In 2009, the chocolate world was rocked by the announcement that a rare strain of cacao had been found growing in a remote part of Peru. It wasn’t just that that particular variety--100% pure Naçional—was thought to be extinct.
The newfound trees were growing at a much higher altitude than was believed to support cacao cultivation. What’s so special about the Naçional bean, you ask? It’s an heirloom sub-type of Forastero (the family of cacao used primarily by industrial producers) that has evolved over the centuries into something truly yummy. Originally found only in Ecuador, pure Naçional was pretty much completely replaced by a modern clone selected for its disease resistance, not its flavor. Yet, tucked into a hidden mountain valley along the Marañón River in northern Peru was a stand of perfectly pure Naçional trees. Since their discovery, very few beans have been available, and only to a handful of artisan chocolatiers. We consider ourselves lucky to have two offerings on our Wall of Bars: Ritual Chocolate (Park City, UT) and Soma Chocolatemakers (Toronto, Canada). Come in and pick up one of these special bars and savor the unique flavor of Marañón cacao: intense, persistent and floral without any bitterness.
By Laura Levy Shatkin
Chocolate tasting is not unlike wine tasting. Each type of chocolate bar contains its own set of flavor profiles. The flavors of the cacao bean, the source of all chocolate, can be influenced by a multitude of variables, such as topography, weather (e.g. rainfall, amount of sun, etc.), soil conditions (e.g. type, nutrient content, drainage properties, etc.), post-harvesting processing (fermenting, roasting, etc.) and, of course, genotypic properties. With so many variables affecting the flavor of just one chocolate bar, a tasting guide can be helpful. Whether buying bars to eat out of hand or use in baking, let these tasting notes be your guide. (The percentages with many of the bars represent the amount of cacao used.)
All brands are available for shipping through their respective websites. Many are also available at Cocoa & Co., 1651 N. Wells St., 312-624-8540, www.cocoaandco.com.
AMANO ARTISAN CHOCOLATES
Guayas River Basin, Ecuador 70%: Rich and deep in dusty cocoa flavors, with subtle notes of dark fruit and toffee and a floral aroma. Ultimate smooth melting, with lingering flavors.
Madagascar, Sambirano 70%: Racy flavors of green bananas and a hint of cherries; it’s a lively bar and lighter in color.