by Kate Heyhoe
Stumped on ways to woo you lover this Valentine's Day? Roses are fine, but chocolate's divine—especially super-fine quality chocolate handcrafted with skill and creativity. I recently sampled chocolates that are so elegant, luscious, and meltingly perfect, your true love will swoon with you in mind at every bite. In fact, send a fifty-bite box and you'll have fifty ways to woo your lover, for under fifty bucks.
Here's the scoop: Chuao Chocolatier in Encinitas, California, is the outstanding labor of love by chocolatiers Michael Antonorsi and Brian Vandenbroucke. To say this duo masterfully creates unique and rare tasting world-class chocolates and bonbons is an understatement. Named after the legendary cacao-producing region of Chuao in central Venezuela (pronounced chew-ow), Chuao Chocolatier melds traditional European techniques with world-class Venezuelan chocolate and fresh, natural ingredients to produce handmade chocolates of unrivaled quality. Not planning to be in Southern California before Valentine's Day? No problem. Their website at www.chuaochocolatier.com sells boxes ranging from a nine-piece selection to the fifty-ways box, with assorted sizes in between, all shipped with a frozen pack to prevent melting. (They require 24 hours for processing and offer overnight or 2-day delivery.)
Now, I'm not a dedicated chocoholic like some maniacs. I can easily coast through weeks without so much as a nibble of cacao. But when I do relish a bit of chocolate, I don't mess around. Chuao's assorted chocolates are choreographed explosions of intense yet artfully balanced flavors. My husband and I look forward to sharing a single chocolate with coffee. As Thomas said recently, "That's all I need for a day." Indeed, you could slurp up a dozen chocolates from other companies and never experience the satisfaction and purely indulgent, lasting sensory imprint that comes from a single bite of Chuao's chocolates. A universe of flavor in such a tiny bite.
Besides being little flavor gems, Chuao's more than twenty-five different varieties of dark chocolates, milk chocolates, and truffles are just as beautiful to behold, molded with fanciful shapes and patterns. Just a few of my favorites include:
QUATRE EPICES: Chewy caramel flavored with traditional French four spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and pepper) covered in dark Venezuelan chocolate.
ZEN: A lively ginger ganache infused with green tea and covered with Venezuelan dark chocolate.
CARDAMOM: Soft cream ganache scented with fresh cardamom covered with Carenero Superior Venezuelan dark chocolate.
MELAO: A salt butter caramel filled bonbon covered with Carenero Superior Venezuelan milk chocolate.
PICANTE: California raisin fondue and Napa valley cabernet spiced up with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper covered in dark Venezuelan chocolate.
CINNAMON PEARL (Liquor bonbon): Dark cinnamon ganache topped with Calvados liquor pearl, covered in dark Venezuelan chocolate.
And the passionately heart-shaped:
PARCHITA: Fresh passion fruit blended into caramel, covered with Carenero Superior Venezuelan milk chocolate.
Chauo Chocolatier Features
Chuao chocolates are different from the majority of commercially available chocolates in the U.S. not only because of their Venezuelan cacao content, but also because they're made purely with natural ingredients and no preservatives. Chuao Chocolatier uses traditional French and Belgian chocolate-making techniques and only Venezuelan chocolate, the champagne of chocolates. Besides their Zen bonbon, made with a ginger ganache infused with green tea and covered with Venezuelan dark chocolate, their ever expanding line includes the Rio Caribe, almond and hazelnut praline covered with Carenero Superior Venezuelan milk chocolate; and the Mulato, a pure almond marzipan and roasted macadamia nut filling covered with dark Venezuelan chocolate and a sprinkle of macadamia. Each bonbon sells for $1, $9 for a box of nine, or up to $45 for 50.
About Venezuelan Cacao
"Though many attempts have been made to cultivate the cacao plant in other parts of the world, the finest cacao beans thrive in areas where the cacao tree originated, in a narrow band of tropical climates around the Equator, in countries such as Venezuela, Trinidad, Papua New Guinea, and Ghana. Though there is much controversy on the subject, most modern scientists would agree that the cacao plant is a native of South America. One variety, now called the criollo [kree-o-yo] variety, comes from Venezuela, while other varieties probably originated in the Amazon River Basin."—"The New Taste of Chocolate"
by Maricel E. Presilla, Ten Speed Press, 2001.
According to chocolate masters Antonorsi and Vandenbroucke, an appreciation for the new taste of chocolate—as with fine wine, tea, cheese, and coffee—begins with understanding the origin of its primary ingredient: the cacao bean. As Cuba is to cigars or France is to wine so is Venezuela to chocolate. Venezuela is the leading producer of the criollo cacao plant. This is the cacao plant that produces the highest quality cacao beans and is native to Venezuela. Over the past 200 years, the supply of criollo cacao has been shrinking from disease and neglect. Only Venezuela has retained a healthy supply of criollo cacao and its hybrids giving the country a special reputation for quality.
Cocoa is made from the beans of the cacao plant. There are three main varieties:
Criollo cacao—This plant produces the rarest and highest quality cacao beans and is native to Venezuela (pronounced kree-o-yo).
Forastero cacao—A cultivated cacao known for its hardiness, higher yield, and poorer taste properties; forastero now accounts for more than 90 percent of world cacao production.
Trinitario cacao—A hybrid of criollo and forastero, trinitario is hardier than criollo and tastier than forastero. It was first cultivated on the island of Trinidad in the 1700s.
Less than 10 percent of the world's cacao is criollo or trinitario hybrid beans, the majority of which are produced by Venezuela.
The typical American chocolate bar has 15 percent cacao content and is made primarily with forastero cacao grown in West African plantations.
Premium milk chocolates have 41 percent cacao content and dark chocolate 70 to 75 percent cacao content. (The Chuao Chocolatier Gran Cacao chocolate is a creamy bittersweet ganache containing 73 percent Venezuelan cacao.)
Chuao Chocolatier imports its Venezuelan chocolate through world-renown Venezuelan chocolate distributor Chocolates El Rey.
Chocolate has health benefits despite the many health myths that surround its consumption. For instance, it contains polyphenols and antioxidant properties. It also contains very little caffeine and contributes less than two percent of the fat in the American diet.
How To Taste Fine Chocolate
First examine the chocolate's coloring, looking for uniformity of texture and nuances in the chocolate hues that hint at its source. Aroma is extremely important. Smells can range from spicy to flowery and are part of the subjective experience of taste. Beware of undesirable odors such as smoky or grassy that betray poorly handled beans. When tasting fine chocolate note where the flavor experience begins. Some chocolates start with a bang while others start slowly, gaining intensity and leaving a lingering taste. This is called a long finish, and it is a sign of a quality chocolate. A smooth texture indicates a well made chocolate, and nutty or fruity flavors will often distinguish the better quality chocolates made from Venezuelan cacao.
About the Chuao Founders
Chuao Chocolatier opened its doors in September 2002 in Encinitas, CA and was started by Venezuelan chocolatier Michael Antonorsi; his brother, entrepreneur Richard Antonorsi; and Belgian chocolatier Brian Vandenbroucke.
Michael Antonorsi is a Certified French Chef from the École Supéríeure de Cuísíne Francaíse Ferrandi in Paris where he also completed specialized training in Pastry and Chocolaterie at the École Lenotre. His brother entrepreneur Richard Antonorsi manages the business affairs of Chuao Chocolatier. Both brothers are originally from Venezuela; are University of California, San Diego alumni; and most recently successfully started up and managed the growth of Venezuela's first computer and wireless networking company. Brian Vandenbroucke received his Diploma in Chocolate Manufacturing at the Provincial Institute of Food in Antwerp, Belgium and also specialized in French-style Chocolates at the École Lenotre in Paris. Brian is originally from Belgium, has additional training in ice cream and marzipan manufacturing, and has traveled the world practicing the fine art of Belgian chocolate making from Venezuela to China, and now the U.S.
Easter Note: If you miss the Valentine's rush, Easter is just around the corner. Chuao Chocolates will be featuring solid Venezuelan milk and dark chocolate bunnies and eggs sold individually, and packages (in varying weights and sizes) consisting of a large half-shell chocolate Easter egg cradling a mix of mini chocolate eggs, bunnies and other seasonal shapes.
Happy Valentine's Day:
Chuao Chocolatier Website (www.chuaochocolatier.com)
Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2003
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