From Pod To Chocolate

Pod To Chocolate
Thursday, February 17 at 7PM
Kristen Hard of Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co
Luc Clairmont: [at confession] Each time I tell myself it’s the last time, but then I get a whiff of her hot chocolate, or… 
Madame Audel: …Seashells. Chocolate seashells, so small, so plain, so *innocent*. I thought, oh, just one little taste, it can’t do any harm. But it turned out they were filled with rich, sinful… 
Yvette Marceau: …And it *melts*, God forgive me, it melts ever so slowly on your tongue, and tortures you with pleasure. From the movie, Chocolat

I don’t know if it was the full moon, or the wine, or those delicate little discs of chocolate – actually, I do know – it was all three, combined, that made February 17th one of For Food Sakes’ most memorable events. Chocolatier/Chocolate Maker Kristen Hard took us on a journey from Venezuelan cacao farms- machetes in hand, chopping purple (!) chocolate pods- to the Caribbean, where she pried secret recipes out of a trio of bewitching women. Along the way, we sampled her hand-made, exquisite chocolates, and sipped wines supplied by Michael Doerfler (For Wine Sake).

 The guests arrived at the lovely home of Dean and Amanda Trevelino, following the candlelit path past their pool to a sleek, modern terrace, where we enjoyed charcuterie and our first glass of wine. Their house – with its top hung pocket doors, wooden slat bathroom floors, white Barcelona chairs and sinks that double as sculpture – could easily be found on the pages of Architectural Digest. It’s that fabulous.

 Here we all mixed and mingled – biding our time really in anticipation of the Real Reason we were there – the chocolate – until Esther introduced the Trevelinos, Michael from For Wine Sake, and Caline Jarudi (Director of Operations and Marketing) and Kristen Hard from Cacao Atlanta. Kristen invited us to take a piece of brie and move upstairs to the kitchen for the chocolate tasting. Hurray! I, for one, could not click my heels fast enough up the spiral metal staircase to the main level.

 Upstairs at last, the minimalist kitchen with its espresso cabinets and white quartz counters served as the perfect backdrop to Ms. Hard’s clever concoctions. We began the tasting with a piece of chocolate trompe l’oeil: salami (Salami di Cioccolato), a chocolate “log” wrapped in plastic then cased in a white netting. Each round, thick slab is composed of dark chocolate with bits of all butter shortbread and amaretto biscotti, which combine to form a grainy (but not gritty) texture, mildly sweet and altogether yummy.

 This clever bit of chocolate was Founder Society Member Ansley Colby’s favorite. Pair it with some subtle cheese, like brie, and Ansley says it would be the “perfect thing to end a great evening.”

 In our case, of course, it was just the start of a great evening. Michael explained that there is no good way to pair wine and chocolate. For instance, champagne’s acidity can ruin the chocolate texture in the mouth. That seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? He encouraged us to sample the different wines he brought in whatever order moved us. (See below for the full list of wines we tasted.) The guests seemed particularly smitten with the Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, whose vanilla-mocha flavor combination would go equally as well with your favorite steak as it did with our chocolates. No easy feat for a wine to be so good and also versatile, but then again, there was a full moon that night so maybe it only works when the lunar cycle is just right.

 Back to the chocolate. Our second “course” was a simple little chocolate square, the Hispaniola Dominican Republic Varietal. Well, simple, until the dense dark chocolate melts in your mouth and you get just the vaguest hint of an orange note deep in the back of your throat. This was followed by another “simple” square, the Patanemo Venezuelan Varietal. This was milder, creamier and slightly sweeter than the Hispaniola, and is made from one of the most expensive chocolates in the world because it all comes from one tree and one type of bean. This is very rare in the chocolate world – a world utterly without regulations or standards (unlike wine). Kristen likens the chocolate trade to dealing in “drugs and diamonds.”

 Kristen takes all her chocolates from “bean to the bar.” She travels the world, traipsing through cacao farms, to find the best variety of beans. She is tiny – 5’5” but she has been known to grab a machete and hack away at the chocolate trees to remove their pods. She brings them to her factory in Inman Park where they are roasted, hand-sorted, cracked and winnowed before she grinds the nibs to form a paste, finally refining and kneading the chocolate to bend to her will. Chocolate is temperamental, she explained.

 She is a chocolate maker. A chocolatier takes the chocolate made by artisans such as Kristen and turns them into chocolate confections. (Kristen is also a Chocolatier.) There are many chocolatiers, but very few chocolate makers – only about 20 in the U.S. – and she was the first woman.

 Our fourth chocolate was the Aztec Aphrodisiac Truffle. Here was a dark chocolate truffle with a creamy filling that was not thick or waxy. Smooth, light, then suddenly – wow – what was THAT? That slight tingle in the back of your throat is a blend of six different chilis and spices – a secret recipe Kristen picked up in the Caribbean that she has not shared with anyone and vows she never will. Ah, such a sweet mystery.

 We had one chocolate left to taste, the Peanut Butter Meltaway. Small, round balls dusted with powdered sugar that are 100% vegan and made with locally sourced peanuts. You could really smell and taste the peanuts. As with all her chocolates, one bite and you want more, but you are also completely satisfied with just that one bite.

 And perhaps that is the lesson here. Her chocolates aren’t sweet, yet they’re sweet enough. Unlike commercial chocolate, there were no sugar bombs exploding in our mouth that night. Instead, we tasted real chocolate, deep, dark, bitter but somehow NOT bitter, sweet, but somehow NOT sweet, mysterious, complex and utterly delicious.

Kristen Hard is the founder/chocolate maker of Cacao Atlanta. Her factory and shop are located at 312 C N. Highland Ave. in Atlanta. She is opening a second shop in Buckhead this week in the Garden Hills area at 2817 Peachtree Rd NE. Stop by on Saturdays for freshly made chocolate croissants and stop by any time for a variety of hot chocolate in addition to her fiendish little chocolate delights.

Wine Menu
Antinori Campogrande Orvietto 2009
Pezzi King, Dry Creek Zinfandel 2008
Salentein Malbec 2007
Earthquake Cabernet Sauvig
on 2006
Gruet Demi-Sec. N.V.        Contact Michael Doerfler at (404) 872-0904 to order any of the wines.


3 Responses to “From Pod To Chocolate”

  1. Reply February 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Esther, you did it again. Kristen Hard’s chocolates are as unique as their maker, and I never knew how much I didn’t know about the process, or the quality of the final product. How can I resist saying that will be a Hard act to follow (he he)? Thanks for your such a smart evening!


  1. Chocolatier Kristen Hard | For Foods Sake - January 26, 2011

    [...] Fork in the Road From Pod To Chocolate [...]

  2. Season Calendar | For Foods Sake - February 14, 2011

    [...] OIL, Wednesday, January 19 FROM POD TO CHOCOLATE, Thursday,February 17 SIP AND SWALLOW, Sunday, February 27 BRUNCH ON THE FARM, Sunday, March 27 [...]