New Chocolate Origin, Dak Lak
New chocolate origin launching today!
We sourced this cacao from the Dak Lak province in central Vietnam. This province is rich agricultural area with coffee and fruit being some of the largest crops. The province is named after the very large “Lak” lake.
We used this beautiful cacao to craft a bold 72% chocolate. The taste begins with chocolate flavor with distinct fruit notes of cherry and pineapple. After melting in our mouth, it transforms into the flavors of baking spices (Vietnamese cinnamon, nutmeg, etc...) and finishes with a little bit of acidity to get you ready for the next bite.
International Chocolate Awards
We are thrilled that three of our hand crafted chocolates were selected, from over 400 entries from North and South America, as winners of the 2019 International Chocolate Awards - Americas competition. The winning bars are:
Bronze: Mayan Mountain 75% – Belize
Bronze: Öko-Caribe 70% – Dominican Republic
Bronze: Sambariano 67% – Madagascar
It's thrilling to have our work recognized at this level. If you haven't already, you might want to stop by and taste these award winning hand crafted chocolates.
Ethical Sourcing Questions
Vicky Lutrell with the Stop Trafficking and Reject Slavery, and Kansas Freedom Foundation brought a recent Washington Post article about child labor in the production of cocoa to our attention. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it.
In the past couple of years our sourcing equation has become more complex as we are now using chocolate products from other companies and importing cacao from South/Central America, East Africa and Asia to make our own handcrafted chocolate. So it seem like a good time to let you know where we are in our stewardship in responsibly sourcing our products.
Most of the world's chocolate in make from cacao grown and harvested in a few West African countries (Gahanna, Ivory Coast or Côte d'Ivoire, etc...). Driven by extreme poverty, slave and child labor has been intractable a problem in this area of the world for hundreds of years.
We bring cocoa products into our business from three sources.
By far the largest is the chocolate we use for making truffles, nut clusters and other chocolatier work we do. All of this comes from the Guittard company, a San Francisco bay area company founded by Etienne Guittard in 1886 and still run by his family.
Next largest is cacao we buy to make craft chocolate bars. This is in the form of dried cacao that we roast and refine in to chocolate in our shop. We source this from a handful of small importer companies.
Last, we use third party products as decoration, for example we make caramel apples with Snicker's bars and M&M's, both are Mars products.
Gary Guittard and his company is one of the best in both monitoring their own supply chain and actively supporting initiatives that promote improved labor practices and quality. For example they are a founding member of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative. This is on top of their commitment to Fair Trade and Rain Forrest Alliance certification. They've got quite a bit about sourcing on their website, please take a look.
Cacao for Craft Chocolate
Similar to the ascendance of the craft beer movement, there has been a growing market for premium chocolate that is hand crafted from heirloom cacao varieties around the globe. We've been working for the past two years, developing a line of had crafted chocolates. This requires us to import dried cacao (i.e., coco beans) from around the globe. This type of chocolate has a range of flavors not found in the industrial produced hybrids like CCN-51. We believe the rise in demand is a good thing for cacao farmers and consumers. These premium cacao varieties command farm gate prices that are three to four times the prices paid to West African commodity cacao.
All of the cacao we buy is either Fair Trade certified or a direct trade relationship. Fair Trade is a third party certification of labor practices, pricing and requires funds to be reinvested in the local community. Many of the heirloom cacao producers we work with are very small and cannot afford the costs associated with Fair Trade certification, in those cases the import company directly audits the producer, this is a direct trade relationship. In a direct trade relationship there is a focus on both quality and price. Direct trade results in more of your dollars making it to the farmer and significantly more transparency about labor practices, biodiversity and positive community impacts.
Mars, Ferrero, et. al
These are some of the largest chocolate producers and make some of the best known candies in the world (Snickers, Butterfinger). They are also some that struggle with sourcing issues. We've made the decision to continue to use these products as a decoration. In a town where Mars is a major employer and is active in supporting the local community, we didn't feel good about not using their products. In every product where they're used, you'll find them clearly identified so you can make a good choice about your purchase.
New Chocolate Origin Belize
After several months of work we are proud to launch a new chocolate from Belize. This is an absolutely beautiful cacao imported by our pals at Uncommon Cacao. They manage a centrally ferment and process cacao from more than 350 certified organic smallholder cacao farming families in the Toledo District of Belize. Most of these farmers are indigenous folks of Q’eqchi’ and Mopan Maya ancestry.
We went a little bold with this one. First, this is a two ingredient bar, only roasted cacao and organic sugar. Second, we pushed the percentage fo cacao a little higher, this is a 75% cacao bar. However, don't be afraid of the higher percentage, the flavors are surprisingly pleasant because this cacao has some intrinsic sweetness. The bar is wonderfully smooth with notes of honey and pineapple that melt into a raisin taste. The finish is just slightly astringent.
Come on by to get a taste of this new bar.
Hand Crafted Chocolate
Today we are thrilled to announce a new line of hand crafted chocolates. We've spent a lot of time in 2017 sourcing cacao from all over the world and creating small prototype batches of dark chocolates to hone our skills.
In October we finished a new kitchen facility dedicated to hand crafting chocolate from raw cacao. This new facility is both gluten and nut free and doesn't share any equipment with areas that process nuts and gluten. Our first series of craft chocolates will highlight flavors from six areas or origins around the world. While most of the world's chocolate is derived from a small number of cacao varieties produced in west Africa, the heirloom varieties of cacao have a much richer set of flavors. Like wine and coffee, cacao has a unique set of flavors that develop at the origin, part coming from plant genetics, the environment, and how the cocao is processed and fermented. This set of flavors is referred to as "terroir" or the taste of place. Because so much of the credit for the final chocolate's flavor should go to the farmer and regional processing cooperatives where the cacao is fermented, we identify each single origin bar with it's region and county.
In making chocolate from the raw cacao, we can push and pull the flavors intrinsic to the cacao by how we roast and process the cacao into chocolate. The process of crafting chocolate starts with hand grading and sorting each cacao seed (yes, we hand sort each one) to ensure that we only process the highest quality cacao. Any seeds with insect damage, mold, or other defects is rejected. After sorting, we roast the cacao in a drum roasting machine. A single chocolate may have seeds that were roasted in different batches using multiple profiles of heat and timing to develop the full flavor potential in the cacao. After roasting, the cacao is crushed in a hand mill (threshing) and the husks are separated from the seed or nibs (winnowing). The cacao nibs are then ground in a stone wheel grinder (melanger) for three days. Yes, three days. This grinding process reduces the particle size of the cacao to just a few microns. In addition the grinding action, the chocolate is continuously turned and aerated, allowing the most volatile (bitter and acidic tasting) elements in the cacao to be released. The result is a superbly smooth chocolate the highlights the unique qualities of each origin.
Today we have released chocolates from three origins:
1. Sur Del Lago - Venezuela
2. Marañon - Peru
3. Lam Dong - Vietnam
The next origin we are working on will be from Madagascar, more about this one is coming soon.
Because these are hand crafted from heirloom cacao, the qualities will be limited. So come by our shop and taste the rich set of flavors from around the world.
Christmas is in full swing at Hazel Hill Chocolate. This week we start shipping personal and corporate gifts so that they arrive timed right for Christmas giving. Those of you who visit our store may not realize that we can ship anywhere in the world (so far Vietnam is the farthest). To make sure that your gift will arrive in time for Christmas, we'll need your order by 12/19.
We also don't mind special requests or orders that are scheduled for specific dates. When you checkout, there will be a place to give us those special instructions. If there are issues or questions as we try to fill your order, we'll get intouch with you to clear things up.
We are also going have some Christmas hours so we and our staff can enjoy our families. Here's our holiday hours:
12/24 - Christmas Eve - Closing at 4:00pm
12/26 - Boxing Day - Closed
1/1/17 - New Year's Day - Closed
Light up the World
We are truly blessed in the season to see so many happy faces coming through our doors. We love the spirit that Christmas brings to both young and old. The message that Christ brought into the world; that all people are brothers and sisters, worthy of respect and dignity, that human failings are only a temporary part of our mortal journey and ,most of all, that death need not be an everlasting end, shined a light into an otherwise dark mortal existence.
Today that light continues to be reflected in the kindness and love we show each other. Hopefully you'll take some time this Christmas to let your light shine into another's life. There are hands that hang down all around us. And, even if you can only do a little, many small lights can illuminate the whole world.
Good Cheer from Across the Pond
We are thrilled to have been picked for the The Ultimate Guide to the Sweetest Candy Shops in the U.S. by Holiday Lettings. For those not familiar with Holiday Lettings, they are the UK’s leading vacation rentals website, with over 500,000 properties available around the world. They are a part of the TripAdvisor group.
We knew our chocolates traveled far and wide but, we never expected that folks in the U.K. would be giving us a shout out. Guess we need to keep our heads down and make some more for the U.K. visitors headed our way.
Thanks to our pal Vicky Lutrell who works with the Stop Trafficking and Reject Slavery, and Kansas Freedom Foundation. She asked if the cocoa products we use are harvested and made with slave labor. While it's hard to imagine for many of us living in the USA, in many places in the world, human trafficking and slavery is a reality of life. These practices can range from slavery on plantations to the global sex trade. All are despicable and evil practices that deny people the most basic of human rights. Unfortunately, much of the worlds cocoa crop is grown in places human rights are trampled on regularly.
One of the ways that we can combat this is by voting with our dollars and our feet, by not buying products that are derived from slave labor or other reprehensible practices. The chocolate and cocoa products we make at Hazel Hill Chocolate are from a US manufacturer named Guttiard. Guttiard was started over 150 years ago during the California gold rush by Frenchman, Etienne Guittard. Guittard is both Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified. This means you can enjoy our fine chocolates, while knowing that busienss and labor practices involved in producing it have been independently certified.
Nick & Terry Xidis, Northeast Kansas' Chocolatiers