September 7, 2011

Social Good, Thomas Hass, and the Pig: Round One of the NAF Cocoa Cup

Life Overtaking Law

Our latest firm food debates have centered around our visits to local chocolatiers to taste their fine offerings, our fascination with the food channel (and our wondering if we too could ever get paid to eat at cafes all over North America and drive a sports car), and our likelihood of success if we were to try making some of Bobby Flay’s winning “smack down” recipes without two sous chefs. As a result, we have merged all our current food meanderings into a combination of a “smack down” and a “survival of the fittest” contest between gourmet chocolate bar offerings.

As discussed in a past blog entry, chocolate lovers are diverse when it comes to the perfect cocoa content for dark chocolate, whether marzipan is preferable to nougat or other fillings, or that age-old schoolyard question of milk chocolate versus white. Rather than attempt a scientific approach, we have decided to simply pit bar against bar of local creations, with little regard for specific genres of chocolate. The real question is what local chocolate provides the most desirable delectation, all other scientific considerations aside.

This week’s contenders are Thomas Haas’s Caramel Crisp bar, Organic Fair’s Silk Road Mint and Mandarin bar and Hagensborg’s Dark Orange Truffle Pig. All these bars are made in B.C. Some may question the fairness of pitting the deeply decadent richness of a truffle against the more understated pleasure of a square of Organic Fair’s 70% organic cacao offering. However, we wanted to seat ourselves in the position of the consumer who ultimately answers to their palate alone (if not the posted nutritional and caloric facts).

Third place: If we had to describe chocolate as footwear, Organic Fair’s Silk Road bar would be a Birkenstock – organic, fair trade, each sale resulting in 1% being given to an environmental organization, and wrapped snuggly in 100% recycled paper and vegetable-based ink packaging. Notably, Organic Fair’s Silk Road bar, with peppermint and mandarin, was the only straight up dark chocolate offering in this week’s sampling. Despite taking the bronze medal this round, this worthy contender has many strengths. First, we would say this chocolate had the cleanest flavour. It’s quite apparent the organic peppermint and mandarin are real ingredients, and not just chemical formulae playing tricks on one’s palate. Between the cocoa content, the peppermint and the subtle mandarin zest, the Silk Road bar it has an overall mellow bitterness that’s nevertheless quite smooth. It’s the type of chocolate that demands to be savoured, but also chocolate you can sample without feeling compelled to scarf. Nevertheless, our self-indulgence ultimately triumphed over social conscience in our assessment.

Second place: If you work in downtown Vancouver, you probably miss Thomas Hass’s great little bakery that was located in what is now the new Hotel Georgia. Thankfully, some of his delicious offerings are available at Urban Fare and Whole Foods markets. Choosing one of his chocolate bars to try was difficult, given the variety, but we finally settled on his Caramel Crisp bar, which promised to be “creamy and subtle”.  Some may be surprised to find Thomas Haas’s Caramel Crisp only came in second this round. With 43% cocoa content and a hearty dose of caramel toffee pieces in each bite, this is a chocolate bar that’s hard not to love. It was widely considered to be the most accessible of the three competitors, and the most likely to be consumed entirety in one go. It’s also worth noting all three chocolate bars had comparable calorie contents, though the truffle unsurprisingly led the pack in terms of fat percentage (but surprisingly, also in fibre). This means the decadence Thomas Haas offers in this bar is not bought at a particularly high price for your diet regime – or at least no higher a price than comparable treats. But arguably, the packaging may have lost Mr. Haas’s honourable mention the right to first place in this round of tasting. Although the packaging design is clean and sleek, it seemed better suited to packaging Ikea furniture accessories, or some elegant designer pens, than a gourmet chocolate bar. Inevitably a key part of the seduction that takes place between consumer and consumed rests on presentation.

First place: This week’s winner ,by a special majority vote, was the dark chocolate and orange* variety of Hagensborg’s Truffle Pig. In some ways this bar had the least pretensions of all three. Although it states clearly on the packaging it’s made of all natural ingredients, there is no mention of organic foods, recycled paper or profit-sharing with cocoa bean-picking farmers. Instead, these bars are packaged in a relatively simple soft tinfoil wrap with a cartoon pig luxuriating on its side and possibly wagging its tail. Arguably the European name and royal crown insignia brings some subconscious credibility to the local chocolatier’s gourmet status that names like Rocky Mountain or Rogers’ may fail to evoke. Regardless of the presentation, however, this bar won the majority of us over as being the best embodiment of self-gratification of all three. The orange flavour is remarkably subtle for a truffle, and the texture is as smooth as you can imagine. This is the kind of chocolate bar that would readily revive your joie de vivre after a terrible week in the office, or possibly even a minor car accident. For maximum effect on your mental well-being we suggest sampling one while sipping a mug of tea seated by the fireplace.

Please stay tuned for our next chocolate throw down, where we’ll pit this week’s victor, Hagensborg’s Truffle Pig, against two new contenders to determine who is ultimately most deserving of the NAF Cocoa Cup!

* It is interesting to note the Truffle Pig bar contains 2% of your recommended daily Vitamin C intake. At 21 grams of fat per unit, however, we do not recommend consuming 50 of these to get your full daily dose of Vitamin C.