the delicious dozen from french broad chocolates, in asheville, nc

Do you remember how one year ago, I expeditioned off to the Great American South, where I visited an abandoned playground, chilled out with sad hippies in a tree-fort hostel,  ran out of water in the Everglades (Runs Out Of Water should be my middle name), chased a snake in a forest that was dynamited, and, oh yeah, bought a heck of a lot of chocolate from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, North Carolina?

Many of you probably don’t remember, because you weren’t reading this blog at that time. So to recap, here are three of my favorite photos from the trip, illustrating key take-home points.

Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. Place of fog, rain, and beauty, we had a campground overlooking the area entirely to ourselves.

Sanibel Island, Florida. Place of much seashell collecting, I paused here for some self-reflection and a bit of Florida skyscraper skyline-hating, and I also lost a pair of earrings.

French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Asheville, NC. Place of chocolate. Obviously.

Okay, so that last picture isn’t really one of my favorites, but it is a segue into the focus of this post. I have recently learned that there are benefits to the Facebook that I so long eschewed. Benefits like winning a 12-piece set of delicious truffles and caramels from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, and having it shipped speedily to your door in a giant box filled with biodegradable (and reusable) chill packs and foam packing material made from corn.

I would expect no less from the hip folk of Asheville.

  

I’ve talked about a fair number of delicious bonbons on this blog, from Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Maine, to B.T. McElrath in Minneapolis, to Dancing Lion in New Hampshire. And while I maintain that Dancing Lion has the most artistic and appealing creations to date, French Broad Chocolates is clearly on the road to greatness.

Established in 2007, many of their truffles are variations on a familiar theme. Lavender, maple, and strawberry balsamic are all repeat creations that can be found behind the counter of any respected chocolatier. But unlike many of the aforementioned respected chocolatiers, French Broad makes truly exceptional products, and in addition to standard fare has some exciting offerings: think pomegranate ginger (which sparkled in my mouth with bright red fruit notes), or fig & port, or one of their six fantastic salted caramels.

As a testament to the tastiness of their chocolate, I will go so far as to say that I really liked their white jasmine truffle, made with jasmine green tea and local wildflower honey – it’s not everyday that I meet a white chocolate I like. In fact, it’s everyday that I spend my time dissing white chocolate.

And while I also enjoyed the fresh raspberry (dusted with pretty pink powdered raspberry), vanilla bourbon (made with vanilla beans and Knob Creek bourbon, it was one of the better liqueur-based ganaches I’ve tried), and indian kulfi (comprised of rose, pistachio and cardamon flavors), my heart belonged to the salted caramels.

The lavender honey caramel was made with local lavender and honey, and was sprinkled with lavender salt. The cashew honey caramel came with – spoiler alert – toasted organic cashews. And the bonbon that stole the show was the seductive sorghum caramel, a milk chocolate dome filled with sorghum molasses-based caramel: it was dark, rich, nutty, and incredibly enticing.

The bonbons from French Broad Chocolates were well-made. None of the truffles I tried had ganache that pulled away from the outer shell. None of the coatings were dry or crumbly, and none of the caramels had hardened or become difficult to eat. Thank you to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, for teaching me the delicious lesson that your shop is about much more than the craft chocolate bars you stock out front.

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

10 S Lexington Ave
Asheville, NC

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

And coming soon….

French Broad Chocolate Factory & Tasting Room

21 Buxton Ave
Asheville, NC

Grand opening on Friday June 29th from 11h00-17h00. I wish I could be there…

love at fourth sight: rogue chocolatier’s rio caribe

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?

Rogue Chocolatier

***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.

when life imitates art (or in this case, mast brothers chocolate)

I’ve recently been pushing myself, more than ever before, in some strenuous but fun exercisey activities. 29 miles of bike riding on a hard leather saddle one hot and sunny summer’s day? Hoisting myself arm by puny-weakling-arm up into the leafy canopy of a maple tree while sitting in a slightly more comfortable saddle? Back to back days of hardcore hiking with (in my mind) substantial elevation gain? These are all activities that have been part of my recent sporting life.

These photos represent how I spent this past Saturday and Sunday. Enshrouded in mist, wind, fir needles, and – finally – sun, I finally got a taste of what serious hiking feels like. It feels painful. My sunburn, my knees, my leg muscles. But as soon as I got back home, sure enough, I found myself dreaming about signing up for a road race. I haven’t wanted to run a race since March, when I stressed myself out on the New Hampshire coastline, suffering through a sad sack of a half marathon. Recap: I have just proven that exercise is crazy, obsessive, hurtful and fun. All rolled into one.

We find ourselves here at Baxter State Park, a curious gem of a rectangle, located in north-central Maine northwest of the once-booming mill town of Millinocket. Get it, booming? You may know this town as playing host to the trials and tribulation of the Pelletiers, aka the American Loggers. I’ve never seen this show, but I love America. And logging. And fighting for your right to log in America. I have seen an episode of Deadliest Catch – I picture these two shows as being one and the same. Variations on a theme? Am I wrong?

Hiking hasn’t interested me until recently, when the thoughtful prose of a childhood friend, concerning her adventures in backpacking, has come to haunt me. She has a real gift for storytelling, and she isn’t word-shy. I appreciate and respect that. Between her and the madcap outdoor enthusiast I find myself enjoying weekends with, it wasn’t long before hiking made an appearance in my repertoire. Even more fun than hiking, for me, was my brief foray into structured tree climbing. How do these two activities connect?

Through both of them I have been learning about knots. I know one or two knots back from my days in the trusty Girl Scouts, but I don’t remember what they’re called or what their purpose is. Perhaps it would be better were I to frame this as “knew,” rather than “know,” as I’m not proving much knowledge here. But the point, and there is one, is that I’m beginning to learn about some cool knots {do these exist?} and their applicability in outdoor activities. Double fisherman’s knot? Anyone? See, I’m learning.

And what do these knots remind me of? How convenient that you should ask. They remind me of the Mast Brothers Cocoa Nibs chocolate bar, of course.

You may or may not know that I love Mast Brothers chocolate. It wasn’t clear from my early post what exactly I thought about, well, much of anything, really. Good thing I’ve increased exponentially in wordiness! All to make clear to you, just how much I enjoy holding a Mast Brothers bar in my hands. They’re hefty, tasty, and beautifully wrapped. And they’re hard for me to purchase, without a four-hour drive.

This bar, like others that I’ve reviewed recently, was purchased at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, North Carolina. Why did I choose this nibby bar over some of the other Mast Brothers chocolate bars I want to try, perhaps even more? The knots. It’s all about the knots.

This bar is made with 72% Madagascar cacao, organic cane sugar, and cocoa nibs. The cacao is sourced from the Somia Plantation in Madagascar’s Sambirano Valley, and the cocoa nibs are from shade grown and organically farmed Criollo beans. The bar has a cocoa-y coffee aroma that lets out a splash of tangyness when placed on the palate. At this time I noted that there were lots of cocoa nibs on the roof of my mouth.

I began to taste a mouth-puckering fruitiness, which to me, identified strongly with cherries, but perhaps other red berries as well. There was a different fruit flavor at the back of the palate, which tasted a bit banana-like to me. It was a very intriguing flavor that seemed just out of reach of interpretation. The bar had a tart but fudgy finish, and the nibs broke down very nicely in tandem with the chocolate. The nibs themselves tasted nutty and fruity, but were also intriguing and a bit elusive to me. They dissolved well, and didn’t linger (except for the one little tidbit I found wedged in my teeth hours later – good thing I hadn’t gone anywhere).

I thought this bar was very good, but perhaps not grrrreat. Similar Sambirano Valley chocolate that comes to mind here includes Valrhona’s Manjari bar, Rogue’s Sambirano, and TCHO’s Dark Chocolate “Citrus.”  The bar reviewed here fits in nicely with these other products of Madagascar, while adding on a layer of complexity: the cocoa nibs. Of the Mast Brothers chocolate I’ve been privileged to try so far, however, I believe I’ve most enjoyed their Dominican Republic bar. But coming up soon – a review of their Venezuela bar. I have high hopes for greatness.

To visit Mast Brothers, where you can buy chocolate, watch desperado banjo players unleash inspired banjo tunes, and more:

Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory

105A North 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
718.388.2625

And to visit Baxter State Park, the northern Appalachian Trail terminus (doesn’t it seem like I was just at the opposite end of the AT?), and the one-stop vacation destination spot for many eager hiker-folk come summer:

Baxter State Park

64 Balsam Drive
Millinocket, ME 04462
207.723.5140