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Holidays are over and summer is still a long way off—it can be hard to find something to get excited about in late January (unless you are a skier and it’s dumping snow, then that is pretty darn exciting). 

Well, our Factory Store at 750 Pine St, Burlington, has a few things going on that might get you off the couch. 

First, we’re having a winter sale, starting Friday, January 18 through Sunday, January 27!  Featuring our gourmet hot chocolate, Five Star Bars, and our handmade truffles, it’s a great time to stock up on your favorites or buy some early Valentine’s Day chocolates (as long as you don’t eat them before the big day!)  We’ll have lots of samples out for you to try too!

Second, we’re hosting two, free, (yes, FREE) chocolate tastings on Saturday, January 26.

At 1:00pm and 3:00pm, you can taste chocolate with an expert who will walk you through how chocolate is made, the differences between chocolate, desirable qualities of chocolate and the six steps to tasting chocolate.  Attendees will sample our famous Five Star Bars (did we mention they will also be on sale?) and learn how to evaluate them.  There is no need to register for either session but seating is limited so it is recommended to arrive early.

Soon you’ll impress your friends and family by describing the flavor notes of chocolate as sour, spicy, earthy or fruity.  And showing off your bounty of chocolate you picked up at some great prices.

That seems pretty good for the end of January to me.


How To Host a Chocolate Tasting

Posted on November 20, 2012 12:44 PM by Caitlin

Like it or not, the holiday season is fast approaching. To many, this means the joy of being surrounded by friends and family, be it for a Thanksgiving feast or for a carol-singing session around the Christmas tree. One thing is for certain, though: the season is full of opportunities to entertain. Hot cocoa and cookies is still a great traditional way to placate the grandkids (and we do have some delicious hot cocoa, if you’re so inclined,) but if you’re looking to become the host that everyone is talking about this season, read on.

For the true foodies out there, chocolate is more than just a delicious confection. Sure, it comes with health benefits, but it also comes packed with a variety of different tones and flavors that can be parsed and paired with everything from beer and wine to cheese. To impress your guests, host a chocolate tasting or pairing party. Here’s what to do:

First, you’ll want to make sure to learn how to taste chocolate. As tempting as it is just to eat it, to truly gain an understanding of all of the varieties of flavor in each different chocolate, you will want to make sure you involve all of your senses in the process. Here’s what we suggest you look for when tasting chocolate. And if you want to know how we do it, read our notes on our Sensory Panel.

To host a chocolate tasting party in the purest form, try looking at our single source bars. The beans in these bars come from just one location, so the flavors vary tremendously. You always want to start with the lightest chocolate first, so:

  1. 54% Dark ChocolateStart with our 54% Dark Chocolate. This isn’t a single source – it’s a combination of beans from Ghana, Sao Thome (an island off of the west coast of Africa,) and Tanzania – but it’s a great place to get your chocolate bearings, since this is the dark chocolate we use most frequently to make our truffles and other treats. Try and think about all of the flavors involved. What do you taste under the “chocolate” flavor?

  2. Sao Thome 70% Dark ChocolateMove on to our Sao Thome. This should taste quite different from the 54%, and not just because it is a little more bitter due to the higher cocoa percentage. Can you discern some earthy flavors? Maybe a slight hint of vanilla? Some people even taste a bit of olive.

  3. Peru 70% Dark ChocolateNext try our Peru. This is the same cacao percentage as the Sao Thome, but the beans come from the other side of the world. Can you taste the difference? It is much creamier, and has much fruitier tones than the Sao Thome. Can you taste a slightly unripe banana? There are also some nice floral tones in there. One thing to note about our Peru, is that, unlike most of our chocolate, which is made with about 20% cocoa butter, our Peru has 40% cocoa butter, making it deliciously smooth and creamy.

  4. Tanzania 75% Dark ChocolateNow taste our Tanzania. This is a 75%, so it’s a little higher in cocoa than the last two you tried, but again, for something so close in cocoa content, it tastes surprisingly different. How does this compare to the Peru and Sao Thome? What types of flavors can you pick out? Perhaps a ripe banana? We use this one to make our delicious fudge sauce (available only in our retail stores) because the fruity tones blend deliciously with ice cream.

  5. African Blend 80% Dark ChocolateAs a penultimate step, move on to the African blend. At 80%, this is the highest cocoa content chocolate we produce. It is made from the same blend as the 54% (Ghana, Sao Thome and Tanzania). How does this compare to the others? What can you taste?

  6. And finally, we have worked our way through higher and higher cocoa percentages so now go back and try one more bite of the 54%. Has the taste changed from what you originally perceived? Are you surprised?

 

Of course, doing an entire tasting like this means two things: first, that, by the end, unless you take very small bites of each (which I suggest you do!) you’ll most likely have had enough chocolate to last you the rest of the evening. Second, you will also realize quite quickly that it is important to have water on hand, if only to cleanse the palate a little.

If you’re looking to do a pairing, though, alcohol is also a great way to refresh your palate. The natural acidity, particularly in beer, will help rid your mouth of some of the fat residue left from the chocolate. To find beer and wine that pair nicely with chocolate, use the flavors you discerned in the chocolates to find drinks with similar or complementary tones. Here’s what we came up with when we hosted a party.

We also have a history of pairing our chocolates with beer. Look through what we’ve done in the past here.

Finally, why not progress a little further, and involve another Vermont specialty: cheese? You can find some of our pairing suggestions for chocolate and cheese here.

Have you thought of a good chocolate pairing, or discovered an interesting flavor in one of our chocolates? Post your ideas for a chocolate pairing on our Facebook Page


Blue Bandana Chocolate

What do wine and chocolate have in common? Aside from the fact that they can pair very well together, quite a lot!

Last Thursday evening, the Echo Center hosted a wine tasting event, featuring wines from several terroirs in France and Italy. The wines were delicious, but what made the event extra interesting was the table of our Blue Bandana Chocolate that also made an appearance. With both high-quality wine and high-quality chocolate present, it wasn't a hard step to start to draw comparisons between the two, in terms of both tasting and origin.

Let’s take the concept of a terroir: A terroir, as Jason Zuliani from Dedalus Wine explained, is a sense of location and place for the grapes. As Jason put it, "this wine exists to communicate place." All aspects of that place can influence the wine, from the soil to the climate to the age of the grape vines. Here are two quick examples from the event:

The age of the vines played an important part in the flavors that came out. Older vines produce fewer grapes, and those they produce tend to be more concentrated, so that the older the vine, the more it can contribute to something in the flavor. For instance, there were two 2010 Riofavara "Nero D’Avola" Sicilian wines at the event: the "Spaccaforno" and the "Sciavè." Both are produced in the same year, but the Sciavè used older vines (43 years instead of 30). The difference in taste was clear! The older vines had a more rounded flavor with bolder tones.

The location and soil of the vines changes the flavor of the grapes created. For example, with the Chablis we tasted, there were two types: Chablis and Petit Chablis, both made from Chardonnay grapes and grown in the same town. But the Petit Chablis, had slightly less limestone in its soil, whereas the Chablis had more. As a result, the Petit Chablis was a bit more crisp and fresh, and the Chablis more rounded.

Now, let’s take these two examples over to chocolate:

Blue Bandana at Echo

The plants themselves: Cocoa trees have a lot in common with grape vines. For one thing, both have to reach maturity before they begin to produce. In the case of grape vines, this can be 3-5 years. For cocoa trees, it’s 5-6. In both plants, a lot of thought goes into the specific type of plant being used. In the cocoa world more and more farmers and producers are getting the skills they need to graft "super producer" trees onto trees that produce fewer cocoa pods. The wine industry is slightly ahead here, but it’s the same concept.

Location: Sourcing cocoa beans, and the soil type and area in which the trees are grown, is just as important with chocolate as it is with wine. We produce several varieties of chocolate from specific sources, including our Tanzania, Peru, Sao Thome, and, from Blue Bandana, a Madagascar and a Guatemala. All of these have differentiating tastes, based on the locations where they were produced. For instance, Madagascar is a huge spice producer, so when you take a bite of our chocolate, you can taste the hints of cinnamon and vanilla wrapped in chocolate. Guatemala, on the other hand, grows a lot of bananas, and those flavors translate into the chocolate itself.

So you see, terroir is important to both wine and chocolate!

Finally, what’s better than tasting wine and chocolate? Tasting them together to see how they work! From the various combinations around, we found two that were true winners:

Chocolate Pairing Set

1. The Blue Bandana Madagascar Black Pepper with the Sang Des Cailloux Cuvée Lopy: The peppery taste of the chocolate brought out new and different sweetnesses in the wine, and the chocolate just blossomed with the help of this delicious red from the Southern Rhône.

2. The Blue Bandana Guatemala with the 1997 Chablis: 1997 was a great growing year for the grapes, and age has only intensified the almost honey-like flavors in this wine. Taste it with the Guatemala and you’ll be amazed at how it brings out the fruit tones in what I often consider to be a very flowery chocolate.

And, for those of you who attended the event and want to remember, or for any of you who missed it and want to recreate it on your own, here’s the list of wines we tried. Don’t forget to continue to experiment on pairing them with our chocolate!

Domaine le Sang Des Cailloux
Winemaker: Serge Férigoule
Country: France
Region: Southern Rhone/Vacqueryas
2010 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras
2010 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras "Cuvée Lopy"
2010 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras Blanc

Riofavara
Winemaker: Massimo Padova
Country: Italy
Region: Sicily/Eloro
2010 Riofavara Eloro Nero d’Avola "Spaccaforno"
2010 Riofavara Eloro Nero d’Avola "Sciavè"

Roland Lavantureux
Winemaker: Roland Lavantureux
Country: France
Region: Burgundy/Chablis
2010 Lavantureux Chablis
2011 Lavantureux Chablis
2010 Lavantureux Petit Chablis
2011 Lavantureux Petit Chablis
2008 Lavantureux Chablis magnum
1997 Lavantureux Chablis magnum


Learning How to Taste Chocolate

Posted on July 7, 2011 10:49 AM by Meghan

Have you ever really tasted your food?  I mean really tasted it?

While our population has certainly become more sophisticated about food, people are still shoving it in their mouths while texting and tweeting, or driving and talking, that I’m not sure most people really take the time to enjoy what they are eating.  With two toddlers at home, I’m certainly guilty of this.  I’m just trying to get through mealtime without a breakdown, I’m definitely not savoring each bite.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to take part in a Sensory Training class last week as part of my job at Lake Champlain Chocolates.  First some background, LCC has had a Sensory Panel for over 10 years.  The panel, comprised of employees from all facets of the company, meets once a week to compare products, test shelf life, taste R&D products in the works and test and taste raw ingredients (such as nuts and fruits that go into our chocolate).  All this to ensure every product from LCC is of the highest quality and of the same consistency time and time again.

The panel needed some new members so five of us spend 3 mornings learning how to taste chocolate.  As I said earlier, not just taste it, but really taste it.  (I know, it’s a tough place to work)  At the end of the three sessions, one employee who has been here and eating our chocolate for 20 years, said she had never really tasted it until now.  Amazing stuff.

I will attempt to impart some of what we learned over the course of those three days, so perhaps you can carve out some time to sit with our chocolate (or any food really) and smell, taste and savor each bite.  It really makes it that much more enjoyable when you take the time to identify the flavors and textures happening in your mouth.  So without further ado, here are some bullet points to consider:

First there are the 4 basic tastes:
1.    Sweet
2.    Salt
3.    Sour
4.    Bitter

Every food has at least one basic taste.  The four basic tastes however do not have odors.  So when someone says “it smells sweet” they probably smell vanilla, because “sweet” does not have a smell.

When tasting a piece of chocolate, consider the following:
1.    Appearance
2.    Aroma
3.    Flavor
4.    Aftertaste
5.    Texture

We spent a lot of time tasting different milk chocolates (both LCC and competitors) and it was amazing the difference between them all.  Just the aroma alone varied greatly, including aromas of vanilla, cooked milk, chocolate liquor and even a little cheesy!

Speaking of chocolate liquor, noting the percentages of cocoa on packaging is quite popular these days, but don’t be fooled.  I learned that the percentage of chocolate liquor (or cocoa content) does not necessarily dictate how chocolaty something will taste.  It all depends on the type of chocolate liquor used in the product, where the liquor came from (the terroir), how it was processed and what other ingredients are used.

It’s mind boggling when you think about how much goes into creating chocolate and chocolate confections.  We spent one entire morning smelling and tasting different milks (cooked milk, heavy cream, skim milk powder, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, buttermilk and plain yogurt).  I’ll spare you the details of that particular exercise, but it goes to show you the complexities of creating a superior product when you pay attention to all the details.

LCC’s commitment to constantly tasting and comparing our chocolates and ingredients ensures the customer can be guaranteed the same amazing flavor each time.  Whether it’s a gourmet truffle bought at our factory store, a Caramel Five Star Bar bought at a Whole Foods Market or a Grace Under Fire Bar bought online, we know you’re going to be impressed by its aroma, appearance and flavor.

So next time you find yourself about to eat a piece of chocolate, take a moment to close your eyes and smell the aroma, notice the flavors in your mouth, the texture and the aftertaste.  You’ll be even more amazed than you were before!

 


Throughout the year, Lake Champlain Chocolates offers a myriad of chocolate tastings; an attempt to share our passion for chocolate with all of our fans. We offer chocolate tastings every Friday from 10 to 2 on the hour at our Pine Street location. And on occasion host special tasting events such as next Saturday 6/27.

I thought I’d take a few moments to share with you some of our tasting guidelines. For those of you outside of the Vermont area or for those who just can’t make it to a tasting, these instructions should help you conduct a chocolate tasting of your own. A good place to start would be with our Chocolate Journeys which contains 10 chocolate squares ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 80% dark. Start with the milk chocolate and slowly work your way up, savoring each bite.

Tasting Steps:

  1. Appearance: Study the look and color of the chocolate. If tempered, it should have a smooth, high sheen look. If grey/white, then the chocolate has bloomed – the fats or sugars have migrated to the surface of the chocolate leaving a whiteish residue. This is due to a change in humidity or temperature.
  2. Break: properly tempered chocolate should have a good, clean snap.
  3. Aroma: Smell the broken piece. Identify the fragrances. Milk chocolate may have a milky, vanilla smell. Remember, that you cannot smell “sweet.” Dark chocolate may have more of a chocolate aroma. Unfermented beans smell like burnt rubber. Beans stored in humid areas can smell like grass or burlap. Beans dried over wood fires smell smoky.
  4. Texture: How does the chocolate feel in your mouth? Quick melt or slow melt? Smooth or chalky?
  5. Taste: What different “notes” do you taste in the different stages (Beginning, Middle, and Finish)?
  6. Evaluate: What did you like or dislike about the product?


Four Basic Tastes:

Sweet: at the tip of your tongue
Sour: along the front sides of your tongue
Salt: along the back sides of your tongue
Bitter: at the back of the tongue

Sweet, sour, salt, and bitter can not be smelled.
Usually when someone says something smells sweet, they really mean vanilla.

Commonly used Terms in Chocolate Tasting:

  • Fruity/citrus/berry
  • Buttery/sweet(cashews)
  • Moldy/musty/earthy
  • Floral/spicy
  • Brown fruit (raisings/prunes/dried cherries)
  • Nutty/buttery (macadamia nuts)
  • Lactic sour (sour cream/cream cheese)
  • Caramel/caramelized/burnt/astringent (unripe fruit)


Difference in Chocolates:

Chocolate melts at body temperature, at the moment you put it in your moth.
Compound coatings do not melt at body temperature and lack high cocoa butter content.

Desirable Qualities in a Chocolate:

  • Quick flavor release (vs. slow)
  • Quick melt
  • Well blended, even notes
  • Aftertaste that dissipates after about a minute
  • Bitter is not necessarily a negative attribute in a chocolate, especially in dark chocolate. It can be positive when talking about coffee, tea, fruits, and arugula.
  • Sour can also be positive (tart apples, ginger, lemon)


Let us know how your chocolate tasting goes. Which one was your favorite?

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What's up with the chocolate and beer?!

Posted on June 23, 2008 1:53 PM by Admin

File this under just another kooky thing we get to do here sometimes. OK. Friday was a company holiday for us (Thank you Jim!!) so Thursday was effectively Friday. Excellent. On my way out the door, Gary – our Retail Sales Director – asked if I had a second to help with something he was working on. Sure, I wanted to begin my three-day weekend and all but listen, he had a tray of chocolate and some beer in his hand. My curiosity was piqued.

So, we headed back to the break room where we often do some of our product tastings internally. There were a couple other people there already waiting to assist in this project. Apparently, Gary was looking for tasters and flavor panel people to help him with beer and chocolate pairings. Yup, you read correctly. Beer and chocolate. Move over wine, there’s a new player at the table looking to shack up with chocolate. My curiosity was now beyond piqued. I was totally bought in but a little scared as to how this was going to work.

Well, I shouldn’t tell you what brand of beer we were working with (Wolaver’s and Otter Creek this time around) or the exact flavors as it’s still a “work in progress” but I can tell you I was totally and pleasantly surprised. I never would have put beer and chocolate together in a million years but there were some really tasty pairings. Sure, you can put a chocolate-covered salty nut with nearly any beer but we didn’t stop there. We went to truffles, we went to chocolate-covered fruit. We even went to spicy chocolate. And it was wonderful.

Where are we going with this? That I don’t know just yet but Gary just stopped by my desk to ask for more assistance with the beer and chocolate. Am I in? You bet I’m in. Next time you’re sitting around with some chocolate on your coffee table and some beer in your fridge, why not give it a go?! What’s the worst that can happen?


OK, OK, you already know about chocolate. You know what you like. You know what you don't like. But there's always room to learn more, isn't there? Well, I have the perfect opportunities for you to expand your knowledge and treat your tastebuds and guess what – they’re totally free. Yup, free.

Lake Champlain Chocolates will be hosting two Chocolate Tastings in June -  one in Stowe, VT as part of the Vermont Culinary Classic and one at our Waterbury, VT location.

Let me begin with the first one in Stowe. This event will take place Monday, June 16 at the Stowe Free Library beginning at 7:00 and will take folks on a journey from the cocoa tree to the chocolate bar - how cocoa beans grow, how they’re harvested, how they’re processed and how they become this wonderful treat we all crave. Afterwards, attendees will be treated to a flight of chocolate ranging in cocoa contents and learn the intimate details of each chocolate's profile. Imaging a wine tasting but with chocolate. Mmmm.

The second tasting event in June takes place Saturday, June 21 from noon until 4pm at our retail location on Route 100 in Waterbury, VT where visitors will be treated to a sampling of chocolates including our Milk Chocolate, Milk Chocolate Triple Nut, Sao Thome 70% dark and our Tanzania 75% dark. While sampling, our staff will be on hand to answer questions about how our chocolates are made, what do these cocoa content percentages mean and any other chocolate question you might have. Sure, we don't have all the answers but honestly, who does?! 

So, consider this your official invite to either or both of these events. It's fun, it's educational, it's tasty, it's free and it's all ages. Phew! What more could you want?