Let’s be extremely clear about this up-front: I get into chocolate. Like, a lot.
So when a slew of Utah Royals players posted photos on Instagram while they were on a tour of a local chocolate company, Solstice Chocolate, I squealed with delight.
And if you don’t know that squealing is accurate, I urge you to stand with me at a match someday. I don’t have any control over the noises that come out of my mouth. Maybe it’s a problem.
At any rate, this all instilled in me a realization that we haven’t really talked about craft chocolate. Fine chocolate. Bean-to-bar chocolate. It goes by many names, but it’s basically high-end chocolate. I’m not talking about those $100-a-bar monstrosities — these tend to retail between $8 and $15, with some worthwhile examples on either side of that, too.
One thing you’ll hear repeatedly in chocolate is “single-origin,” which basically means that the cacao beans come from one specific place. That might be a single farm, plantation, or cooperative, but that’s generally how it’s cast.
The premise behind craft chocolate — and I’m certainly a believer — is that cacao, when treated well, has more to offer than just a “chocolatey” flavor, and that bitterness is a relic of improper treatment, not a quality of high-quality chocolate. Different origins of beans will offer different qualities of flavor, with flavor ranging from distinctly fruity to nutty, with loads of variation betwixt the two. (I once tasted a bar that tasted like cucumber, and maybe that was a little strange.)
Most bars in this style are made with two to four ingredients: Cacao beans and sugar are the two essentials, and you might also see added cocoa butter (which also enters into play naturally through cacao beans) and vanilla (though increasingly rarely when we’re talking about chocolate made in the Americas.)
Of course, I’m not here to sell you chocolate. Rather, I just wanted to talk about what craft chocolate is, and I wanted to talk about why the Royals taking in a chocolate factory is a meaningful thing here, of all places.
Utah: A hotbed of chocolate
First, this might come as somewhat of a surprise, but Utah has one of the nation’s hottest chocolate scenes. There are a number of reasons that’s the case, but it’s a fairly cooperative maker community, and that sort of thing propels growth in smaller communities. Chocolate, to this point, isn’t exactly a high-profit industry at the craft scale, so it’s not going to attract many who are simply looking for a quick buck. That helps with sustainable growth in an industry.
One major factor in chocolate’s growth here is that Utah is home to America’s most award-winning chocolate company, Amano Chocolate. As the first American company to win gold at the London Academy of Chocolate in 2009 for a Madagascar-source single origin bar — a year after winning bronze for the same bar — Amano made waves early on in the American chocolate scene. (Interestingly, that means the scene has only really been around for a decade.)
This is where Utah Royals took their tour, and it’s my personal favorite of the bunch. A chocolate enthusiast friend describes them as “punk rock” chocolate, which mostly means that their flavors are expressed boldly. It’s sort of the antithesis of French or Italian chocolate, which tends to hide flavors a bit deeper in the experience, with roasty notes typically leading the way.
This is definitely a different option than the previous two, because Chocolate Conspiracy takes the typical approach to making chocolate, wherein you roast the beans, and simply doesn’t do a roast at all. It’s a style known by “virgin chocolate,” and the idea is that cacao offers you health benefits that are lost a bit by the roasting process. It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but they do some good work, and some of their truffles are simply perfection.
Park City’s only craft chocolate makers (I know you’re as surprised as I am), Ritual Chocolate, takes their chocolate in a slightly more European direction. Their roasts tend to be a little darker than other American makers, giving their bars a bit more subtlety to their flavors. Their cafe in Park City is absolutely fantastic.
A relatively new entrant to the market, Durci Chocolate is the brainchild of Crio Bru’s founder, which is a nice way to get your chocolate through a brewed drink. Durci offers a very cacao-centric chocolate experience, and the founder, Eric Durtschi, focuses very closely on telling stories with his bars. He’s a fount of knowledge about chocolate, and if you have a chance to hear him speak, you should take it.
The Cacao Bean Project
This is the newest chocolate on the market in Utah, and it’s a little wild: Lance Brown isn’t just roasting his cacao beans. He’s smoking them. He’s not just smoking them with charcoal or a single type of wood, though — he’s tuning his bars with different types of wood, and it makes for some very unexpected, bold flavors.