It’s happening: Online Chocolate tasting

They say showing up is half the battle. While the adage has proven true for me, there has been days last month where I couldn’t find the strength to answer a simple email. Maybe you’ve felt that way, too.

When I first started hosting live tastings on the 37 Chocolates Facebook page, I was feeling sad about I’d lost and scared about the future. But you kept showing up, so I started focusing on the next video I’d host instead of the local tastings I’d cancelled. Slowly but surely, I started feeling hopeful again.

Thank you so much for tuning in every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 PM ET on Facebook. Interacting with you has been one of the greatest joys of this quarantine (Bonjour Claire! Hello Juanett!). I’ve been lucky to rely on your support in these crazy times and I’m grateful for the orders you insisted on placing on the 37 Chocolates online shop. You helped me get back on my (chocolate) feet and support my beloved chocolate-makers. I appreciate your trust in the selection and loved hearing how the Tasting Set challenged your perception of chocolate. Here’s my favorite testimonial from Dorothy in Texas.

“The Acalli 51% bar is delightful! Wouldn’t have tried it without your recommendation. You are an authentic chocolate sommelier.”

I am grateful.

If you’d like to keep up online shop updates (the next tasting set will be available soon and I won’t talk about it here), please sign up to the 37 Chocolates newsletter. It’s the best way to keep in touch.

Upcoming (Online) Events

Photo by Rodrigo Flores on Unsplash

Next on the chocolate agenda, a Zoom chocolate tasting on Sunday, May 31 inspired by the cacao trip I took in Colombia last year. Tickets are $50 per household and include three full size Castronovo Chocolate bars.

To avoid shipping delays, the event is limited to US residents only and tickets must be purchased by Friday, May 22.  Sign up info is available here. Attendance is limited to 12 screens and there are already only 5 spots left! The event is SOLD OUT!

I’ve scheduled another tasting on Sunday, June 7, on the same topic and with the same chocolate bars. Sign up information is available here. I hope to see you on my tablet one either one of these days.

I look forward to seeing you online this month. Until then, be safe and eat chocolate!

Classic Chocolate Truffles Recipe

Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

COVID-19 threw a wrench in our holiday celebrations this year, didn’t it? Confinement orders translated into intimate Passover Seders. Bare grocery shelves will rob Easter dinner of its rich cakes. My solution to turn your next dinner into a celebration? Make a batch of truffles.

Truffles are within any home cook’s reach: if you can warm up cream, then you can make truffles. If you have kids, enroll their help! Once the ganache* is ready, little chefs will enjoy shaping the chocolate balls (yay for chocolate-covered hands!) and pick toppings — crushed pretzels truffles, anyone?

The recipe below is quite straightforward, as long as you follow one rule: don’t boil the cream. This will cause the cocoa butter to separate, resulting in a layer of fat on top of your ganache. If this ever happens, place the truffle mixture in the fridge until the fat starts just begins to harden, about 15 minutes. Use a spatula to incorporate the fat into the truffle mixture and place in the fridge for another 10 minutes. Phew, crisis averted.

I recommend using Éclat Chocolate 71% chocolate chips (available at their West Chester store) which you can buy in 1-lb bags. The chips have a complex flavor with a nice acidity. If you can’t find them, use another high quality chocolate like Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate.

* Ganache is the French word for a cream and chocolate mixture. It sounds fancy, but it’s actually an old-fashioned way to say “idiot.”

Classic Chocolate TruffleS

Makes 20-24 truffles

Ingredients

100 g (3.5 oz or 1/2 cup) heavy cream
200 g (7 oz) 60-70% dark chocolate, finely chopped OR high quality chocolate chips from Éclat Chocolate or Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate
For garnish: finely chopped nuts, cacao powder, vermicelli, or crushed pretzels

Preparation

Place the chopped chocolate in a glass or Pyrex bowl.

In a small pan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Watch the pot closely to prevent the cream from boiling.

Pour the cream over the chocolate, cover, and let rest for 2 minutes.

Using a spatula, stir the chocolate until the mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer to a rectangular Pyrex dish and let the ganache harden for 2-4 hours at room temperature or 30 minutes in the fridge.

When ready to shape the truffles, place each garnish in its own little bowl.

Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop the ganache into tablespoon portion. Using your hands, shape into small balls, then roll in the garnish of your choice. This is the most satisfying, but also messiest part. Wear an apron if you must!

Serve immediately, preferably with a glass of Champagne, or store in the fridge in an airtight container. The truffles are best enjoyed at at room temperature.

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Chocolate in the time of Coronavirus

My oldest daughter turned 13 last week. Soon after she was born, as a 34-week preemie, she was whisked into the NICU so her growth could be monitored. Her hospital stay was expected to last “5 days.” Instead, she was hospitalized for 28 days. During that time, I remember being sad, angry, and discouraged. I was also so busy obsessing at her discharge date that I’d forgotten to plan for our new life together. 

Those grueling four weeks taught me two valuable lessons: learn to surrender when you’re not in control but remember to plan for better days.

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of event cancellations, Zoom-schooling, and batch cooking. When anxiety kicks in, I open the windows and let the blossoming trees remind me that life goes on.

Upcoming Internet Events

On Facebook

While waiting for the storm to pass, I’ve created new routines to create a sense of normalcy. Last week, I committed to go live on the 37 Chocolates Facebook page every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 PM ET until schools reopen. You can already watch the recordings of last week’s videos here and here.

Warning: you may order ALL the Chocolatasm Ginger Tiramisu bars after watching the second video.

Tomorrow’s live will exceptionally be held on the Facebook Page of My French Recipe, a cooking school based in Plano, TX. At 3 PM ET, I’ll be debunking 5 myths about chocolate, click here to add the event on your Facebook calendar.

On Instagram

I’ve convinced Christopher Curtin of Eclat Chocolate in West Chester, PA, to join me for a Q/A on Instagram this Wednesday, April 1 at 3 PM. Chris has run a successful chocolate business for 15 years and I look forward to him sharing his wisdom with us all. Until then, use code “STAYHOME” on Eclat Chocolate’s website for free shipping on your purchase of $50 of more. The Bourbon Pecan Cubes are especially delicious.

Support 37 Chocolates

I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head and food on the table. Without a physical shop or office, I don’t have to worry about paying rent or employees. The best way to support 37 Chocolates at this time is by ordering chocolate from your favorite chocolate-maker’s website. If you’re local, PLEASE consider supporting my existing tasting partners in the Brandywine Valley. Without them, there is no 37 Chocolates tasting.


If you are in the chocolate industry, now would be a good time to invest in yourself and watch my video training on how to “pitch, design, and lead a chocolate tasting and pairing event.” Use code “cheers” for 15% the list price. You could also take advantage of this time to discover the keys to crowdfunding success by watching recordings of the talk that Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao, Enna Grazier of Enna Chocolate, and I gave at the most recent Fine Chocolate Industry Association Elevate conference. Part 1 is available here and Part 2 here — thanks to Thanks Kimberly Yang for recording these videos.


Thanks so much for your support, I look forward to “seeing” you on Facebook. Until, be strong, stay home, and remember that this too shall pass.

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

March/April 2020 Chocolate tastings in Chester County & Delaware + Hello San Francisco

** March 16, 2020 edit: most of these events are now cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Please be safe and I’ll see you in happier, healthier times. **

The past Valentine’s Day season was one for the books with six chocolate tastings in nine days! We paired chocolate with wine, of course, but also tasted two interpretations of the same wild Bolivian cacao bean at the Kennett Library on Saturday. If you missed the chance to geek out with us, don’t worry, you can watch the recording of the Bolivian tasting on Facebook.

French chocolate tasting at the Kennett Library (February 2020)

You can look forward to more chocolate pairings this spring, not only with wine, but with tea, beer, and coffee too! Until then, read Everything You Don’t Know About Chocolate in the New York Times. Melissa Clarks has done a superb job explaining highlighting what makes fine chocolate special. 

March events & tastings

Friday, March 6, 1:30 PM: Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao and Enna Grazier of Enna Chocolate, and I will be sharing our Keys to Crowdfunding Success at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s Elevate Conference in San Francisco. Sign up information is available here.

Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8: find me at the Castronovo Chocolate booth at the Craft Chocolate Experience at the Palace of Fine Arts. Ticket information available on the event’s website.

Friday, March 13, 6-8 PM: wine & chocolate pairing event at Grace Winery in Glen Mills. Tickets are $42.63/person and include 4 pairings plus one 1-oz bar to take home. Since our February 7 event sold out in 6 days (!), get your tickets now if you’re eager to join!

Thursday, March 26, 6-8 PM: beer & chocolate pairing at Braeloch Brewing. Tickets are $25/person and include 4 pairings. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

Photo credit: Manki Kim on Unsplash

Sunday, March 29, 3-4:30 PM: tea & chocolate Pairing at Brew HaHa! in Greenville, DE (yes, that super cute one). Tickets are $20/person and include 4 pairings. 4 spots are still available The event is SOLD OUT but you can put your name on the waitlist (this would make for a lovely mother-and-daughter date).

April tasting

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Sunday, April 5, 3-4:30 PM: coffee & chocolate pairing event at Little Goat Coffee Roasters in Newark, DE. I’m thrilled to partner with Newark’s coffee darling on my very first coffee pairing event. 5 spots are still available, please click here to sign up.

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

5 Myths about Pairing Wine and Chocolate

Two years into my chocolate journey, I decided to learn the secrets to pairing wine with chocolate. Having no idea where to start, I brought my entire chocolate stash to Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery in Kennett Square one day, while the winemaker, Virginia Mitchell, poured all of the wine. After two hours of sipping, tasting, and dumping, we came up with very successful duos where the proverbial whole tasted better than the sum of its part.

Looking back on that afternoon, I realize our inexperience was a blessing in disguise. We approached pairings with an open mind, which made us consider unusual combinations, like a 100% dark chocolate with a dry red wine or milk chocolate with a white wine.

Since then, I’ve collaborated with sommeliers and winemakers, clubhouse managers and chefs to create successful, memorable wine and chocolate pairings. As I interacted with wine experts, I discovered their idea of matching wine with chocolate was sometimes regimented by a set of rules that didn’t seem to take the diversity of the chocolate world into consideration. For instance, some sommeliers are set on serving a sweet wine with chocolate. Others are convinced that white wine won’t go with chocolate. On the internet, I’ve shaken my head when a podcast host claimed “you can’t pair Champagne with chocolate!”.

The world of chocolate is vast and these rules are based on a limited exposure to fine chocolate. Granted, pairing wine and chocolate is tricky — a chocolate that goes well with a Merlot from a specific winery may not go with ALL the Merlots — so I understand the need to rely on some guidelines. After two years of leading my own wine & chocolate tastings, I’ve created my own set of rules which help me come up with the sweetest pairings. I’m sharing them here as I debunk five common myths on the topic.

Make sure to read until the very end for a special offer on my video training on how to pitch, design, and lead a chocolate lecture and wine & chocolate pairing event.

MYTH# 1: DRY RED WINES DON’T PAIR WITH DARK CHOCOLATE

This myth is widely spread in the wine industry, where experts claim the dark chocolate will clash with the tannins in red wine. Sure, a dark chocolate from the grocery store isn’t the best thing to nibble alongside a glass of red. However, I’ve had dozens of chance to debunk this myth.

The first step is to start with a dark chocolate with gently roasted, specialty grade cacao beans. Over-roasting will cause bitter compounds to develop (see this bean comparison post for an explicit visual), which will indeed clash with your red wine. OK, but where can one find these bars? Follow my rule and you’ll find out.

Rule #1: Skip the candy aisle and get some quality (and pricier) bars from a local coffee shop, specialty food store, or on a craft chocolate website like Bar & Cocoa or Caputo’s Market.

You can also email me at estelle(at)37chocolates.com for specific chocolate recommendations. I suggest starting with an approachable cacao origin like Madagascar. The cacao beans’ natural sweetness and berry notes make for crowd-pleasing, versatile bars. I’m partial to Fruition Chocolate Works’ Madagascar Sambirano 74% Dark Chocolate, which plays well against a medium-bodied Merlot. Give it a shot and tell me what you think.

MYTH #2: YOU SHOULD PAIR DARK CHOCOLATE WITH A SWEET WINE

Ask a wine expert to pick a bottle of wine to accompany a piece of dark chocolate and the odds are, they’ll choose a sweet wine. Depending on the budget, this could be a Madeira, Port, or Muscat. In France, the popular choice is Mas Amiel’s AOC Maury. Now, there’s nothing wrong about serving a dessert wine with chocolate — in fact, one of my favorite pairing is a 100% Madagascar dark chocolate with a Concord grape wine (!) — but you’ll be missing out on some delectable unions.

Rule #2: Not all dark chocolate is bitter, which means you don’t need to rely on the sweetness of a wine to balance its flavor out.

Go ahead, experiment and you’ll fall like me for Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery’s Cabernet Franc with Åkesson Organic’s 100% Madagascar Criollo or Acalli Chocolate’s 81% Barataria Blend.

Another trick is to keep a stash of chocolate bars made with a high percentage of white cacao beans. Cacao beans are typically purple, which indicates the presence of tannins. Using that logic, I theorized that chocolate made with white beans lacked tannins, so they could go well with dry red wines and guess what? It works! OK, but how do you spot bars made with white beans? Look for the world “blanco” or “Porcelana” on the wrapper. “Piura Blanco” or “Gran Blanco” are usually a good sign — I have a soft spot for Qantu Chocolat’s 70% Gran Blanco, which I consider the little black dress of my chocolate tastings.

MYTH #3: (RED) WINE AND CHOCOLATE ARE A NATURAL PAIRING

I stumble upon this myth on social media, usually from people who’re interested in one of my upcoming events. “Wine and chocolate, how can you go wrong?!” While I appreciate the sentiment, the reality is you can go wrong bringing wine and chocolate together.

For one, the bitterness of a industrial dark chocolate will clash with dry red wine. Thankfully, the bars I feature at my events are not bitter. In fact, some don’t even taste like typical chocolate at all. These bars won’t clash with red wine but a strong bodied wine will overpower them.

Here’s an example. I once ordered a glass of Grenache at a restaurant. The wine was dry, full-bodied, with strong berry notes — it was delicious. I thought the fruitiness would be a perfect match for the jammy, French Broad Chocolate 71% India bar I carried in my purse that night. While both shared a flavor profile, the wine was too loud and took over the conversation, so to speak.

Grenache + French Broad India
French Broad Chocolate’s 71% India Dark Chocolate and a glass of Grenache

This shouldn’t have been a surprise because of my third rule.

Rule #3: Red wine and chocolate aren’t a natural pairing, but if you look for a chocolate with a body similar to the wine’s, you may find some delightful matches.

As such, a better companion for the Grenache would have been a bold dark chocolate with an 80% cacao content — think Castronovo Chocolate’s 80% Arhuaco Village or Åkesson Organic’s 100% Madagascar Criollo.

MYTH #4: WHITE WINE DOESN’T PAIR WELL WITH CHOCOLATE

I don’t know what the foundation of this myth is, but follow my next rule and you’ll be a white-wine-and-chocolate convert.

Rule #4: Pick a barely tannic dark chocolate like Amano Chocolate’s 70% Dos Rios dark chocolate or Qantu Chocolat’s 70% Gran Blanco to pair with white wine. 

I love Dos Rios because of its unusual, delicate notes of bergamot and lavender, which play well against a floral white wine like a Spanish Albariño. As for Gran Blanco, it’s fantastic with Chardonnay. Other stronger, fruitier bars will work, too, and you’ll fall for the raisin notes of Wm. Chocolate’s 68% Belize Dark Chocolate with a crisp glass of Grüner Veltliner.

Alternatively, you could serve a crisp white wine with a rich, creamy dark chocolate. The wine helps cut through the richness of the chocolate, so you get a very balanced sensation in the mouth.

MYTH #5: CHAMPAGNE (OR SPARKLING WINE) DOESN’T PAIR WITH CHOCOLATE

First, a reminder that Champagne only refers to the sparkling wine originating from the region of Champagne in France! Cava isn’t Champagne and neither is Prosecco. With that settled, I know lots of people enamored with the idea of holding a glass of Champagne in one hand, and a piece of chocolate in the other. Add a sequin dress to the mix and you got a fantasy new year’s party.

Personally, I think Champagne is perfect on its own, so I don’t feel compelled to pair it with any food. If you reallllllly want to eat something with Champagne, consider making gougères, the light, airy puffs baked with Gruyère. That’s what the French would do.

But back to chocolate.

When the opportunity arose to experiment with Champagne last year, I jumped at it and had four empty flutes to show for it. Better yet, I discovered that bubbles and chocolate can be a match made in heaven.

Rule #5: Drink Champagne with white chocolate (YES IT IS REAL CHOCOLATE!!!) or a creamy dark milk chocolate.

The most memorable pairing that evening was a dry, slightly bitter Champagne with Violet Sky Chocolate’s Pine and Citrus bar. Oh, did that make my tongue sing! The irony is that the Champagne rep’ thought that bottle wouldn’t go with any chocolate. The magic there came from the bitter orange that bridged the Champagne’s bitterness with the intense dark chocolate. Swoon.

Another good partner to a glass of bubbly would be chocolate truffles — my friend Sophia Rea, founder of Projet Chocolat, is quite fond of Teuscher’s Champagne truffles.

So yes, you can pair Champagne (and other sparkling wines, for that matter) with chocolate — sequin dress optional.


I hope I’ve convinced you that wine and chocolate do go together. As a chocolate sommelier, I found wine & chocolate tastings to be a fantastic way to introduce fine, craft chocolate (call it bean-to-bar, if you prefer) to a larger audience.

If you’d like to learn how I pitch, design, and lead an engaging chocolate lecture AND wine & chocolate pairing event, sign up for the video training I created for chocolate industry professionals. Use code “cheers” for 15% off the list price. 

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Winter 2019/2020 Chocolate Tastings in Chester County

As 2019 is coming to a close, I’d like to thank you for being part of the 37 Chocolates journey. Thank you for attending a tasting, listening to a chocolate story, shopping at a pop-up, and referring me to prestigious venues. This year, you’ve also trusted me with birthday celebrations — how amazing is that?  You’ve helped make 2019 stellar and for that, I am grateful.

The holiday season is now in full swing and I know many of you could use a last minute gift idea. If so, I hope to see you this Saturday, December 14 from 1-5 PM at Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery in Kennett Square for a chocolate pop-up sale. This will be part of their annual Sip & Shop event and YES, I’m bringing the white chocolate with lemon & sea salt!

Grace Winery October 2019
Photo credit: Becca Mathias

December Tasting

Sunday, December 22, 2019, 5-7 PM Wine & Chocolate pairing at Grace Winery in Glen Mills, PA. Tickets are $42.63/person and include four pairings and one 1-oz bar to take home. There are only 8 spots left, so save your spot now.

Read Becca Mathias’ account of our previous tasting at Grace Winery in this blog post.

Grace Winery Line-Up
Photo credit: Becca Mathias

February Tastings

Friday, February 7, 2020, 6:30-8 PM: Wine & Chocolate pairing at Grace Winery in Glen Mills, PA. The event is SOLD OUT but you can add your name  the waitlist.

Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 2 PM – 4 PM: Wine & Chocolate pairing event at Harvest Ridge Winery’s tasting room in Toughkenamon, PA. Tickets are $30/person and must be ordered online prior to the event. Price includes four pairings.

Read Becca Mathias’ account of our previous tasting at Harvest Ridge Winery in this blog post.

Saturday, February 15, 2020 from 10-11 AM: FREE chocolate tasting and storytelling at the Kennett Library. We’ll be sampling three bars from two new French chocolate-makers. Spoiler: there’ll be chocolate with caramelized passion fruit. Sign-up information available in 2020.

Thursday, February 20, 2020, from 7-9 PM: wine & chocolate pairing at Bittersweet Kitchen in Media. Tickets are $40/person and are available here. Price includes 3 pairings + hors d’oeuvre. 

Friday, February 21, 2020, 6-8 PM (SOLD OUT): Wine & Chocolate Pairing at Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery in Kennett Square. Tickets are $35/person ($30 for wine club members). RSVP by phone at (484) 899-8013, by email at info@galerestate.com or stop by the tasting room.

Read Becca Mathias’ account of our previous tasting at Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery in this blog post.

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What makes chocolate bitter?

Chocolate Envelopes
Chocolate blind tasting

At a recent chocolate lecture, I asked the crowd what each type of chocolate evoked to them. White chocolate? Not real chocolate (ahem.) Milk chocolate? Sweet. When I said “dark chocolate”, the answer was unanimous: bitter. I wasn’t really surprised. The first time I tried a 99% bar, I almost spit it up. Thankfully, the 37 Chocolates challenge made me realize that a good dark chocolate didn’t have to taste bitter. In fact, some beans make an excellent 100% dark chocolate bar, without a trace of bitterness. So, why are some dark chocolate bars bitter? To answer that question, we need to look at the ingredients in chocolate.

To make chocolate, you need cacao or cocoa beans (it’s really the same thing.) Genetics, fermentation, and roasting will all impact chocolate flavor. Cacao is an agricultural product and not all beans are created equal. Just like a Granny Smith apple is more acidic than a Gala, some cacao beans are more bitter than others. Fermentation is a complicated topic, but it’s easy to imagine the results of bad fermentation (mold.)

Now, let’s take a look at roasting. I had long heard rumors of big companies over-roasting their beans, but I’d never seen evidence of that. All of this changed last summer when I got my hands on a roasted cacao bean husk* from a very large chocolate company. I won’t tell you which one, but I bet you can guess.

Overroasted Cacao

On my left, a roasted cacao bean husk from that large chocolate company. On my right, a cocoa bean from Sierra Nevada in Colombia roasted by much smaller, award-winning chocolate company. The bean on the left was over-roasted, to the point of being burnt. What does burnt food taste like?

Bitter.

However, dark chocolate doesn’t have to taste bitter. The combination of quality cacao beans, careful fermentation, and gentle roasting can create beautiful, intense, but not bitter dark chocolate. Granted, those bars won’t cost the same as industrial chocolate, but which color cacao bean would you rather put in your body? So head to your local coffee shop or specialty food store and start browsing the chocolate section. Your taste buds will thank you.

* The husk is the outside part of a cacao bean, one that is removed and discarded during the chocolate-making process (the fancy name is “winnowed.”) Inside the husk is the cacao nib, which will ground into chocolate. 

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