Goin’ crazy with chocolates

Are you going to say “I love you,” with a gift of chocolates this Valentine’s Day? Well, here are some tasty options. On Sunday afternoon I spread out our chocolate offerings on my kitchen table and volunteered the taste buds of my housemate, Warren McClain and his 8-year-old son, Roan. Of course, I had no difficulties twisting their arms to help me with a chocolate tasting!

I’m always fascinated with the depth of flavors coming from chocolate — originally called Fruit of the Gods. Chocolate boasts an unbelievable ability to stimulate 3500 different chemically-based flavor components in our taste buds — sorry guys, women are better at it than men. The only other food that even comes close is red wine, which comes in with a measly 1800 components.

We asked some of our readers and advertisers to send in some samples and here is what we had at our sampling:

• Ecole Dijon Chocolates for Dessert Wines, Ports and Cigars — these are my chocolates, Chef Drew, 801-278-1039

• Xoçai Healthy Chocolate — less fat—promoted by Keith Abraham, 801-224-7949

• The Chocolate Conspiracy, touted as Raw Artisan Chocolate made with aphrodisiac herbs — Salt Lake City, 435-313-3519

• The Hatch Family Chocolates from Salt Lake’s Avenues — a very traditional offering, with spectacular presentation, 801-532-4912

My chocolates are made for me by C. K. Cummings in Millcreek, and Bruce, the head chocolatier has worked with me on creating chocolates for wine connoisseurs. I got the idea for these chocolates from a trip to Napa Valley where many wineries have a house chocolate designed just for them to use in their tasting rooms. As a chef, I love the culinary crossover using reductions of wines and the additions of curry and achiote chili dusted on my chocolates.

The Xoçai chocolates are part of a wellness and weight-loss campaign which uses chocolate as a means to help you with those battles. The bars come with a brochure explaining all the health benefits of th chocolate made with non-sugar sweetener, chia seed oil and extracts from the açai berry — said to help you lose belly fat — please, give me a quart of that! The bars were the hardest of all the chocolates we tasted, very intense with cocoa and “drier” chocolate flavors.

The Chocolate Conspiracy sent us both a bar and a small box of molded chocolates. (I ate some of these about an hour ago and sorry folks, haven’t felt any aphrodisiac movements just yet!) The molded, “raw” chocolates were, like the Xoçai, very hard-packed, dense and far less rich than the regular chocolates we’re used to. The Chocolate Conspiracy offerings were mixed with “granola” type filling like cranberries and various nuts. Very, intense, deep cocoa flavors.

In my view, the winner in all of this, was the Hatch Family Chocolates. The presentation and overall quality was just a knockout! We cut into a home-made cherry chocolate, which I happen to adore, and it was just so excellent and nothing like the little waxy ones you get at Walmart at Christmas time! We tasted the caramels and the home-made fondants which were all just delicious. The cream centers were made like real fudge, cooked and then whipped into a creamy denseness that holds its shape for dipping. The presentation in the beautiful velvet, heart-shaped box put all of the other offerings to shame, including mine. The Hatch Family also makes a full line of clever, molded chocolate lollipops which are fun and nice to look at, and they had a cute little packet of Romeo and Juliette chocolate-dipped gummy bears.

I have to say, however, that all of the chocolates we tasted were very unusual, tasty, made with great ingredients and certainly reflective of today’s environment where people are looking for new and different alternatives to almost everything.

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