An assortment of chocolates arrived at my doorstep the other day, and even though I wouldn’t describe myself as a chocaholic, I certainly didn’t turn it away.
The haul? Class materials for an upcoming online session from Utah U, in the form of four fancy bars of chocolate. When you can’t travel places, the next best thing is eating food made there.
On the designated evening, I logged into Zoom for an hour-long virtual chocolate tasting with chocolate expert Matt Caputo, chief executive officer of Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli in Salt Lake City, Utah. Besides selling an assortment of booze, coffee, chocolate, deli items and sandwiches, Caputo’s offers classes designed to familiarize you with all those things.
My stash included a little bit of Dove chocolate, the kind you can buy at the nearest grocery store, for comparison, plus four packets of what appeared to be Very Good Chocolate.
We had ground rules. Nibble chocolate with bourbon, water or just about anything you like – except red wine. It just doesn’t work, Caputo told us.
Stay thoughtful while you nibble. Like wine, he told us, different chocolates have different terroir, the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a product from a particular region.
Caputo should know. He claims he eats a quarter to a half pound (!) of chocolate (for work, of course) every day. We asked if he’d ever eaten M&Ms before, and he said he had – as a topping on frozen yogurt. “They were OK candy,” he said. “But did I taste cacao? No, I absolutely did not.”
I arranged all the bars in front of me, poured myself a shot of bourbon, and bit off a piece of chocolate.
“Slow down, be present and don’t just chomp, chomp, chomp,” Caputo instructed. “Try to describe what you’re tasting.”
We sampled the Dove first. Creamy, ordinary, nothing wrong with it. “What you’re smelling in grocery store chocolate is vanilla, not cacao,” Caputo said. “The average grocery store bar that says 70 percent cocoa has only 18 percent cocoa solids. The rest is cocoa butter.”
Then, one at a time, cleansing our palate in between each sample, we tried the good stuff. Each bar was made in Utah, and each tasted surprisingly unique.
Here’s a wrapup:
Conspiracy, Salt Lake City, $6.99 to $11.99
This company makes “raw” chocolate, meaning it’s not roasted. It also uses raw honey instead of sugar for sweetening power. We sampled the company’s Brewing Baba Black Lager bar, which tasted less sweet and felt denser than the others. I liked the honeycomb design of the bar’s shape, but preferred the flavor of the others over this one.
Ritual, Park City, $8.99 to $11.99
This craft chocolate got started in Colorado, but has since moved its headquarters to Utah. Served up in a sexy paper envelope, it’s made with just two ingredients – cacao and sugar. We sampled a limited edition bar made with cacao from the Jagassar Estate in Trinidad, and I detected an earthy, nutty tone and a silky texture.
Amano, Orem, $7.99
This one comes from the most award-winning chocolate maker in America, and a pioneer of the Utah chocolate scene. Our sample bar was made with lightly- roasted cacao from the Dominican Republic, smooth cocoa butter and vanilla notes. You can taste the apricot and floral notes. It ranked as my second favorite.
Solstice, Salt Lake City, $8.99 to $13.99
I liked this one best, and Caputo describes it as “loud and brash, like punk rockers of the craft chocolate world,” which makes complete sense. We ate a bar made with Sambirano cacao grown in Madagascar, and I could actually taste hints of tropical fruit and molasses.
Caputo takes his chocolate seriously. It’s not just a treat, a whole culture surrounds the art of chocolate making.
“Sometimes it feels like a fight to preserve tradition, and the weapons are spreading love, knowledge and understanding,” Caputo said of the chocolate making world.
So, what should you look for when you’re picking one out?
“First and foremost, look at price,” Caputo said. “If it’s under $5, there’s a reason. Someone’s not getting treated well – Mother Earth, the farmer or the co-op. It’s hard to do chocolate cheaply. That doesn’t mean you can equate price with quality.”
He suggests finding a specialty store or someone at the local market with knowledge about chocolate. Familiarize yourself with a handful of trusted chocolate makers, then follow your gut – or, rather, your tastebuds.
Next up, whiskey tasting!