Top-quality chocolate from Africa? Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti moved to Aubazine, France, in 1994 to debut his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon called the "chocolate island," which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from this, the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti's high-quality Single Origin bars. The company crafts an impressive collection of more than 150 different kinds of chocolate bars, boasting ingredients like ginger and lavender petal, or for the truly adventurous, dried tomato and chili. Other savory-sweet products include Apéritif Chocolates featuring chocolate-coated fennel, anise seed, rosemary, coriander and mustard.
I have liked Chuao in the past but think their products have changed, perhaps to support larger production and distribution. My 2014 order was somewhat disappointing, not up to the $84/lb. price. Ingredients seemed to be good quality, but the flavors were generally not strong, and the chocolate flavors were weak. The honey combined nicely with the nut flavors in Nut & Honeylicious. But the nut flavors, which are often my favorites, were mild in this and other pieces. Among the stronger flavors were the raspberry and strawberry in the Framboise and Strawberry Seduction, but even these were medium strength at best and without strong support from the chocolate.
Those were my favorites of the Bean to Truffle Collection. They are novel enough that I am pleased to have tried them once, but the exceptional price prevents me from recommending the collection. The other pieces in my box were well done but not highlights for me. The Pistachio Marzipan did not present the pistachio or marzipan flavors well, the Nougat Torrone does not feature much chocolate flavor, and the Gianduja seemed very slightly bitter.
Even today, the chocolate trade looks a lot like it did in colonial days: Raw materials bought at generally low prices in the tropics are shipped to the developed world and turned into a luxury product. Today, three of the largest importers of cacao to America are fighting a lawsuit filed by a human rights group claiming that they buy beans harvested by child slaves, mostly in the nation of Ivory Coast. Several journalists have contended that the extent of slavery in the cacao industry has been overblown, but it’s hardly comforting to hear that the number of slaves who helped make your afternoon snack has been exaggerated. Without doubt, adults and children on some cacao farms, particularly in West Africa, perform demanding, exhausting work for awful pay.
You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
Garrison Confections’s main attraction is the Seasonal Collection, which features twelve new flavors about every three months. Generally I like new experiences, so that is fine by me, but do not get attached, because your favorite piece will vanish. I tried the collection in April 2007 and was impressed by some pieces, notably the fruit patés. The Pabana was particularly nice, good flavors blended well, including a novel fruit flavor. The 91% was also very nice, unusual for me since I generally like more than chocolate alone. The pieces with alcohol were less appealing to me, as usual. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was a bit piquant with a nice balance. The Coffee Almond Praline started well but finished weakly.
Chef Oscar Ortega is making some truly otherworldly chocolates at his Jackson, Wyoming, chocolate shop Atelier Ortega. His truly artisanal chocolates come in classic flavors (Tahitian vanilla, walnut) and inventive varietals (oregano and Earl Grey tea). And if these stunning chocolates don’t do it for you, then consider stopping in to America’s best old-school candy shops.
Vosges’ truffles are mild. This works well in the Woolloomooloo, which delivers a macadamia flavor that is pervasive without being strong. However, the other pieces are generally too mild for my taste. You might expect the curry in the Naga or the wasabi in the Black Pearl to be prominent, but they are weak. The flavors are present, but you have to work at tasting them.