Today, for the third year in a row, I made my way to Central Market for their pre-Valentine’s celebration of all things chocolate. My nearest store is in Plano on Coit.

Sample-wise, I was disappointed. There were about 1/3 of the typical offerings; in the past, you could barely move because every 100 feet or so, there was another sample table. They had some good stuff today, but not as much as in the past. However, their increasing selection of chocolate bars is incredible. We’ll save those for last and go through the paltry samples first.

Chocolate-covered wine grapes.

The grown-ups liked these very much; the kids did not enjoy them. First of all, the chocolate is pretty dark and secondly, the grapes have a pretty intense flavor. They’re not fermented, but they’re a lot boozier-tasting than plain raisins. This is the perfect candy to purchase if you don’t feel like sharing; the children won’t want any, anyway.

German koo-KEEEEEES!

The gentleman dealing out these little bits of delight kept yelling, in a sing-song voice, “German koo-KEEEEES!” All of the kids got milk chocolate; the adults dark. They were light and crispy and yummy. A hit on all fronts.

Chocolate-covered strawberry in front of chocolate waterfall

Of course, this was good. But it wasn’t imaginative. They didn’t have any chocolate-coated cheese. Or any of the bacon Vosges bars they had the year before last. They had a *sign* about bacon and chocolate…

… but no samples. They also had a sign about beer and chocolate, but their booze samples were also notably missing. In the past, there have been wine and chocolate pairings, or chocolate bock shots.

But enough about that. Now, can we please move on to the good news? Great. Here it is…

The quality and variety of chocolate now commercially available has increased drastically, even just in the past three years. This time three years ago, I had this brilliant idea for teaching an enrichment class on chocolate, and I did a lot of research. Much of this involved driving into bigger towns to purchase something other than the Big Two (or Three, if you include Nestle with Hershey’s and Mars) I could find around here.

What I saw in Central Market today represented at least a five-fold varietal growth. There is some imaginative stuff going on out there, and with such simple ingredients. Research for that class made me a label-reader, and it is so encouraging to see a chocolate bar with the ingredients, “cocoa mass, pure cane sugar.” Thank you, chocolatiers of America (and elsewhere)! Now we’re cooking with… cocoa butter.

Dear Crusty

That’s the translation from Italian; I think it probably loses something transliterated, don’t you? I think it’s closer to meaning “sweet and crisp.”  The pat description I’ve found online is: “Sweet and crunchy, Caffarel’s Croccante Gentile is made solely with the best hazelnuts crunched within skillfully-made caramel. The resultant bar is covered with a layer of delicious milk chocolate, and then with a second layer 
of quality, extra-dark chocolate.”

Anthropomorphized truffles

Officially, these were things like “mocha nougat,” “Hawaiian sea salt,” etc. But they’re named after ladies. Why? Who knows. It’s pretty charming, though.

Single origin bars!

When you buy most mass-produced chocolate bars, you’re eating an amalgamation of cacao beans from all over the place. I love single-origin bars, and some of these are even traceable from bean to bar. You might notice that these cost quite a bit more than most grocery-store-check-out bars (for which I won’t pay more than $.50, and usually not that much). These are so much better, it’s worth the splurge. Plus, the darker the chocolate, the less the sugar, and the richer the bar, the less you have to eat before you’re sated.

There's a pronunciation key on the label!

This is the Vosges of the famous bacon chocolate bar (dark or milk chocolate). This is a little lighter chocolate than I typically enjoy, but I was intrigued by the contents: macadamia nuts, coconut, and hemp seeds. Anyone ever eaten anything with hemp seeds in it before? I wish I could have bought one of everything… Maybe I’ll try this one next time.

S'Mores and Red Velvet and Peppers, oh my!

My sister and I both bought La Azteca, which has cinnamon, chile, and cacao nibs. I don’t know how I feel about jalapeno, though I do know that chiles work with chocolate. The red velvet cake bar was super tempting.

PBJ OMG

Yes, that’s for real. Patric was at the Plano Central Market earlier this week. I’d read about the PBJ OMG bar online and literally squealed when I saw that they had it in the store (yes, I bought one). It’s dark chocolate and peanut butter, and the dark chocolate’s fruity undertones provide the “jelly” flavor of the bar. I haven’t tried it yet. You’ll hear about it when I do.

I don't even know what that means, and neither does the internet. (Hint, internet, it's a truncated colloquialism for "wild pepper.")

“Bold, fruity cocoa from our award-winning 70% dark chocolate bar meets the subtle ‘tsiperifery’ peppercorn, transforming into essence of dark cherry, peaches and cocoa – long lasting flavor with a faint spicy finish.”

Pink pepper? How adorable!

Oh, and that’s “lime,” trying to be clever. Also, “naturally organic forests” is ecology speak for “wild boars poop in there.”

Do you know the difference in forastero and trinitario?

This company sells both boutique chocolate and pepper.

Ingredients in the bar to the right: cacao, cane sugar, pecans, maple syrup.

Vanilla and smoke?! Don't mind if I do! (I didn't. Again... next time.)

Another imaginative Vosges bar!

Me, loving on all of the chocolate! ❤

So, those are some of the coolest chocolate offerings. I had to stop taking pictures, because some guy who was there shopping with his daughter came up and told me that he worked for Central Market, and offered to help me, and then said that they did not allow photography in their stores. (I did take one other picture after that. Just for you. Of this…)

Look at all of the flavored peanut and almond butters! Maple, honey, chocolate. They also had chocolate hazelnut spread.

They’ve also started selling hand-crafted marshmallows. FYI, you can make these pretty easily at home, and they’re a million times better than the extruded, corn-starched stuff they sell in the cooking aisle at the grocery store. Look at all of these choices!

Cinnamon, Valrhona chocolate, vanilla bean, and triple citrus. They also had coconut around the corner.

So, disappointing chocolate festival on the “hey, try this new thing!” front, but so foodie-happy-making to see all of the small batch bars making their way to the mainstream market. Steve Almond should be happy. I know I am.

Advertisements