The hallowed cocoa bean is trending big these days.
Terroir has long been the province of wine; then coffee lovers hopped on the bandwagon. The latest commodity to relate the nuances of origin with taste and quality is chocolate.
“Terroir is a tremendous factor,” says Dave Cook of Habitual Chocolate Roasters. “Chocolate is a deeper commodity; it’s a big world of cocoa, and it tastes different depending on where it comes from. There are amazing chocolates from all over the world.” He visits various cocoa-producing countries several times each year to research the best beans to sell at his shop in the Western Fair Market. Habitual carries 15 different types of beans from countries like Madagascar, Ghana and other exotic ports, and makes four different kinds of chocolate with each, providing a varied and delicious selection selection for customers.
Peruvian beans are Cook’s current favourite. “I’m a chocophile,” he says, laughing. “I love to visit the countries and try everything at least once. If I enjoy it, we bring it home.”
Habitual sells only fair trade organic chocolate from beans they roast on-site. The ground beans are combined with sugar, salt, and cocoa butter or powered milk to form their popular chocolate bars.
The market stall also sells novelty bars that combine their own chocolate with dried and fresh fruit. Cook adds that he’s working with local chefs on original combos all the time.
One trend Cook is following now is combining his freshly made chocolate with local seasonal products, like North Shore Erie wine. “It’s made into a reduction and combined with the chocolate to make a truffle, so when you bite into it you get a burst of fresh Ontario wine.”
Of course, using local ingredients is a huge trend right now in the food world, and along with that goes the push for sustainability.
According to Kristine Steed of Rheo Thompson in Stratford, sustainability has become a focus for those in the cocoa industry now, as well. “Most of the major confectioners are going to be involved in this (promoting sustainable growing practices),” she explains, adding that this was an important topic at a recent international conference she attended.
Groups like The World Cocoa Foundation are working with farmers in cocoa-growing countries, especially along the Ivory Coast of Africa, where 70 percent of the world’s supply comes from. These farms are usually one-person or family-run operations. They get help with eco-friendly farming practices to minimize disease and maximize crop production. Steed says it’s a win-win situation because producers gain a better quality of life and the buyers gain a better quality of product.
While Steed maintains that Rheo Thompson sticks to its core products, like the beloved mint smoothies, she says that dried fruit, like oranges, raisins and apricots, dipped in bittersweet chocolate are seasonal favourites in the winter.
At Harbourtown Fudge in Port Stanley, Vicci and Jon Coughlin are cooking up some of the most inventive batches of fudge around. For example, their Parrot Bay Fudge combines Parrot Bay Rum with coconut and dark chocolate, Cappuccino Cream Fudge is made with Las Chicas del Café Espresso, Whisky Fudge uses a popular Ontario-produced whisky as the key ingredient, and Candied Garlic is a key ingredient in the Vanilla Cream Fudge.
This is the latest effort from the duo who made their local culinary reputation cooking up amazing breakfast dishes and homemade pies at Billy’s Deli, and advanced that reputation serving the area’s best perch and eggs benedict at their B&B, Telegraph House.
“Port (Stanley) didn’t have a candy shop, so we figured a saltwater taffy and fudge shop would do really well,” says Vicci.
Keeping it simple until he masters the art of chocolate, “Jon is having fun with hand-dipped chocolate,” she says. “It’s a creative venture for Jon. He likes to experiment, like making Cabernet chocolate fudge.”
Though chocolate has been around since the ancient Mayans and Aztecs offered cocoa-based drinks to appease their gods, current trends should ensure that there’s always a steady supply of these tasty beans to enjoy in new and different ways.
JILL ELLIS-WORTHINGTON is a freelance writer and chief communicator for Write.On Communication Services International (www.writedoton.com).