Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Whiter the Chocolate

There are chocolate snobs who won't eat anything under 85%, aficionados who turn down their noses at milk chocolate and purists who scoff at exotic fillings. So where does that leave white chocolate? I'd say at the bottom of the heap. Many don't even consider white chocolate to be chocolate because it's pure cocoa butter and not one bit of cacao. White chocolate is never a popular option on our chocolate tours. But walk into any Swiss or Belgian chocolate shop, and you will find white chocolate galore - not just at Easter.

But what about the white chocolate bar? If you've traveled to England, you've no doubt tried a Milky Bar, but far better alternatives exist. In fact, small batch artisan chocolate makers, like Askinosie, are tackling white chocolate with the same rigorous attention to ingredients and methods shown in their dark chocolate bars. Last week I assembled a tasting panel of sleep-deprived mothers to sample some of the best. Here are our favorites:

1) Amedei Cioccolato al Latte Bianco, $11.95
If you crave pure, unadorned white chocolate, then the pricey Amedei bar cannot be beat. It is rich, silky and creamy - all things that pure white chocolate should be. I first learned of the sibling pair (Cecilia and Alessio Tessieri) who own Amedei in Mort Rosenblum's excellent book, Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga Of Dark and Light. Unlike most chocolate companies, they are involved in the entire chocolate making process, from drying and fermenting beans on the plantation to conching and tempering in their Tuscany factory. We preferred Amedei to other plain white chocolate bars like Green & Blacks and Chocovic.

2) Askinosie, $7.50
In June, Shawn Askinosie (whose company is based in Springfield, Missouri) unveiled three artisan white chocolate bars. They are unique in that the cocoa butter used all comes from one particular plantation - meaning that it can actually be called "single origin" white chocolate. Since the taste of cocoa butter really doesn't vary as much as the taste of cacao from region to region, I'm not all that impressed by his single origin concept. But I do like some of the flavor combinations he's developed. And we can all feel good about enjoying Askinosie because they give cacao farmers a "stake in the outcome."

* The White Chocolate bar - Not as sweet, luscious and creamy as the Amedei bar. The pale golden color is unlike any other white chocolate I've tasted. This was not a huge hit.
* The Nibble Bar - This was a big favorite. The crunchiness of the cacao nibs (and of course the chocolate flavor) is a perfect contrast next to the smooth white chocolate.
* The Pistachio Bar - We liked the addition of organic, salted pistachios to white chocolate. The flavor of a pistachio is quite mild so it does not overpower the taste of the white chocolate. But we preferred the crunchier texture of the Nibble Bar.

3) Vosges D'Oliva Exotic Bar, $7.50
Katrina Markoff's contribution to the white chocolate world is this kalamata olive and white chocolate bar. Olives and chocolate - we all expected to hate this! But it was surprisingly good. The salty, subtle taste of olives was a nice counterpart to the creamy white chocolate. We feel very good about eating Vosges chocolate because, in a sea of male-owned chocolate companies, Markoff is one of the only women. And we appreciate Vosges' dedication to being a "green" business.

4) Chocolat Weiss White Chocolate with Red-Fruit Bar, $5.25
One can only eat so much pure white chocolate. That's why we were happiest with the bars that combined white chocolate with another tasty ingredient, in this case raspberries, strawberries and cherries. We thought the tart red fruits were an ideal match with sweet white chocolate. A bit of lemon provides a little more acid. And Weiss takes the award for most elegant packaging; this slim silver and pink bar would make an excellent gift. Weiss is a French company that has been around since 1882. Chocosphere carries a wide selection of Weiss bars.