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Quickie Chocolate Review: Chocolove Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate

Chcolove Almonds - WrapperWhere I got it: Plum Market, Ann Arbor MI

Price: $2.00 for 3.2 oz. (90g)

Cocoa percentage: 55%

Website: www.chocolove.com

Reviewed by: Jeff (chocolate snob) and Rachel (educated chocolate snob)

From last time’s high-end, single-plantation bar (Sao Tome 75%) we return to Earth with a more approachable and affordable choice.

“Tucked away in Boulder, Colorado sits an unassuming building,” says the Chocolove website, “where a little magic takes place… Every day, decadent chocolate bars are carefully crafted using the timeless combination of chocolate and love.”

This bar has a more general appeal to those who don’t care for a strong dark chocolate flavor. With a cocoa content of 55%, it’s more in the range of semisweet than dark.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
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Story: (from the wrapper)

“At first bite, crunchy almonds release their flavor in a swirl with chocolate. The sea salt crystals continually reset your sweet taste buds and make a tantalizing taste combination that keeps you wanting more.”

Chcolove Almonds - Contents

Appearance:

The wrapper has a pleasing color, but it seems a bit too busy, especially in contrast with the elegantly understated Pralus Sao Tome bar from our previous review. To me, it’s trying a little too hard to get my attention, with the gold seal, stamps, and various illustrations. However, when all the Chocolove offerings are grouped in the display (middle two rows below), they really stand out. So what do I know?

Full Chocolove Display - Plum Market

Click the image if you want to read the labels on the other bars.

Texture:

The bar snaps cleanly into its squares. There’s a feeling of fullness in the mouth, in a good way. It isn’t delicate, dissolve-on-the-tongue chocolate; this is full-bodied stuff, although I’d prefer a slightly higher cocoa content. The almonds are large enough to provide a satisfying crunch and add chewiness, again in a good way.

Flavor:

This bar is proof that dark chocolate and almonds were pretty much made for each other. The flavors are balanced and complement each other well. The other key here is just the right amount of salt to enliven both the almonds and chocolate without making me reach for the water bottle.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: If you’ve read or heard about Michael Moss’s new book Salt Sugar Fat, here’s the textbook example. This bar uses all three to create something that’s really hard to stop eating. That with the bargain price makes it an incredible value. Good thing I’m cranking up my weekly running mileage.

Rachel: What he said.

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Quickie Chocolate Review: Francois Pralus São Tomé & Principe Forastero Bar

Sao Tome ThumbnailWhere I got it: Zingerman’s Next Door, Ann Arbor MI

Price: $9.99 for 3.5 oz. (100g)

Cocoa percentage: 75%

Website: www.chocolats-pralus.com

The Sao Tome bar is one of a family of single-plantation chocolates from Pralus.

I got this bar as a Christmas present from my daughter Rachel (have I mentioned that she works at Zingerman’s?). It’s about the only way I would get one, since I’m genetically predisposed not to spend $10.00 on a chocolate bar. But after sampling it, I think my DNA has been rewritten.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
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Story: (from the wrapper)

The island cultures of Sao Tome and Principe conspire to produce a chocolate that is both intense and distinct in flavour, quite unlike what is usually found in Africa. This is a result of the trees’ genetic purity.”

Sao Tome Wrapper

Appearance:

The wrapper is a pleasing combination of subtle browns, which to me lends elegance to the package. It does not scream for attention, but lies there waiting to be seen and studied. The other Pralus bars look similar on the outside, so there’s nothing that says “Pick me” about the Sao Tome. But Rachel, who has sampled them all, deems it the pick of the litter.

The chocolate has a nice sheen to it, and the “Pralus” in the right corner provides distinction and breaks up what would be an otherwise ordinary small block pattern.

Texture:

The bar snaps cleanly and dissolves rapidly and smoothly in the mouth. Very creamy mouthfeel.

Flavor:

With a 75% cocoa content, you’d expect deep chocolate flavor at first, and that is what you get. It is definitely intense, but not at all bitter. After that, a sweetness emerges that becomes fruity in nature and lasts to the finish.

The best part of high quality chocolate is that you don’t need much to be satisfied, and the Sao Tome fits that bill. Just a few squares is enough for me at any one time. I can actually put the bar down without longing glances at the rest of it, knowing it will be there for me later.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: Not only would I pay $10.00 for this bar, I went to Zingerman’s and did just that today. I didn’t even try to play the “my-daughter-works-here-can-I-have-her-discount” card.  (I ran there and back to give myself some justification – I earned it.)

Rachel: This is the best chocolate bar I’ve ever had. ‘Nuff said.

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Quickie Chocolate Review: Theo Congo Vanilla Nib Bar

Theo Congo Bar WrapperWhere I got it: Whole Foods
Price: $3.99 for 3 oz. (84g)
Cocoa percentage: 65%
Website: www.theochocolate.com

I was assisted in this review by my daughter Rachel, who works at Zingerman’s and is thus surrounded by high-quality chocolate from all over the globe, is trained to sell it, and gets to sample it frequently. I, on the other hand, am just a snob. You decide whom to believe.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

Story: (from the wrapper)
In Eastern Congo, Theo Chocolate and Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) have teamed up with Congolese cocoa farmers to make this delicious and crunchy vanilla nib chocolate bar. The cocoa and vanilla used to make this chocolate bar are all grown in Eastern Congo by dedicated organic farmers focused on quality and sustainability…Proceeds from this chocolate bar will be donated to ECI…”

Theo Congo Bar

Appearance:
The wrapper is visually striking, which is the main reason it caught my eye at the checkout counter. Its exotic origin (Congo chocolate is not common) and the organic/fair trade/non-GMO labels also helped lead me to the impulse buy. Definitely a marketing win.

With such a striking presentation, I was somewhat disappointed with the appearance of the chocolate itself. It lacks the gloss of higher-end chocolate bars, and its large slab-like divisions are unappealing to me, resembling a mass-produced factory product.

Texture:
The bar snaps cleanly without shattering. It does not melt in the mouth quickly, and with chewing, breaks into small pieces before dissolving. The cocoa nibs provide a nice slight crunch to the bar, which I like.

Flavor:
The dark chocolate flavor is what I tasted first – quite nice, distinctive but not overpowering. The cocoa nibs provide a dark roasted coffee-like flavor when crunched. Despite “vanilla” being part of the bar’s name, I did not directly taste it. Given the suggestive colors of the wrapper, I was expecting fruity notes, but it turned sour at the end, leaving, to me, an unpleasant finish.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: This is not a bar I would purchase again. For me to spend $4 or more on chocolate, I have to really enjoy it, and while it has some qualities I like, they aren’t strong enough to overcome its sour notes.

Rachel: I like the flavor of this bar, and I would let my dad purchase it again.

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Did He Go Through With It? More Trip 2 Highlights

“DON’T MIND ME,” I said to the young lady who opened the door, “I’m just working up the nerve to go inside.” What am I talking about? See below, if you dare.

Well, it’s off on the next bike trip starting bright and early Friday morning. If all goes well I will visit 26 more towns, and will reach the final goal of 50 over the Memorial Day weekend. I’m setting up base camp in Coldwater, from which I will make a westward loop Friday, and an eastern loop Saturday. Sunday I will start closer to home and do a loop of towns in the Adrian area.

Here’s some vignettes from from last weekend’s trip through the Lansing area. I will highlight just a couple of towns here, more to follow.

Eaton Rapids

Eaton Rapids prides itself on being “the only Eaton Rapids”, based on someone long ago who mailed a letter from England addressed only to someone in “Eaton Rapids” – and it was correctly delivered. Whether or not they are still the only town with that name, this one is charming and it has a good coffee shop with equally charming baristas. They even have chocolate chip scones, which have mysteriously disappeared from every other coffee place in Michigan. Maybe I’ll place an order from home and address it simply, “Scone place, Eaton Rapids” and see if it gets there.

A very pretty waterfront near the coffee shop.

One stop shopping: buy a new PC, then blow it away when you’re sick of the BSOD.

Charlotte

I have got to take photo lessons. (Not how to take them, how to look normal in them.)

Skidmore’s Village Cycle Shop  is not just the only bike shop in Charlotte; it’s actually the only bike shop for miles around. I got to talking with Wendy, and happened to say I was more of a runner than a cyclist (though not this month). Turns out she is a runner too, and like me, her favorite race is the half marathon. Had lunch at Evelyn Bay Coffee (good wraps) and happened across this sign while headed out of town.

This is hitting below the belt.

Potterville

“I’m just working up the nerve to go inside,” I said, slowly peeling off my biking gloves. I’d been standing outside for at least five minutes, fidgeting, taking photos, and wondering if I could somehow wiggle out of this. “Oh, come in,” she said, holding the door for me. With that, I took a deep breath and entered Joe’s Gizzard City.

Yes, the moment you’ve been waiting for – did he, or didn’t he? Did our intrepid fitness nut actually order and consume deep fried chicken gizzards? I’m afraid so, and I even lived to tell the tale.

This is a “quarter order” of gizzards, and it comes with fries, too, if you want.

Deep-fried cheesecake.

Let me tell you a little about this place. Everything is beer battered and deep fried here – various chicken parts, cheeseburgers, and even the desserts (yes, they deep-fry cheesecake, too). And what do fried chicken gizzards taste like? Kinda like chicken, except with a gooey texture; imagine, if you can, chicken-flavored deep fried cheese nuggets. When I smothered them in the spicy tomato sauce they come with, they tasted like deep fried cheese nuggets smothered in tomato sauce. Not exactly an Anthony Bourdain let’s-eat-a-live-cobra-heart experience I was expecting.

As I was wondering what to do with the rest of my order, a couple sat down at the bar. “So what is this place known for?” I heard the guy ask. “Deep fried chicken gizzards,” I told him, handing him my basket, “and you are welcome to this.” They sampled it, and pronounced it good. Chacun a son gout, as they say.

That’s all for now. Time to get some rest before hitting the road again.