Chocolate Purveyors is a blog series where we connect and discuss everything chocolate with both makers and enthusiasts. This discussion is with Victoria Cooksey from Dark Matters Chocolate Reviews.
When we launched Kekao in December of 2018, Victoria was one of the first people we connected with on social media. We thought it was only appropriate to have her as our first interview.
Victoria loves all things chocolate and holds a certificate of Achievement in Chocolate Technique & Mastering Chocolate Flavor from Ecole Chocolat. Besides her blog, she has a Youtube channel and Instagram page where she reviews and discusses chocolate. Victoria is also an associate writer for Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine. Victoria has worked as a consultant for various craft chocolate makers, providing feedback on taste, texture, and so forth.
Do you remember your first experience with real chocolate? What was it?
Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, Domori, and Amedei, along with traveling to Paris and trying chocolates from places like La Maison du Chocolat were my stepping stones to higher quality chocolate. I’m not sure what my very first “craft” bar was, but I know makers including Fruition, Dick Taylor and Soma were somewhere near the beginning.
What is your favorite craft drinking chocolate?
I always have 10+ different drinking chocolates and single-origin cocoa powders in my cupboard, but the ones I have re-purchased the most often have been Endorfin Foods 100% Columbia Ceremonial Grade drinking chocolate (which I like to combine with quality Columbian coffee) and when I’m feeling under the weather or want a boost I end up combining Firefly’s Ceremonial Cacao Medicinal Mushroom with Cacoco’s 65% Golden Dark drinking chocolate.
What inspired you to start writing about craft chocolate?
One thing has really lead to another. Several years ago I was more focused on writing recipes/travel articles for a local newspaper back when I lived in Illinois (I live in Washington State now) and actually did cooking segments on a local news morning show there for a couple of years. I also spent several years learning about wine which involves the look, smell, taste, viscosity and finishing flavors which are all beneficial skills to utilize when tasting chocolate. I spent a long time trying to decide which wine program/certification I wanted to pursue and during that time I heard about Ecole Chocolat and ended up going that route instead. I received a Certificate of Achievement in Chocolate Technique in 2013 and a Certificate of Mastering Chocolate Flavor in 2016 from Ecole Chocolat. I used to write a blog called Victoria Cooksey’s Random Dish along with a comedy cooking show on Youtube by that same title, but then switched to writing about craft chocolate and interviewing chocolate makers for my blog Dark Matters Chocolate Reviews, chocolate bar reviews and recipe videos on YouTube under Victoria Cooksey as well as Instagram chocolate reviews/tasting notes and have since written several interview articles for Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine.
How would you define craft chocolate?
From interviewing several chocolate makers I’ve learned that everyone has a different answer to that question. I have also notice that people sometimes get caught up on the size of a maker, as to whether they can still be called “craft” or not. I don’t think the size should be such an issue because whether the chocolate is being made by one person or seventeen, as long as the integrity/creativity/quality of the maker remains intact it can be considered “craft“. Say we said, these are the five rules and if you don’t meet them, you aren’t “craft”-then there would still be divisions into different titled categories that still are indicative of quality, creativity and tasty endeavors (look at Super Tuscan wines). For me personally, I am more interested in the overall idea of using quality ingredients, direct trade, creativity, makers roasting their own beans (and all the other steps involved with making the chocolate), uplifting/supporting the learning of consumers and other makers in positive ways and having really tasty chocolate come out of the process regardless if it is referred to as craft, specialty, fine chocolate, etc. These will always be things that set quality, rarer chocolate apart from “industrial”.
A lot of people are intimidated by the price of craft chocolate what would you tell someone to change their perception?
Ideally, if you could get that person to attend a chocolate tasting then I think they would taste right away the difference in flavor and that alone makes the chocolate worth the cost. I think the amazing flavor of anything edible will always draw someone in and keep them coming back for more and spark a curiosity to learn. Then you can continue with the education on how chocolate is made, where it comes from, the rarity of the beans, direct trade, time involved to make the product and so on which will also help show why quality chocolate costs what it costs.
It’s also ok to take even smaller steps such as start out by buying a bar around the $4 mark and compare that to what you normally eat, then seek out a $6 and so on. It takes time to calibrate the palate from very sugary low percentage chocolate up to a 100% single-origin bar.
How has the craft chocolate scene changed since you started covering it?
Since I’ve started covering it, so many makers now produce 100% bars, more and more unusual inclusions have shown up and when I first started there was hardly a drinking chocolate in sight and now there is a huge selection! People are also taking several chocolates and mixing them to make their own “Frankencocoa” blends at home. There has been an increased interest in tasting cacao produced using varied fermentation styles/times. One of my personal favorites that has really been revving up lately is that more makers are producing their own single-origin cocoa powders and baking chocolate pieces allowing home bakers (and chefs) to really step up the flavor/quality of baked goods.
What is your favorite chocolate bar of 2019?
The final answer to that question will have to wait until my Dark Matters Chocolate Awards 2019 post. Haha! Having said that, I am currently really into Dick Taylor’s new Limited Edition 78% Columbia Palmino dark chocolate bar. Great snap, fantastic texture, lovely flavors, and a long finish. Oh, yeah!
Do you think craft chocolate can become more widely accepted like craft beer, fine wine or specialty coffee or is it already there?
I don’t think it’s there yet, but it’s certainly heading that way. As more pairing events take place, pairing chocolate with single-origin coffees, beer, wine, sake, savory foods and as more makers do collaborations with craft beer makers, etc., that will help attract consumers who might otherwise not have found out about “craft” chocolate.
If you could only eat one chocolate bar for the rest of your life, what bar would it be?
I know myself too well to ever be able to pick only one! The best I can do is tell you the bar I’ve probably purchased the most, find super comforting and try to always have in my stash: Chocolate Naïve’s Ambrosia bar.
Where do you see the craft chocolate industry heading?
I think we will see even more collaborations, especially with craft beer makers and between makers. Inclusions are going to become more unusual. I also think with growth, some makers/businesses are going to be approached by larger companies wanting to purchase them but have them continue doing exactly what they are doing the way they are doing it just like in craft beer. Also with additional growth “industrial” makers will take more notice of “craft” and start coming out with signature, “craft”, single-origin lines. Personally, I hope to see makers publish more recipe books and I’d love to see a rise in blended bars. Think about all the amazing blended wines you’ve had. With all the single-origin varieties of chocolate available now I think blended bars could lead to some exciting exploration of flavors. Remember that many of the most prestigious wines in the world are blends, not single varietals (Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone, many Champagnes, etc.)!
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