It’s chocolate season. Dive in.
The boys and I have started a new tradition since September – every Friday afternoon when they finish school a few hours early, we go somewhere special; a trip to a surprise location, somewhere fun and maybe even educational. One of our more popular outings was a chocolate tour of Calgary.
A few Friday afternoons ago we spent a couple hours tasting our way through chocolate shops around the city. At the main Bernard Callebaut location across from the Stampede grounds, you can do a self-guided tour of the chocolate factory. We talked and tasted at Epiphanie, bought cocoa nibs at Coppeneur and learned about where and how cocoa beans are grown, and how chocolate is made. Important info, as W plans to own a chocolate factory when he grows up.
It’s easier to connect with the source of our eggs, meat and bread than the source of our chocolate.
Tonight, we’ll curl up on the couch and watch Semisweet: Life in Chocolate, a film that tells stories of the darker sides of the chocolate industry, taking its viewers on a journey from Hershey, PA to the frozen lakes of Northern Canada, busy Paris cafés and the forests of West Africa, telling the story of chocolatiers, artists and plantation workers – all people whose lives are directly affected by chocolate and its industry. (If you can’t make a live screening, you can watch it on YouTube.)
I had a virtual coffee with Toronto filmmaker Lalita Krishna on the weekend, whose work, largely dealing with global issues, has been broadcast across Canada and featured at film festivals around the world. After hearing about children working on cocoa farms in West Africa, she started researching the enormous chocolate industry and decided she wanted to tell a larger story.
“People don’t realize there’s this level of intimacy to purchasing chocolate,” she told me. “It’s a new concept in North America, unlike in Europe, where there’s a far stronger chocolate culture.” From bean to bar, fair trade can be a complex topic, and she doesn’t want to hit people over the head with a message of what they should or shouldn’t be eating. “It’s a conversation people love to have,” she says, “chocolate is so complex, as is people’s connection with chocolate. We can start by educating ourselves and making better choices.”
When Lalita hosts screenings of her movie in cities across Canada, local artisan chocolatiers come out with beans, bars and chocolates to let people see, touch, taste – and ask questions. It’s a great way for people to get to know chocolate a little bit better, and to educate themselves. Like wine and coffee, there are intricacies to chocolate in flavour, colour, texture, all having to do with the bean, point of origin, and process. Unlike with wine and coffee, even kids can taste and learn.
Lalita’s film-making process – and specifically an incident in Washington, DC when she couldn’t locate a chocolate factory in the unfamiliar city she was attending a conference in – triggered the development of the Choco-locate iPhone app, which helps users track down chocolate based on their location and taste or interest in chocolate. You can search for organic, free trade, vegan and the like, then leave reviews or add comments. It’s available on all platforms, and is interactive – so you can add comments and favourites, helping others discover the best chocolatiers, whether they live in your city or have come for a visit. Chocolate – of course there’s an app for that!
This app would have come in handy when I was visiting Montréal, trying to Google chocolatiers from our hotel room and plot them out on a huge old-school fold-out map.
Lalita’s goal, to raise awareness of the issues surrounding fair trade cocoa production, build a system for crowd sourced consumer information, and a community of like-minded chocolate lovers, is coming together through her film, website and now this interactive app. And this holiday season, Choco-locate is teaming up with World Vision Canada for a worthy charitable drive. For every person who downloads the free Choco-locate app on their iPad or iPhone or uploads the mobile website choco-locate.com on their smart phones, we will donate one free-trade chocolate bar to sweeten a basket that will be auctioned off on December 20th. The proceeds will go to a World Vision Canada fund that supports program to end child labour. This app is about finding and doing good things.
FamilyFunCalgary did a great post on doing a chocolate tasting tour of Calgary (a fun holiday excursion, I think) and EverythingMom has a few more tips about how to use the Choco-locate app to source fab chocolate products, events and deals.
I’ll leave you with some chocolate. I’m a little obsessed with the idea of drinking it these days – something thicker and richer than regular hot chocolate, and made with the real thing, nothing powdered. Drinking chocolate is blissful. So is fondue. Why not combine the two? Part of the appeal is its warmth; the melting point of chocolate is the same as our body temperature, which makes it a perfect candidate for a shooter, don’t you think? A single, blissful mouthful. Or individual, dippable fondues – perfect for a holiday party, and not as gunky as a single fondue pot for everyone to share. Also – there’s less competition this way.
Source yourself some good-quality chocolate – it makes a difference. These are made with semi-sweet bits from Bernard Callebaut; shot glasses came from the dollar store.
Individual Chocolate Fondues or Shooters
To make shooters, the chocolate should be slightly thinner than the fondue, just for ease of getting it out of the shot glasses. If you’re dipping, it can be a little thicker. The quality of the chocolate will make a difference here; go for the good stuff.
1 1/2-2 cups heavy (whipping) cream or 18% coffee cream
1 cup chopped good-quality chocolate, preferably dark or semi-sweet
pinch sea salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla, orange or peppermint extract (optional)
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer – it should be steaming, but not boiling. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and salt. Let stand for a few minutes, then stir, adding the extract if you like, until smooth.
Divide into shot glasses and serve with fruit, chunks of cake and cookies for dipping, or straight up, for shooting. Serves 10.
This post was sponsored by Choco-locate, a new Canadian app I was more than happy to spread the word about.