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. 

If you liked this article, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

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.

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

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. 

If you liked this article, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

Fall 2019 Chester County Chocolate Tastings

Chocolate Wine Harvest Ridge
Photo: Becca Mathias Photography.

On her podcast two years ago, my friend Lauren Heineck asked what cacao meant for me. “A source of wonder,” I replied. It’s amazing that a seed can reveal nutty, floral, or fruity notes, depending on its variety, don’t you think? That’s the sense of wonder I strive to spark at my chocolate tastings, so when I hear: “Oh wow I didn’t know chocolate could taste like this”, I know I’ve succeeded.

But chocolate is more than a yummy food. It’s what I pull from my purse to bring comfort to a friend. It’s the topic I bring up when my Lyft driver says he’s from Ghana. It’s what gathers people at my table. When I was in Colombia last June, I met a lot of people who looked nothing like me. Often times, we didn’t even speak the same language. Everyday, though, we sat at the same table. Everyday, we communicated through pictures Google Translate. All because of chocolate.

That feeling of connection is what you’ll experience at this fall’s tastings. You’ll experience wonder through the smoothest and creamiest texture, and from the stories I’ve been lucky to receive for the past four years. I hope to share them with you at one of these Philadelphia area events.

Thursday, October 3, 7-8:30 PM – Chocolate Lecture + Tasting, Clean Slate Goods, Kennett Square, PA

What? A 90-minute chocolate tasting around the theme “Every Chocolate has a Story.” Come hear about Robin, Yesid, Duvis, and Denise during this 90-minute event featuring three chocolate bars featuring beans from plantations I’ve visited. You’ll leave the event hopeful and uplifted.

The event is for you if: recent headlines on cacao farmers left you depressed and you’re ready to hear uplifting stories about ethically-sourced cacao.

Where? At Clean Slate Goods, a fair trade boutique in downtown Kennett Square.

How do I sign up? Tickets are $15, you can purchase them here.

Sunday, October 6, 2-4 PM – Wine & Chocolate Pairing at Harvest Ridge Winery Tasting Room, Toughkenamon, P

Chocolate Wine Harvest Castronovo Akesson
Photo: Becca Mathias Photography.

What? A 2-hour tasting featuring four wine & chocolate pairings. Spoiler: there’ll be peanut butter chocolate. You’ll learn chocolate-tasting basics, nibble on cocoa beans, and discover the secret behind successful pairings (spoiler: it involves a lot of tasting).

The event is for you if: your BFF is in town and you’d like to treat her to a memorable afternoon. Here’s what our February tasting was like.

How do I sign up? Tickets are $30/person and must be purchased online.

Friday, October 18, 6:30-8 PM – Wine & Chocolate Pairing Event, Grace Winery, Glen Mills, PA (SOLD OUT)

What? A wine & chocolate pairing event at Grace Winery, a dreamy venue located off Route 1. The setting is so peaceful, with alpacas and donkeys on the property. Book a room at the historical inn if you can!

The event is for you if: you already signed up for the event because the event is SOLD OUT!

How do I sign up? You can add your name to the waitlist or sign up to the 37 Chocolates newsletter so you never miss another event.

Saturday, October 26, 10-11 AM – Colombian Chocolate Tasting at the Kennett Library

Denise + Pedro
Denise Castronovo of Castronovo Chocolate introduces her dark milk chocolate to Don Pedro Diego Bolivar, one of the farmers behind her award-winning Sierra Nevada 63% dark milk chocolate. Photo credit: Vincent Ferreira of Hasnaa Chocolats.

 

What? A one-hour workshop where you’ll hear about my recent Colombian trip (spoiler #1: I’ll talk about XXL spiders) and eat three chocolates featuring cacao beans from plantations I visited. Spoiler #2: expect to get emotional.

The event is for you if: it’s never too early for chocolate.

How do I sign up? Registration is required on this Google Form.

Good to know: This is the only FREE tasting I’ll hold this fall. The library’s hosting a kids storytime at the same time downstairs.

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

On Motherhood and Chocolate

D35E730D-5454-4E38-ADB0-44677FC3B1AC.jpeg
A cute hand and the cult Pump Street Chocolate Sourdough & Sea Salt chocolate

As we near the fourth anniversary of the 37 Chocolates challenge, I find myself reflecting on my chocolate journey. From its early days, that journey has been intertwined with my role as a mother. After my second daughter was born, I returned to the corporate job that I’d had for years. I lasted 14 months. I was unhappy, I didn’t belong there anymore. I wish I could say it was easy to leave. It wasn’t. I agonized for months over I’d do next. I was scared of the unknown so I bought myself time. We changed my job title. I looked for other jobs. During that time, I kept looking at my baby. I felt so guilty be such a sorry version of a grown up. What was the point of bringing this baby into the world if my choices conveyed there was nothing more to aspire in life than pay bills and wallow in self-pity? I had to do better — for her and for me.

Ultimately, my body called it quits. I left the job, released the first version of my food survival for French expats in the US, and spent the rest of the summer shooting chocolate reviews with an iPhone laid on an upside down box of diapers. I won’t say “the rest is history” but it was the beginning of a new life.

Chocolate isn’t “just” chocolate for me. It’s a vehicle to find meaning in life and show my children how you can craft your own path and create a life you’re proud of. Sharing bars with my kids is one of my life’s joy. It’s a reminder of the life choices I made to be a better role model. A happy parent. A better adult. May they see it. May they remember it.

 

Grid Magazine Cover Story + Upcoming Event

Cacao Selfie

As you may have gathered from the @37chocolates Instagram account, I spent a glorious week in Colombia, visiting cacao plantations and fermentation facilities. The trip was organized by cacao broker Uncommon Cacao in collaboration with Cacao Hunters and I’m grateful for Denise Castronovo of Castronovo Chocolate for letting me know about it. A highlight of the trip was witnessing her giving her creamy 63% Sierra Nevada Dark Milk Chocolate to Don Pedro, one of the Sierra Nevada farmers (there may have been some tears…)

There’s so much more I’d like to share on the journey, so watch for future blog posts and (hopefully) magazine articles. If you know of an editor interested in my experience, please send them my way! Until then, I’ll continue to feel grateful to have found a field that keeps me endlessly interested.

Grid Magazine Cover Story

Grid Cover Story

If the recent Washington Post story on child labor in cacao fields left you depressed, read my (first) cover story in the June issue of Grid Magazine.

An affiliate faculty of African studies, Dr. Kristy Leissle offers a definition of sustainability in cacao and exposes the roots of poverty on farms. The piece also highlights the work of three Philadelphia area chocolate companies, i.e. Nathan Miller Chocolate, Repurposed Pod, and La Chocolatera’s drinking chocolate food truck, as well as Uncommon Cacao. These four companies strive to bring positive changes in the industry and I hope their stories will leave you inspired.

You can read the Grid Magazine story here.

Upcoming Event

Unionville Saddle

Join me this coming Saturday from 11-2 at WorKS in Kennett Square as part of Unionville Saddle’s Father’s Day pop-up shop. There’ll be shirts, bourbon, and chocolate — does life get any better? I’ll be there with several bars, including Castronovo Chocolate’s Sierra Nevada Dark Milk Chocolate and the best-selling Lemon Sea Salt White Chocolate. I hope to see you then!

WorKS
432 S. Walnut Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

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