Cacao Origin Map
Personal Tasting Notes
Okay, folks, this week's bar feels like it was made for the big dogs. It's an unapologetically grown-up bar with distinction, class, complexity, nuance...and no sugar. Behold, the wonder that is Fresco Chocolate's 100% Limited Edition Madagascar bar!
With my eyes closed, I inhaled the heady aromas of this bar and immediately thought, "That smells just like...Madagascar." It's a difficult smell to describe, but it usually gets labeled with adjectives like "fruity" and "citrus". For me, it smells like adoration and mystique.
I've already ponied up to the fact that I'm a consummate lover of Madagascar chocolate, but what I haven't yet divulged is that I am maybe *the* biggest fan that Fresco Chocolate has. As such, I've eaten a LOT of their chocolate. I've had nearly every bar they have ever produced, through 3 packaging changes, and I keep a collection of the spent packaging to see which one I eat the most (so far, Papua New Guinea Recipe 222, in case you were wondering). I follow Fresco around whenever I can, and have wormed my way into their good graces such that they hire me once a year to help staff their booth at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. This is what I call "Living the Dream".
So now that you know this dirty little secret about me, maybe it won't surprise you to know that, when I popped this chocolate into my mouth, it was a familiar friend, and I knew immediately exactly what bar I was tasting. That's a great feeling. But the first clue, after that classic Madagascar head-trip, was the obvious fact that it was a 100% bar, which means NO sugar whatsoever. This bar is a deep, dark, intimate tango between you and the cocoa beans, with nothing, nothing getting in the way of experiencing the full force of everything those beans have to offer.
Here's how the dance goes, at least for me (keep in mind that taste buds are subjective little things, so your experience with this bar may be somewhat different than mine; still, track with me, and you'll at least get a feel for its movement and personality): it starts out with a good long look. Shiny surface, snappy texture, ruddy dark as the day is long. This is gonna be good. Next, the inhalation before the music begins: vanilla, fruit, the heart and soul of Madagascar, all exotic and ready to move. The first taste. The smoothness of the chocolate is superb as it begins to melt around the edges, and that first bit of molten chocolate begins to nip at the sides of the tongue. It's tart cherries and dark raisins, all at once--brightness and depth and a tinge of bitter to keep it balanced. Towards the middle, this thing dances and sings: rich butter, red cherries, is that graham crackers and buttermilk? And as the dance concludes, a toastiness settles in over the final notes as that last bit of chocolate melts away into just the right amount of astringency, and a memory that the nose, and the tongue, and indeed the soul, won't soon forget.
It's astonishing, really, to be able to have that kind of pleasure-loaded experience in a bar that has no sugar, no vanilla, no flavorings of any kind, and not even added cocoa butter for smoothness. It's a testament to the quality of the beans and the keenness of the chocolate maker.
I was lucky. On the day when the sky exploded for me and I suddenly became aware of the vast and incomprehensibly wonderful world of craft chocolate, I stumbled upon Fresco Chocolate, and what's more, I was able to meet and talk with Rob and Amy Anderson, the chocolate makers, personally about what makes their chocolate special. That conversation heralded the beginning of what, 3 years later, has become a consuming passion for me. It's what I learned about their chocolate that blew the lid off of fine chocolate for me, so that now, when I taste a new chocolate, I ask questions of it and want to understand it on levels that are really intimate and cut right to the heart of the maker's approach and style.
This is what makes Fresco special: they take a batch of single origin beans and treat it in different ways (but using the exact same ingredients), arriving at completely different flavor profiles based solely on how that chocolate is roasted and conched, so that, say, the same batch of Papua New Guinea cacao results in a flight of 4 distinctly different bars: the light-roast, medium-conche bar will taste completely different than its light-roast, no-conche or dark-roast, medium-conche, or medium-roast, medium-conche counterparts. Tasting this chocolate feels a little like magic, a little like science, a little like research, and a whole lot like chocolate enlightenment. It's a peek into the mind of the chocolate maker himself.
I've often said that Fresco's bar packaging is like a little interpretive museum exhibit: all of this information is included for the curious chocophiliac, and that makes Fresco pretty unique among bean-to-bar makers. It's a rarity for a maker to tell you how long he has roasted his beans, and even more so for him to divulge his conching time. But once one knows this about one brand of chocolate, it tends to make one curious about the others, and it gets one to thinking in different ways about all the other chocolates out there on the market. Fresco embodies and encourages transparency and accessibility, and in doing so, does an invaluable service to the education of all chocolate lovers everywhere.
0: bloomed, dull finish, no snap
0: neutral, boring, flat
0: flavors slow in coming, uninteresting
0: flavors remain the same as the start
0: flavor ends abruptly, uninterestingly
0: grainy, inconsistent