Art Pollard was kind enough to write to me about a factual error in one of my columns. He mentioned that he had his own company, Amano Artisan Chocolate, and offered to send me a few bars to review. (What was I going to say -- "No, I hate it when people send me free chocolate"?)
To begin at the beginning: Amano chocolates are beautiful. They're wrapped in sleek black and gold packaging, and they just look, well, cool. I felt as if I were handling currency from the land of Cacao.
Amano offers three chocolate bars. Each is 70% cacao, solid and strong. And each single-origin variety has its own distinctive taste. The Madagascar is like biting into a perfectly ripe yellow grape: first sweet, then a spike of tartness. The Ocumare is milder and quieter. The Limited Edition Cuyagua is my favorite. It has character and subtle depth.
Quite aside from flavor, Amano chocolates are first-rate. They have a great color and sheen, terrific snap, and perfect mouth-melt.
None of these are chocolates to be eaten in a rush. These are not bars to grab if you missed lunch and just need some quick calories to get you through to dinner. Amano chocolate should be eaten slowly and savored. Some chocolate is comfort food; Amano is elegant. Put on some Vivaldi, and make sure you're not going to get interrupted mid-bite.
Amano chocolate is made in small batches, and you can tell. A lot of work, care, and worry goes into creating this chocolate. Though Amano can now be purchased by the general public -- for a time, its availability was limited -- there is nothing mass-produced about it.
While some chocolate manufacturers will claim that their chocolate is conched (mixed or stirred in special machinery for a significant amount of time) for x number of hours, Amano is simply conched "until it's done." Conching is the part of chocolate making that the kitchen chocolatier simply can't replicate, so it's always held a certain fascination for me. I asked Mr. Pollard if conching times were really that different with every batch.
"It can vary significantly between bean to bean," he said. "I have a consistent amount of time that I know it will take. So, during this stage, I can do other things around the factory, run to the store, etc. Once this period is over, though, I have to remain at the factory and check the chocolate on a regular basis to see how it's progressing. I've even been known to sleep at the factory just to be sure I was there when the flavor hit its peak."
He lives with his chocolate. Now, that's love. And you can taste it in every bar.