. They adhere to an Art Nouveau script on their packaging, and on their website. I believe that art should be a way of life – and of chocolate.