February 2018 Chocolate Tastings

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At the Kennet Library last November. Photo credit: Myriem N.

February is the best month for us chocolate-lovers. Seriously, between Valentine’s Day and the cold weather, we have every excuse to order chocolate online, sip a cup of hot cocoa under a blanket, and gather around a chocolate tasting. And considering I have four chocolate events scheduled next month, February promises to be a ton of fun for Chester County chocolate-lovers.

In addition to hosting my first wine and chocolate pairing event at Galer Estate Winery, I’ll be back to the Kennett Library for a free workshop, volunteer at the Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival, and host the chocolate tasting of my dreams at Grace Winery. Phew! There’s a tasting for every budget and I look forward to meeting you at one of these events.

 

Saturday, February 10, 2018, 2-3 PM – FREE Chocolate Tasting Workshop at the Kennett Library

Kennett February Tasting

The response on my last workshop in November was so positive (read: it was totally booked) that I’m returning to the Kennett Library for the fourth time. During the FREE, one-hour workshop, you’ll learn how chocolate is made, where it’s coming from, and hold a FRESH (that will be a first) cacao pod. Oh and yes, there will be chocolate samples for you to taste. Because there are currently no plans for a spring workshop, you should save you spot now.

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

February 11, 2018, 12-1 PM – 2018 Kennett Chocolate Festival

Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival

A chocolate festival to support a good cause? Count me in. The Kennett Chocolate Festival is a fundraiser for the United Way of Southern Chester County and, after two years as a judge, I’m thrilled to welcome connoisseur ticket holders at a chocolate education station. Between noon and 1 PM, chocolate lovers will get to see, smell, and taste roasted cacao beans as well as… wait for it… FRESH cacao pods! I’ll have them shipped just for the event and I’ll be slicing them for the guests. Oh and did I mention I’ll be raffling two chocolate bars?

Connoisseurs tickets are available for $25 or $45 for two and include free parking. You can purchase them online on United Way’s website.

Kennett Chocolate Festival @ Kennett High School
100 E South Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Friday, February 16, 2018, 6-8 PM – Grace Winery, Glen Mills

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The beautiful Inn at Grace Winery in Glen Mills, PA

Grace Winery offers the most idyllic setting for a gathering  – Exhibit A: the venue’s completely booked for the 2018 wedding season – and I am honored to guide a very special chocolate tasting for the winery’s guests.

I spent all of December to prepare for the event: I got new bowls for cacao beansProjet Chocolat’s elegant placemats to guide the tasting, and glassine envelopes so the guests can take chocolate home. Heck, I even bought new shoes! This will be an elegant, intimate tasting – the one I wish existed when I started my chocolate journey.

During this two-hour workshop, you’ll learn how chocolate is made and where it’s coming from, you’ll peel cacao beans and sample bars from my absolute favorite chocolate-makers. You’ll leave the event with a deeper appreciation of this food and a list of my favorite chocolate purveyors in the Philadelphia area so you can continue your chocolate journey.

Tickets are $50 and include your first glass of wine. Tickets are available through EventBrite. This one’s going to be special. I really hope to see you there.

Grace Winery
50 Sweetwater Road
Glen Mills, PA 19342

Sunday, February 18, 2018, 2-4 PM – Wine & Chocolate Pairing at Galer Estate Winery, Kennett Square

Please join award-winning winemaker Virginia Mitchell and myself for a chocolate and wine pairing at Galer Estate Winery. During this two-hour tasting, you’ll sample four wine and chocolate pairings and learn the tricks to create your own successful combinations. All featured wines – one a double Gold award-winning – are made by Galer Estate Winery and will be available for purchase. The handpicked selection of chocolate includes four award-winning bars from American chocolate-makers. The tasting will end with my favorite confection from Eclat Chocolate.

Tickets are $60 each and include four pairings plus one chocolate confection. The event will likely sell out so grab your seat now!

Galer Estate Winery
700 Folly Hill Rd
Kennett Square, PA 19348

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Interview with Paul John Kearins, Chocolatier & Founder, Chocolatasm (Blue Ridge, Georgia)

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Chocolatier Paul John Kearins. The s-shirt is for sale on the Chocolatasm website. Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

Disclosure: Chocolatasm sent me a box of four chocolate bonbons. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I wasn’t influenced by the company.

Serge is one of the rare friends I see everytime I am in Paris. He and I met in Latin class in 10th grade, where he’d hide behind my desk and whisper jokes about our teacher’s hairdo. While he wasn’t exactly popular, his tastes were decidedly edgy. When our classmates danced to pop songs, Serge would listen to Björk on repeat. While the 1990’s made us live in denim, he’d wear an orange jacket to school. In between classes, he once wrote a story about a classmate stuck in another friend’s digestive system. It was so inappropriate. It was hilarious. Back then, I was shy and book smart and my friends were Goodie Two-Shoes, just like me. Serge was cooler than I’d ever been and his friendship meant that, maybe, there was a bit of coolness in me.

Chocolatier Paul John Kearins is a bit like Serge, but with a British accent and a US address. He sells t-shirts I can’t wear around my kids, peppers his Facebook updates with swear words, and slips the occasional burp on his Instagram stories. I love all of it. But what makes him edgy are his chocolate confections. His flavor combinations are unlike anything I tried before: when he sent me a box of four bonbons last month, I sampled them one at a time, after the kids were in bed, so I could swear at each bite. There were a Tart Cherry, Olive Oil, Allspice bonbon that tasted like summer, an intriguing Buttermilk Ganache, an irreverent Greek Yogurt Caramel one, and a Hazelnut Cinnamon bonbon I am now obsessed with. Once the box was empty, I had to know more. What’s Paul John’s secret to creating flavor combinations that are creative but not gimmicky, playful yet restrained? I’ll let you read on to find out. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching Paul John’s latest Instagram story. It makes me feel cool. 

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Lady Grey, Peach Sweet Tea Ganache, Greek Yogurt Caramel, Coffee Lemon, and Thyme Tangerine are some of the represented bonbons flavors. Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

Please tell us what brought a Dutch man with a British accent to Georgia? 

In December 2006 I left Holland and my job of 7 years as a chocolatier at Puccini Bomboni in Amsterdam. My partner and I had plans to open an eco-lodge on the Canary Islands. That plan didn’t work out quite as anticipated. We left the Canary Islands and headed to the Dutch Caribbean, found employment as caretakers of a luxury villa on the French side of the island. After some time we parted and I remained as private chef/concierge.

Around that time I met Shawn, my husband, in an esoteric Facebook group and we became friends. Shawn lived in Georgia, where he had a high end caretakers and property management company. I moved to the neighboring island of Saba, a 5sq mile mountain and became concierge and chef for a private villa there. Shawn said he wanted to visit, came for two weeks then left. A month later he returned and didn’t leave. He said “I’m not leaving this island without you.” To cut a long story short, after 8 months we both left and returned to his home in the mountains of North Georgia. That’s when Chocolatasm was born in 2013.

When I left Holland I was kind of burned out with regard to chocolate making and thought I was down with it. When I arrived in the USA I was ready to start again. With my own approach instead of that of a boss.

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Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

What was your vision when your started Chocolatasm and how did you come up with the name of your company?

I’ve noticed that so often when people hear that you are a chocolatier, they immediately ask if you make something that already exists. I always answer “someone already makes that. So why would I?”

I had a food group on Facebook called foodism and I wanted the expand that to my business and call it Chocolatism. Unfortunately that name was already taken so I decided on Chocolatasm… I own the rights to that name now. It’s supposed to be a mix of chocolate and and orgasm.

Do you have a storefront? 

I do not. My store is online. However as you’ve seen I do pop up now and then at various locations. I wholesale at a few locations across the US. [My growth] is completely random and organic. I have a loyal customer base locally and across the USA.

Your flavor combinations are so inventive. The hazelnut cinnamon especially stood out to me. What inspires you?

I have an insane olfactory memory (smell memory) and remember situations, feelings and emotions through scent. I can see a picture of a food and imagine the aroma in detail. So I create flavor combinations by memory.

One such memory is if my mother’s friend Betty. I was 10 years old and would go for tea at her house, she had a fabulous garden full of herbs and showed me that I only had to rub the leaves with my fingers and smell them. She led me to the sage and let me smell. Afterward we went inside for tea and she’d made rhubarb pie. I ate the pie with my hand and could smell the sage on my fingers and I ate. When I saw rhubarb here in the store 35 years later, that memory flooded back and that’s when I came up with my rhubarb sage bonbon.

Wine & Chocolate
Wine and bonbons pairing.  Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

The hazelnut cinnamon came to be when I made the praline to mix into the ganache for the first time. As I was grinding the praline I started to think about what else I could add that would lead it away from the “just like Nutella!” thing. Spice. I wanted to make it adult. Hazelnut and cinnamon complement each other and are rarely combined. I find it very “German.”

You use Map Chocolate as couverture* for your bonbons: what drew you to Mackenzie Rivers’ work? What are you looking for in chocolate?

I look for big flavor. So often the chocolate is nothing more than a vehicle for other flavors. I like the chocolate to be the star of the show, followed by complimentary accenting flavors. The couvertures should be ethical and consistent in texture. However, in the world of single origin, you are at the mercy of nature. Flavors vary per season and harvest and that what I find to be so exciting. Nature decides.

I followed Map [Chocolate] on Instagram and we became friends. One day we decided to do a collaboration of bonbons. Bridge the gap between bean-to-bar maker and chocolatier. I created a 9-piece bonbon assortment mapping the journey from Georgia to Oregon. Each bonbon represented the flavors associated with 9 states from East to West.

* Couverture chocolate has a high cocoa butter content which makes it suitable for confections. While a chocolate-maker like Map makes chocolate from actual cocoa beans, a chocolatier like Chocolatasm uses chocolate as an ingredient in bonbons and other chocolate products. 

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A selection of Chocolatasm bars. Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

I like my flavors to be apparent without being overpowering. I want the chocolate to retain its identity flavor wise and visually which is why I don’t airbrush with bright colors. We live in a “Jolly Rancher society” where flavor is amped up to an extreme. Eat something apple flavored and tour often tasting 100 apples in on bite. I want flavor to be real. I love looking at painted bonbons yet see only that…. paint.

Also I hate that everything is called a truffle. 😆

You’ve already had a long career in chocolate. Any milestones you’d like to share?

I created a truffle (yes, a truffle) for her majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She came to Saba and I was asked to present something. I harvested cacao from the rainforest on the island and made truffles from it.

Also I created a confection for the finale of the Montreal baroque festival in 2009. A celebration of the works of Purcell who apparently died of an overdose of chocolate. It was served to 700 people at the cathedral of Bon Secours.

You have obviously found your tribe, people that love your products (and your irreverence, like me!), so what’s next for Chocolatasm? 

The plan for 2018 is to relocate to Cape Cod and begin working together with an existing chocolate shop/ cafe/ bakery in Provincetown. I will be helping streamline their operations whilst expanding on Chocolatasm at the same. How that will look isn’t completely clear just yet. Time will tell. Chocolatasm will continue as an online store and wholesale will continue also. My products will be available in Provincetown.

You can order Chocolatasm creations online at Chocolatasm.com and follow Paul John Kearins on Instagram @chocolatasm.
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Not Alone

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Sculpture by Lele Galer

This fall, I found a painful lump in my breast. I always heard pain was a good sign but I am not a doctor, so I’ve essentially been freaking out for a few weeks. It’s been hard to stay focused and staying off-Google, but I eventually scheduled a mammogram yesterday to get some piece of mind. I was dreading having to go to the exam on my own but through a twist of fate, I did not.

At the 2016 DC Chocolate Festival, a volunteer named Barb heard about me and we’ve been in touch ever since. She’s been very supportive of my endeavors and I feel like we’ve known each other for years. Yesterday, she drove one hour from Maryland to meet me at Philter Coffee so she could purchase two Map Chocolate bars I brought back from the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. When I excused myself because for the mammogram, she offered to come with me because “you shouldn’t go through this alone.” You bet I accepted. Barb waited for me for 2 1/2 hours in the waiting room and, after the reassuring news came, we went back to Philter to chat and relax.

Success means different things for different people. To me, it’s always been about friendships and relationships. A number of likes on a photo or likers on a page, even the number of zeros on a bank account suddenly mean nothing if you have to go through difficult things alone. Thank you, Barb, for being there for me yesterday.

Fall 2017 Chocolate Tastings

I was sipping my cappuccino at Philter Coffee this fall one day when a lady named Chelsea asked me about my next chocoldunaiate event. Although I had none planned then, I promised her to organize one. After I emptied my cup, I headed straight to the library, where it took all of 30 seconds to book a chocolate tasting workshop with Alex. Gosh, I wish all my meetings were that productive.

I now look forward to meeting Chelsea and her friends at the Kennett Library this Saturday, November 18, 2017. I have a couple more events planned this year to satisfy your chocolate cravings, including a Map Chocolate pop-up sale that same Saturday and a tasting at Grace Winery next month. Here are all the details, I hope to see you at one or all of these events!

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Join me at the Kennett Library this Saturday, November 18 for a FREE chocolate tasting workshop at 2 PM. Spoiler: you’ll touch a cacao pod and taste camel milk chocolate from Dubai. Space is limited so make sure to register here. The event was completely booked last time so don’t wait to save your spot!

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Chadds Ford

On Saturday, November 18, I will have Map Chocolate bars for sale at the inaugural Potts Meadow Tree Lighting event, presented by the Chadds Ford Barn Shops and the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. I’ll be there with several cool artists (Katee Boyle! Bri from Arden + James!). The event will run from 4:30-8:30 PM, you’ll find all the details here.

The history of the Barn Shops goes back 50 years, when some historic buildings (old general store, gas station, etc.) in Chadds Ford, PA, were moved to their current location for preservation purposes. My friend Bri and her father have been fixing up the shops all year and they’re proud to share them with the local community.

Please note you MUST park at the Brandywine Museum down the road and take a shuttle to the event. For safety reasons, including Route 1 traffic backup and children wandering around, you can’t park at the Barn Shops.

Chadds Ford Barn Shops
1609 Baltimore Pike
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania 19317

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I love with the quiet, romantic setting of Grace Winery in Glen Mills – Prince Albert of Monaco was recently there! – so I am thrilled to host a two-hour chocolate education and tasting workshop on Friday, December 15 at 6 PM – 8 PM. Tickets are $50 and include your first glass of wine. If you’d like to learn more about your favorite food, hold a cacao pod, eat a cacao bean, and taste several chocolates, secure a spot now on EventBrite.

Grace Winery
50 Sweetwater Road
Glen Mills, PA 19342

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Chocolate Tasting Guides

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I used to be one of those people. You know, too cool for chocolate sniffs and tasting notes, harvest years and terroirs. Heaven forbid someone called me a food snob. But if the 37 Chocolates challenge taught me anything, it’s that slowing down matters. Paying attention definitely matters. Taking notes also matters. Referring to a floral note does not make you a food snob, it makes you someone who cares.

Think about it: if you spent a first date scrolling down your Instagram feed, would you know if that person across the table is right for you? The same goes for chocolate: the more present you are with it, the better you’ll get to know it, and the better you’ll determine if it’s right for you. And just like we sometimes need a friend’s nudge to see some signs, we can use a helping hand to catch some subtle notes. So head out to my latest post on the Bar & Cocoa blog (formerly Choco Rush) to discover three of my favorite tasting guides.

Three Chocolate Podcasts You Should Listen To Now + My Favorite Local Food Podcast

You know what I like the best about being part of a new movement? Watching so many projects come to life. As the American craft chocolate scene has been booming over the past couple of years, I’ve been thrilled to witness the creation of several chocolate podcasts to help us all make sense of that world. These shows have informed, entertained, moved, and inspired me and I hope that they will do the same to you too. Happy listening!

Well Tempered, by Lauren Heineck

img_2180Hosted by Lauren Heineck of WKND Chocolate, Well Tempered is a podcast about the “smart and crafty women of the chocolate industry.” Each episode features an intimate conversation with an inspiring woman. Guests range from bloggers and brand strategists to makers and educators (I was the guest of Episode 2!).

This podcast’s for you if you have In The Company of Women* on your bedside table and could use some female inspiration to get to your next chapter. Lauren is a gifted listener and each episode makes me take action, whether that’s contributing to a crowdfunding campaign or book a visit to a chocolate factory. In short, I am a fan.

The Slow Melt, a Podcast about Chocolate, by Simran Sethi

IMG_6660Written by the author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love*, this podcast’s mission to educate listeners about the complexity and sometimes harsh realities of the chocolate world. After a first season focused on the basics of chocolate (from the origins of chocolate to how to savor chocolate), the new season is dedicated to chocolate-makers. 

This podcast is best for anyone who already cares about the issues of sustainability and biodiversity in food and would like to expand their knowledge to the lesser-known world of cacao and chocolate. The episodes are short (30 minutes) and professionally edited. If you only listen to one episode, may it be this interview of Shawn Askinosie, founder of Askinosie Chocolate. A pioneer of the American craft chocolate movement, Askinosie left a job as a criminal defense attorney to become a chocolate-maker. You’ll relate with his struggle to transition careers and finding work that matters.

Unwrapped, a Conversation about Chocolate, by Sunita de Toureil and Brian Beyke

UnwrappedWhen two friends who “love to talk about chocolate” want to share their passion, guess what they do? They record their weekly chats and make them available to everyone (yay!). Hosted by Sunita de Toureil, founder of The Chocolate Garage in Palo Alto, California, and Brian Beyke, co-host of the I Brew My Own Coffee podcast, the show covers a variety of topics, from consumer expectations to subscription box business models, all while keeping it very real. The podcast stands out by it very laid-back tone (Brian will occasionally eat a bar during a recording!), making it the perfect road trip companion.

Unwrapped will appeal to chocolate-lovers who already have a good knowledge of the US craft chocolate movement. If you’ve already heard of Areté Fine Chocolate, Stephen DeVries, or Patric Chocolate, then this podcast’s for you.

Local Mouthful, by Joy Manning and Marisa McClellan

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Finally, I have to give a shout-out to Local Mouthful, a show about “living the food life in Philadelphia and beyond.” Each of the 30-minute weekly show has been helping me go through the Wednesday lunchbox packing duty for well over a year (will I find two snacks by 8:30 AM? Does dark chocolate count as one?). Listening to two food lovers dish about foods of all kinds is a good reminder that there’s a whole other world outside of cacao and chocolate. Local Mouthful keeps me up-to-date with food news, helps me discover new cookbooks,  and even inspires me to make pierogis from scratch.  Now, if Joy and Marisa would devote a whole show to chocolate, that would make my Wednesdays extra sweet.

* Affiliate links.

Interview with William Marx, Founder, Wm. Chocolate

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Owner William Marx winnowing cacao beans. Photo credit: Wm.  Chocolate

Chocolate conferences are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Last month, I had the pleasure to meet William (Will) Marx, founder of Wm. Chocolate at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association New York City conference. He came across as hardworking and humble, and I could not wait to try his chocolate.

A week later, on the other side of the country, Pashmina of  the Choco Rush subscription box told me how fantastic his Belize bar was. We thought it would be great to interview Will for the company’s blog. Well, the interview is now up and I think you’ll appreciate his views on the use of unrefined sugar. You can find the interview here.

Now, tell me, have you had his chocolate? What are your thoughts on using unrefined sugars?