Welcome to Take Five, a new Eat Beat feature that offers up five must-try culinary concoctions from culinary experts around town. This week we've tapped into the mind of local chocolate expert Aubrey Lindley of Portland's two Cacao Chocolate shops (in the West End at 414 SW 13th Ave and Downtown 712 SW Salmon St).
Cacao's artfully-curated shelves offer an extensive range of premium chocolate bars from around the world (in addition to select truffles, confections, and original drinking and hot chocolate blends) and the small-but-mighty shop has done a lot to educate locals and visitors alike about the 21st Century Chocolate Revolution. Despite the local fondess for quirky add-ins and sexy packaging, many chocolate lovers aren't aware of the wide variety of flavors that can be found beneath the beautifully designed labels.
"We're constantly trying to reveal new things about chocolate," says Lindley. "Whenever I meet people who have set ideas about flavors and favorite brands, it's always my first impulse to say 'But wait, there's all this other stuff out there!' I don't want chocolate to stay in this one-note, dessert category, so I'm glad there are great chocolate makers who are challenging that idea."
Here, Lindley tips his hat to the diversity of his favorite ingredient with his picks for chocolate treats that express each of the five flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami.
1. Sweet: Ramona Bar from Double Dutch Sweets
"Evoking childhood nostalgia for that quintessential sweet "candy bar", this easy-to-enjoy bar has caramel, nougat, and peanuts, and it's sweet without being cloying. Named after Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby, it evokes a playful, sweet idea along with its sweet flavor."
2. Salty: Parmigiano-Reggiano Bar from Xocolatl de David
"David Brigg's entire collection of bars could fall into the 'salty' category, and this bar is no exception. I love the way that the cheese introduces a bit of crunch and a light saltiness, and makes you think a little bit differently about both Parmigiano-Reggiano and chocolate itself."
3. Bitter: Gardel bar from Cocanú
"While I wouldn't describe this as being a particulaly bitter bar, Sebastian Cisneros from Cocanu is dealing with a great bitter flavor profile, using Fernet, 72% dark chocolate, and hazelnuts, which have a pleasing bitterness to their skins. It's not overwhelming but it pushes the boundaries of what a chocolate bar can be."
4. Sour: Sambirano bar from Rogue Chocolatier
"Of all the international regions sourcing single-origin chocolate, Madagascar is the easiest to generalize about. Sambirano is the river valley that provides almost all of the cacao in Madagascar, and it will typically have a sour, fruity flavor profile. Sometimes it shows as a citrusy sour, or a dried fruit tang, and this bar epitomizes that blend of flavors in a beautiful, balanced way."
5. Umami: Smokey Blue Cheese Truffle Spread from Lillie Belle Farms
"This fun product is very complex, and at its core there's an earthy blue cheese flavor that grounds the spread squarely in savory territory. Originally made as a truffle, this product had customers writing in saying 'I just want to eat this with a spoon'...and their wish was granted. With nuts, chocolate, cheese, and salt, it just dances around in your mouth and lands in a very delicious spot."
Want to dive even deeper into the fascinating world of premium chocolate? Lindley will be part of Chocolate City, USA, a Feast Portland panel of Portland's chocolate experts on Friday, September 21st at 4:15 pm. Along with David Briggs of Xocolatl de Davíd, Sarah Hart of Alma Chocolate, Sebastian Cisneros of Cocanú, and Charley Wheelock of Woodblock Chocolate, Lindley will explore what makes Portland the epicenter of the new American chocolate industry. Tickets are $45 (including an intimate tasting session with the panelists) and can be purchased here.