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Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen-Berger are shutting down their San Francisco stores this summer, so I wanted to run out and buy some chocolate from them before they were closed.

Review of Scharffen-Berger
http://www.scharffenberger.com
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I bought 6 one-ounce bars. I was afraid the bars would be too small, but they're just right. It's really rich chocolate. I started with the lightest versions and worked to the darkest.

http://www.scharffenberger.com/prodinfo.asp?number=1+OZ

The milk chocolate was good, but I have to confess I'm a Hershey's fan. Yeah, yeah, I know it's waxy, but it has good memories of my childhood. Kind of like the way I love McDonald's "hamburgers". At least the Scharffen-Berger mocha didn't taste like the smooth european style that everyone loves. For some reason those belgian truffles are too creamy for me.

The "nibby" version was the best, full of little crunchy bits of what I assume were cocoa beans. But I came for the black - 62% semisweet, 70% bittersweet, and 82% extra dark. The escalating percentages almost seem like a dare, seeing how extreme they can make it. Like "Jackass" for foodies. To me, the bittersweet tasted like coffee, and the extra dark was almost medicinal the chocolate was so bitter. Meanwhile the milk chocolates were boring. I'll stick with the medium semisweet setting, kind of like the baby bear in Goldilocks whose porridge was "just right".

My biggest complaint is that I love things in my chocolate; fillings or nuts. The pure Scharffen-Berger chocolate bars are almost too "one-note" for my palate, but they really bring out the pure sensation of cocoa. Master Thor says that See's Candy uses the same chocolate as Scharffen-Berger for their covering, so I might as well have bought the cheaper brand. But it was fun to taste these solid bricks of chocolate goodness.

I wasn't as impressed with Scharffen-Berger's more expensive single origin line. "Asante" is a 65% cocoa, while the 68% "Tome Acu" is part of their Maker's line of chocolate. Or let me correct that: Tome Acu is the ONLY entry in a "line" of chocolates. There it is... a line of one. I can understand that Scharffen-Berger wants to dip their toe into the profitable single origin pool, but why only introduce two different bars?

http://www.scharffenberger.com/prodinfo.asp?number=3+OZ+ASANTE
http://www.scharffenberger.com/prodinfo.asp?number=3+OZ+TOME+ACU

The packaging is wonderful, with printed-press labels taped to simple brown paper packaging. Asante is the better of the two, a rich dark chocolate that is almost too much to eat in one sitting (though I still did it). This is a chocolate that needs some kind of alchoholic beverage to go with it: either a glass of red wine, or several fingers of single-malt scotch. Because you'll need something to wash this down with, or at the very least to cleanse your palate.

The Tome Acu is less successful to me. It's a really mild chocolate, with very little flavor, much less the apple and pear accents advertised on the pretty label. What galls me is the little "J. Peterman" story that goes with the chocolate. Scharffen-Berger "Chocolate Maker" Ray Major writes effusively:

"The other thing that has me excited about it is where it comes from — Pará. To our knowledge, no one has a bar from there. Think of it — the Brazilian Amazon! The Jesuits in the 1600’s were the first to realize the high quality of this cacao and they hired the Tupi Indians to go out and collect it wild from the forest. Imagine a small fleet of canoes paddling along the banks of these tropical rivers and plucking cacao pods from the overhanging branches. Now it seems to be an almost forgotten origin, but after people taste this bar I think there will be chocolate makers standing in line to buy it."

Oh, get over yourself! "Think of it! Imagine a fleet of small canoes..." I think modern foodies are schitzophrenic in their divided goals. On one hard, they are trying to eat locally, in order to drive down the transportation costs needed to produce and deliver food. But with the same breath, they are importing chocolate from remote regions of the world, and bragging about the effort and expense needed in order to make a chocolate bar magically appear in the Castro, six thousand miles away. The Tome Acu candy I tried was incredibly boring, and I feel bad that people had to die in order for me to eat it.


Review of E. Guittard
http://www.guittard.com
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I bought 12 two ounce bars, 4 each of a different single-origin chocolate. Sure, they all taste different, but not *that* much different. Plus, sometimes I worry that I'm a taste hypochondriac. For example, the first bar I tasted, a "Sur Del Lago" 65% bittersweet from Venezuala, was reported to have flavors of berries. When I put a square in my mouth, I agreed: Yes! I taste the berries!

The could have told me that the chocolate was redolent of jasmine, and I would have probably agreed, too. My taste buds have more of an after-thought than anything. Only after someone tells me, you just ate muffins with bacon bits in them do I think, "Oh yeah... now I taste it." So, does that take away from the experience? Is eating food a guessing game, where only after I find out what's in my food do I decide if I like it or not?

The 65% "Quivedo" from Ecuador was my favorite. I don't taste the "flowery... rich, green forest, teat and slight nut flavors with a lingering banana and poound cake finish." Maybe I'm a luddite, but the stuff tastes like *chocolate* to me. I think they're making shit up about the rest of it. An "ambanja" 65% bittersweet from Madagascar was less effective. It really did  taste tarter like it was advertised on the packaging, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. I like my chocolate to be rich and smooth, not like candy corn.

Finally, I decided to do an experiment with my last bar, a "Chucuri" from Columbia. Are they just inventing those names? I don't know Spanish, but Chucuri sounds make-believe to me. In any case, I decided to write down my theories on the flavors before I read the outside. I tasted fruit... maybe a banana or an entire stick of butter. There was no bitterness or coffee flavors, and I'd have to say it was almost mediocre and waxy in it's mild taste.

Here is the correct answer: "Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice. It has an astonishing, feminine delicacy only a few bars will match and a floral note that cannot be forgotten. Guittard shows off their skill in the mid-60s percentages in this chocolate which is an ideal balance of beauty and grace." Maybe I'm not Paul Atreides from Dune, but I taste no spice. And I'm not sure I want my chocolate to be slow, much less with a feminine delicacy of beauty and grace. I just ate the whole thing before lunch, and now I feel like I've just violated a virgin.

I give up. I'm just not tasting the shit I'm supposed to. Maybe I should stick to Hershey's, because my unsophisticated palete just doesn't get it.

I've heard of that the following chocolate companies rock, so I'm hoping to save up some money and do another mail order soon and try these. Does anybody know about these companies? Any other chocolate companies on the internet that I should try?

Recchiuti
Askinosie
Amano
DeVries
Taza
Theo
Tcho
Patric
Mast Brothers
Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory
Rogue Chocolatier
Jacque Torres

And I'm wondering why I've gained weight lately? Well, Patrick, it might be the huge amounts of chocolate I'm eating every day. On the other hand, sometimes the only things that gets me motivated to go work out is knowing that there is some candy waiting for me when I get home. One piece, one day. I am a Good Boy.


guittard is the only independent chocolate producer left in California. both j-schmidt and sharffenberger were purchased by hershey a few years ago.

guittard still hand selects and blends their own cocoa beans, and produces an excellent chocolate for confectionery, baking and eating plain.

the factory is about ten minutes south of SF and they give tours, so let me know if you want to do that because I LOVE touring guittard, and not just because you get tons of free product...

--ddog

I'd *love* to go with ya to the E. Guittard factory. I'll email ya offline. Any other LJers want to come along?

(Deleted comment)
You may want to try Richart;

http://www.richart-chocolates.com

They have a shop at 393 Sutter St. Be advised that the prices are obscene! They used to sell chocolate bars and individual pieces in the Paris store; I don't see them online.

Some of their herbals are really strange and wonderful, and I love their citrus flavored chocolates.

if you get off the Millbrae BART at just the right time, you can smell the Guittard plant just down the road. Past that, the next time you do this, go to Draeger's in San Mateo for a considerably wider selection of chocolates. It has some practical value: Master will have more of Patrick to whip into shape.....

Whip me into a froth like a chocolate mousse!

Hm.

Personally, I loathe anything bitter, so the really high percentage chocolates are of no interest to me; I prefer milk chocolate. And I don't like chunky things in my chocolate either; the only additions of which I approve are certain flavor essences - berry (especially raspberry), citrus, cinnamon or mint.

But that's me. Of course, with my peculiarly sensitive sense of taste, I seem to get more enjoyment out of things other people consider "boring" than they do out of the freaky combinations that are becoming more common.

Edited at 2009-05-20 11:28 pm (UTC)

But do you like the *really* milky european chocolates? Or do you prefer Hershey's?

Edited at 2009-05-20 11:41 pm (UTC)

I like the Dilletante stuff (http://www.dilettante.com/store/), from Seattle. There was a time, when I wasn't allowed off the plane, if I came home (Boston) for a visit, without some! I lived a few blocks from the factory, and you could by seconds for half price!

Fran's (http://www.franschocolates.com/home.php) is even better, and their factory was even closer to the condo, but no factory outlet! I could even smell it, if the wind was right!

For noshing, I like the Guittard chips! Skip the cookie part, and if you want raisins or nuts, mix them in!




We can buy factory seconds from Dilletante? I need to learn of this secret!!! Although rumor is that Moonstruck (Portland) is better.

Sharffenberger is quite good despite being acquired by Hersey. Their dark chocolate has a fruity quality that is unique among those I've tried. I especially like their mocha bar which has ground espresso in it.

Yeah! That was the kind I liked called "Nibs". I no idea what those bits were, but I loved 'em. Hell, I'll put anything in my mouth!

(Deleted comment)

In my day we were lucky to get a piece of SPECIAL DARK in our bag of Hershey's Miniatures, and we ate it and we liked it!


And...we had to walk 5 miles in the snow with thick, itchy woolen socks that went up over our knees! ;-)


But seriously, growing up, it was the Special Dark Hershey's that were our chocolate treat as well.

I use Sharffenberger and Guittard primarily for cooking. The resulting product tastes discernibly better than if I'd used Baker's/Hershey's/etc.

My mother likes eating both S&G's plain dark bars because she's lactose-intolerant.

I don't care for Hershey's milk because it's always tasted off to me. It wasn't until I read the book, "The Emperors of Chocolate" that I discovered that Hershey's is essentially deliberately curdled.

If you've not read the above book, and you enjoy chocolate, I very highly recommend it. Click here for a sample chapter, or here to see the book at Amazon.

My favorite dark chocolate for eating is Canadian, and is called "Purdy's". I have no idea what they're using for the base or what they mix into it, but I adore their dark bars and products. Every time I go up to Vancouver, BC, I bring back several pounds of Purdy's, which I carefully hoard, stretching out the supply until I can revisit Vancouver.

(Deleted comment)
I went to a chocolate tasting. It was fun but day to day I still eat Hershey's and use Ghiardelli for baking.

From Jacque Torres, I recommend the Mexican hot chocolate. :-)

I adore scharffen berger. It is nice to take along on airplane flights, actually-- just a little punch of bittersweet chocolate while you're surrounded by oafs in coach.

I'm a fool for most any chocolate.
When I got the warning to eat like a diabetic or start meds for dealing with it, my chocolate consumption went way down.
Since I have had to go for quality, not quantity I've tried quite a bit of offbeat (or extortionate, since I'm doing small portions) chocolates. Most 75% cacao or higher are low enough carb to eat without frustration from tiny portions. It's a good thing the dark chocolates are my favorites.
Today @ Whole Foods I wandered over to pick up same Scharffen-Berger "Nibby". As I was reaching for it I saw *Nirvana* on a grocery shelf.


Mo's Bacon bar


Bacon and chocolate, all that's missing is single malt scotch and you'll have a balanced meal as far as I'm concerned.
I'll let you know in a bit how the concept compares to the reality. The reviews I just read are mixed.

Re: Mmmmmm, Chocolate

VOSGES. that is indeed where it's at. their shop in Vegas is off the hook.

I'm a big fan of Lake Champlain Chocolates from Vermont. Also, seriously love LA Burdick as well. The LA Burdick retail shop in Cambridge has a spectacular hot chocolate. Both those brands may be fairly Northeast specific, not sure how national they are.

Of course, for cooking, I do like Valrhona. I've had Tazo for eating, can't say I was blown away.

another vote for Lake Champlain. the hazelnut 5 star bar is my crack.

Tcho makes chocolate unlike any other. It's insanely rich and intense. Basically they've re-invented the wheel. Made in SF from beans grown for them. Sold retail all over, they come in slim, square packages, about $4. Company started by Louis Rosetto, the founder of W_ired_Magazine, ergo an intellectual, edgy chocolate in sharp packaging.

Michael Recchiuti is a confectioner rather than a chocolate maker. One of the first to do sea salt with chocolate. Shop in the Ferry Building. Very expensive, handmade chocolates in beautiful minimalist packaging. A nice gift for Thor; you can beg him for some. Also does beautiful fruit gelee.

My current fave is Green & Black, an Italian chocolate maker, easily available at retail. My favorite is the Espresso bar. Also love their cocoa. Very accessible, enjoyable high-quality chocolate. Unlike Tcho ("am I worthy?") and Recchiuti ("OK, I can die now")

I'm not surprised Scharffen Berger is closing their store in the Ferry Building. The initial leases were for five years, and they're up for renewal. The rents are staggering- 5K a month is a lot of chocolate bars.

for molded chocolates, i gotta recommend David Bacco. he's one of three excellent chocolatiers in Madison, WI (the other two being Gail Ambrosius and Markus Candinas), and i had the pleasure of working with him when he was the pastry chef at CocoLiquot (now closed). his chocolates are beautiful and well-crafted, with an excellent crunch on the shell. he has some flavors now that weren't on the CocoLiquot menu, but i remember loving the szechuan peppercorn, thai peanut butter, caribbean fire, exotic caramel, and cardamom truffle (VERY cardamom-y).

also, note the three different styles that the three Madison chocolatiers work in:
David Bacco - molded
Gail Ambrosius - dipped
Markus Candinus - truffle

I was pleasantly surprised by Hershey's Cacao Reserve 65%. It comes with or without nibs, and I believe it is of Canadian origin. They are available everywhere ... definitely not a typical Hershey's product.

Two of my favorite chocolatiers are in Des Moines, of all places: Chocolaterie Stam ( http://www.stamchocolate.com/stam/ ) makes Dutch-style items, while Suzette Candies ( http://www.suzettecandies.com/ ) is deceivingly adept. It looks like one of a hundred candy shops you can find anywhere, but the truffles are solid and great, not in that gooey Belgian style.

All that said, I wouldn't turn down any Guittard product. Scharffen Berger has not impressed me especially.

Edited at 2009-05-22 09:51 pm (UTC)

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