Berkeley Chocolate Finds

The family and our best friends went on safari to eat our way down Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley today, and discovered that there are a lot of new additions since our last trip. Across the street from the Cheese Board is a new mini-Ferry Building called “Epicurious Garden”, which contains a sushi place, a soup place, a very tempting looking taqueria, an Imperial Tea Court, and a place called Alegio Chocolate.

Alegio is a small chocolate shop that sells the product of two premium producers, Pralus, an old-line French manufacturer, and Enric Rovira (quite a stunning website), a Barcelona producer I had never seen before. The Rovira line includes a dizzying array of Bombolas, which are various nuggets of goodness covered in chocolate. (I saw coffee, pink peppercorn, tea, and at leat five others. The website lists (in Spanish): two kinds of coffee, two kinds of almonds, hazelnut, ginger, cacao, corn, orange peel, caramel-cola, red pepper, violets, squash seeds, “cansalada?”, lime, and smoked cacao.) They also have straight 75% from Rovira, which is exceptionally smooth and somewhat herbal tasting.

This trip, I got the naranja (orange) and maiz (corn) Bombolas, and they are astounding. Each is covered in a different way, the corn with straight chocolate, and the orange with chocolate and powdered sugar. The corn is toasted, and blends in a very unusual way with the chocolate. I was curious about this pairing, since this is the classic Aztec/Mayan combination. The one flavor note missing in chocolate is salt (it contains almost none), and the corn fills this note in. One of my other favorite compounded chocolate confections is the Recchutti salted caramel. Done right, salt+chocolate is a great combination. Wendy thought it sort of was like a chocolate frito, which to my mind is not all bad. It’s a nice change from the overly sweet sort of truffle/covered items that one usually finds. Quite pleasant, and defintely in the El Bulli tradition of experimental (and $$$) Spanish cuisine. The Rovira items are quite expensive, running $4-5 an oz!

For research purposes, I also grabbed a bar each of the Pralus Ghana Forestero, Madagascar Criollo, and Venezuela Trintario. The idea of Madagacar Criollo is an odd one, as this is usually an exclusively Latin American bean. Apparently, Pralus now owns their own farm and fermentation facility on Madagascar and has started cultivating a South American strain there. Haven’t tasted yet, but will post notes when I do.

The great thing about Alegio is that they are definitely moving in the direction of marketing single origin dark chocolate in the same model as wine. Same quality of marketing, same model of tasting notes. The level of finish and design on these products (outside of the actual chocolate) is a little intimidating. Just check out the Rovira website to see what I mean.

One other item of interest found while looking for the Alegio web site. There is a regular Berkeley Chocolate Club that meets for monthly tastings. On the list for investigation.

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