On his return from a business trip, my husband brought me a selection of chocolates by a company called Vosges Haut-Chocolat. My first impulse was to dismiss them as gimmick chocolate, especially since the biggest was a bar of chocolate-covered bacon.
But something wouldn't let me just set them aside or give them away. For one thing, the packaging is gorgeous, and I must admit that when it comes to chocolate, I'm a sucker for a pretty face. In my defense, I've noticed that chocolate-makers who give a lot of time and thought to their wrappers also tend to have to have created something worth dressing up. It's as if once they started caring about their product, they couldn't stop.
Still, I tried the bacon-chocolate on more or less a dare. Having discovered, rather to my horror, that I liked the stuff, I had to keep going.
As well as the pork product, I'd been given several half-ounce bars of various cacao percentages and flavors. Though they were small, they were not merely wrapped in foil or even paper, but boxed up individually in tiny cardboard cases, each with a different color and picture. The photos give an impression of cacao beans, nuts, and other ingredients spilling and tumbling merrily across the box -- if you have a chocolate-loving friend with artistic leanings, these would be a thoughtful gift.
Though I prefer dark chocolate, I reached for the Barcelona Bar first -- a milk chocolate flavored with hickory-smoked almonds and grey sea salt. I have always loved chocolate and salt together, which is why I bake brownies and other chocolate goodies with salted butter in spite of what all the cookbooks say. This bar was a nice strong milk chocolate -- 41% cacao, pretty deep -- and full of flavor. The Gianduja Bar, a deep milk chocolate flavored with almonds and caramelized hazelnuts, also went very quickly.
Things went more slowly after that. It took me days to sample all the bars. Some of them sounded scary to me, like the Black Pearl Bar, which contains wasabi. Granted, it's the last ingredient listed. But I'm the type whose mouth doesn't cool down for a week if so much as a molecule of the green stuff touches her sushi. There was no blast of bitterness from this bar, though. Just a cool whiff of ginger and a crunch of sesame seed, all wrapped up in a very mild 55% dark chocolate.
The Creole Bar, flavored with chicory coffee and cacao nibs, was heavenly -- the darkest dark chocolate I've ever tasted. I don't mean cacao count. It's only 70%, and I can get up to 88 without fainting. But this stuff is deep. And very smooth. All the Vosges products have a signature silkiness I appreciate.
I'm not a huge fan of spicy chocolate, but for those who enjoy that kind of thing, the Vosges Red Fire and Oaxaca bars are very good. The Oaxaca is the strongest, a 75% cacao flavored with a complex layering of chillies. The Red Fire Bar is sweeter at 55% cacao, and has a touch of cinnamon that complements the other spices very nicely.
Some of the bars didn't do much for me. The Woolloomooloo -- flavored with macadamia nuts, hemp seed, and coconut -- made me giggle, but though the chocolate itself was reliably fine, the flavoring wasn't something I'd ask for again. The Naga Bar's combination of curry powder, coconut, and milk chocolate was pleasant, but again, I'm not a chocolate-spice fan. The only bar in the whole selection I found actively unpleasant was the Macha, which was flavored with an acrid green tea and which I threw away after one small, shuddering bite.
At the end of the day, I'm not much of a chocolate adventurer. I don't want to have to wonder what condition my tongue will be in after any given bite. I just want a good, satisfying bar.
Still, I enjoyed trying out this little batch of chocolate delicacies. The fact that they were flavors I wouldn't have thought of getting for myself made me feel rather daring. A Vosges Haut-Chocolat variety pack, a pot of tea, and a few good friends would add up to an entertaining evening.