Last year, when my friend Guido joined the Somerville Chocolate CSA for their first season, I was intrigued but unsure if I could really justify purchasing such quantities of chocolate. I’ll also admit that I found the sole pickup point at the top of Winter Hill a little daunting as well. While I have no problem pedaling up that hill in the summer (at least, every now and then, not daily), the prospect of getting up there in the winter was not something I relished the idea of.
But like any successful CSA, they have expanded their pickup points and one of them was in my neighborhood, at Central Bottle. I could no longer resist.
The proprietor of this amazing venture is one Eric Parkes, brother to the singular Clara Parkes whose unparalleled knowledge of all things fiber and yarn and knitting (not to mention baking, and those caramels …) has endeared her to the knitting world forever and ever, amen. But where was I? Clearly the genius runs in the family, for Eric is doing with chocolate what Clara has done with yarn. He’s starting from the very beginning, almost — getting cacao beans shipped from all over the world and experimenting with different ways to process them, then charging a hundred or so willing guinea-pigs for the privilege of being his test subjects. He came to the Common Cod’s latest Ignite event and gave a talk about his CSA … which, since I was there, was probably the thing that sealed the deal for me. You can check it out here — it’s only 5 minutes.
The bars are sorted by origin — Peru, Venezuela, Ghana — but also by cacao varietal. You can read up on the varietals first if you like.
Peruvian Criollo: This is my least favorite of the bars in this harvest, so I’m starting with it. The mouthfeel is sort of grainy, similar to Taza’s trademark texture. Interestingly enough, I understand that Taza uses mostly Peruvian chocolate as well. I’m fairly sure that’s a coincidence — or perhaps not? I assume the graininess is a function of the tempering process, but could it be endemic to this particular cacao bean varietal? Aside from the mouthfeel, the flavor is sort of unremarkable. There’s something between a tangy first taste and a bitter aftertaste, but that’s as far as I can taste. One thing it does have going for it — it’s not too dry, which I appreciate in a dark chocolate.
Venezuelan Trinitario: This one had me looking back at the label a couple of times to check the ingredients — nope, still just cacao and sugar, and 70% at that. It really tastes like a dark milk chocolate — very smooth, no bitterness at all, very sweet but most surprisingly, the distinct flavor of roasted nuts. I had to eat a couple of squares (quelle horreur!) to pick it out but I think the flavors are reminiscent of something between roasted almond and roasted hazelnut — but not overwhelmingly so.
Ghanaian Forastero: Finally, my favorite of the bunch. This bar is reminiscent of dark spices and has a pleasant, fruity tang with the occasional burst of something tropical I can’t quite define. The mouthfeel is very smooth but this is definitely a dark chocolate, not like the near-milky smoothness of the Trinitario. With a flavor like this, I can forgive the brut quality that leaves me wanting a little something to drink right after finishing it.
I feel I should come clean — I actually picked up this harvest about a month ago. I have been alternately sick or busy since then and haven’t had time or the functioning taste buds to review these. I have already picked up Harvest 2, and hope to do something similar with that soon — so keep an eye out!