Category Archives: Truffles

Xocodiva Puerto Vallarta

Xocodiva Artisan Chocolates, Puerto Vallarta

During our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, I had the pleasure to visit a little chocolate shop in the Zona Romantica – Xocodiva (pronouced sho-ko diva) and also talk to chocolatier and co-owner Carol who had opened the shop a couple of years ago with her partner, Charlotte.  Carol and I chatted a bit while she busily rolled truffles by hand.  Right way it was clear that the “artisan” designation was not just hype – the truffles were made by hand and in small batches, so that was enough for me.

She confirmed that they are using Belgian couverture for their chocolates.  Of course, using Mexican-sourced chocolate would be impractical on many levels, not the least of which is that cacao production volume in Mexico is relatively low and mostly consumed to make a rustic style of chocolate used mainly for drinking.

The place is decorated with a clean, but romantic vibe.  There’s a front seating area separate from the main shop that has a long bench and some separate two-top tables, enough space overall for 6 to 8 people.  It looks like it would be a great place to stop by after dinner for a few luxurious treats.  In the shop itself there’s a wide selection of truffles and other small confections, nut brittles, bars, gift assortments and hot chocolate.  Overall I have to say I was very pleased.  Why should fine chocolate surprise me in this town when I had already experienced some wonderful culinary skills in the restaurants of Puerto Vallarta?

Hot Chocolate topped with cocoa-whipped creme and dusted with cocoa.

I decided to get a sampling of chocolate treats so I could get a feel for the overall skill of the chocolatier and quality of the shop.  I went for some hot chocolate, truffles and bars.  The hot chocolate was all warm and ready to go and didn’t feel at all out of place in a beach town despite the early sun’s efforts to warm the air into the 80s.  After all, people were drinking coffee and espresso all morning in the surrounding cafes as the chairs were being arranged on the beach and the sand was slowly drying from the high tide.  Surely I could break from tradition and go with some hot chocolate.

Had it not been the last day of our trip, I would have made this a daily habit – great stuff!  Thick, viscous and bold as serious drinking chocolate should be.  Not too sweet but with enough sugar to power my climb back to our room on the hilly cobblestone streets of the Zona Romantica.  I definitely recommend that you make their hot chocolate your new early morning or after dinner habit when you’re in the area.

Next came the bars.  No need for a formal rating here, since it would be hard  to buy these bars outside of Mexico.  But if you’re in PV and trying to decide whether a visit to Xocodiva is worth while, this should give you some idea.

 

The bars are molded with a cacao pod motif

Ek Chuah – Dark Chocolate (Chocolate Obscuro) – Named after the Mayan god of Merchants. 50g bar.  Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa powder and soya lecithin.

Aroma – Peanuts, peanut shells, neoprene

Initial / Mid taste – Green beans, almonds, a hint of strawberry in the middle, pancake

Finish – Honey, vanilla

Texture – A little crunchy.  Benefits from first holding it in your cheek to melt it a bit.

 

Xocodiva's Bars

Kukulkan – Dark Chocolate & Cacao Nibs (Chocolate Obscuro Y Granos de Cacao) – Named after the Mayan god of creation.  50g bar. Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa powder, soya lecithin and organic cacao nibs.

Aroma -Honey, cedar, burlap, oak, hay

Initial / Mid taste – Green beans, almonds, peanut, vanilla, cinnamon, oak.

Finish – Nice long finish with caramel, roasted rice, rice crisp, peanut.

Texture – Light on the nibs, but still had a nice crunch.  I could go for more nibs myself.  It seemed that one end of the bar had more than the other.  On the other hand, the nibs were not overpowering, astringent and acidic as they can be if overdone.  They added a nice texture and extra notes of wood and nuts.

Overall, these bars were a little one-dimensional, but not flawed in any way.  Keep in mind, this is not bean-to-bar and doesn’t pretend to be.  They are good, solid bars and probably your best option in PV if you’re craving straight chocolate.   Ah, but then there are those truffles…

Back in our room, my wife and I sampled the truffles.  Here are our combinded impressions:

Tequila– We caught a distinct tequila flavor – not sharp, but definitely present and a nice fit for both the chocolate and our Mexican surroundings.  Combined with the sweetness of the truffle, the flavor was more reminiscent of a tequila liqueur than the biting yellowish liquid that I’ve learned to avoid, well… straight anyway.  I’ve always felt that dry spirts such as scotch are a better match with chocolate than, say, wine, so I wasn’t surprised to find this pairing with tequila to work well.  This one was my favorite.

 

Artisan truffles. Clockwise from the top: Nibs on Dark Chocolate, Cherry and Tequila

Cherry – We tasted little surprise bits of what appears to be Bing cherries mixed throughout the center.  I found the cherry flavor to be underwhelming at first (and these truffles were real fresh), but when I hit a bit of cherry, it all came into focus.  The contrasting texture of the smooth ganache, chewy cherry bits and the harder chocolate shell was a real delight.  This one was Genevieve’s favorite.

Dark Chocolate with Nibs on top –  We first experienced a beautiful, intense chocolate aroma followed by a nice texture in the mouth – the chewy, crunch of the nibs the smoothness of the chocolate below.  Just a hint of astringency and wood that you would expect from the nibs.  Genevieve gave a thumbs up to the complexity – notes of caramel and deep smoky cocoa but found the wood notes a little more dominant than I did.  Perhaps something like the space between aging hardwood split and stacked for the winter.

Speaking of winter, we are back home lamenting that it will be at least a year before we get back to Puerto Vallarta.  In the mean time, I’ll be dreaming of a daily cup of thick drinking chocolate with truffles.

Xocodiva – open 10am to 10pm daily in the romantic zone next to the San Marino Hotel on Rodolfo Gomez 118.  322-113-0352.

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Aequare Fine Chocolates Filled Chocolate Truffles

Aequare Chocolate Truffles

Aequare Chocolate Truffles (L to R): Mocha, Salted Caramel, Blackberry Cobbler, Ecuador, Le Citron

Most often I taste and rate chocolate bars in the morning before I’ve had anything to eat or drink besides water.  This way, I start off fresh with a clean palate.  But this time, it just didn’t seem right to be eating such luxurious little works of art so early in the morning.  It would be like whipping out a bottle of vintage port and pouring a healthy glass at 7:30 AM.  So, I asked my wife to join me on a Friday night and we went through a six-piece assortment of fine filled chocolates together.  Even thought these are closer to European sized truffles (smaller than the gargantuan American standard – usually called bonbons), they were still big enough to cut in half and share.   I’m not providing a numerical rating for these chocolates since they can’t be compared to plain bars, but we did vote for our favorites – and our pick for number one was unanimous.

Aequare Fine Chocolates was created by classically trained American Chef Jeffrey Stern who is now living and making fine chocolates in Quito, Ecuador.  Aequare makes single origin bars and ganache-filled confections in small batches using ingredients sourced almost entirely in Ecuador.  Aequare also follows a fair trade model that provides fair wages for cacao farmers.   Jeff has developed personal relationships with his growers and frequently visits the farms in Los Rios province that produce the beans.  I’ll write more about Aequare’s story when I taste and rate their single origin bars in a later post.

Aequare six piece assorted chocolates

Aequare six piece assorted chocolates

What:  Aequare Fine Chocolates Six Piece Assortment.  Filled single origin chocolate confections from Ecuador.  66g (2.4oz).  Price – about $14.

These were our impressions, in order of tasting.  Next to each name is the description provided by Aequare in the mini-booklet included with each assortment to help you identify each piece.  I took more notes on my own comments than Genevieve’s, so her comments here are more terse.

Ecuador –  Pure 70% single origin ganache with Tahitian vanilla, enrobed in dark chocolate.

Genevieve: Apricot jam notes, rich buttery ganache.

Me: A light buttery fudge texture on the inside, hints of whipped crème.  The chocolate is not as intense as I thought it might be, probably because there is more filling than “shell.”

Mocha – The finest Ecuadorian coffee in a milk chocolate ganache, covered in dark chocolate.

Genevieve: “Oh that’s good.”  Velvety smoothness.  The coffee is not very intense.

Me: The coffee flavor rises up fast and early but is not overwhelming. Very creamy.  Mocha on a buttery, milky backdrop.

Amazon – Dark chocolate ganache with Ishpingo, a unique flavor from the Amazon, and a hint of cinnamon.

Genevieve: Nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, brown sugar.  Not overpowering, silky, round, and luscious.  These flavors were more exotic and Genevieve is real good at picking these things out – she caught the nutmeg notes before I did.  It’s hard to find familiar comparisons to  Ishpingo, but the nutmeg and cardamom comes pretty close.

Me: A very interesting flavor combination.  Ishpingo came through as aromatic nutmeg notes that really paired well with the dark Chocolate.

Salted Caramel – The finest caramel ganache with specks of French fleur d’sel.

Genevieve: If just lick the ganache, you can taste more salt, but if you chew the whole thing, the flavors mix into a fine balance.

Me: A very satisfying combination.  Again, subtle use of salt provides a nice complement to the chocolate. Do you see a trend here?

Blackberry Cobbler – Pure blackberry puree, almond praline, and semi-sweet chocolate enrobed in 70% single origin chocolate.

Genevieve (just enjoying herself despite my seriousness): Wow! What is this?

Me: The acid of the berries was a nice, clean contrast to the chocolate.  The flavoring in the filling was definitely more pronounced in this case, but if you’re expecting blackberries, you want them to come through.  These were made from the real thing as evidenced by the tiny bits of blackberry seeds.

Le Citroen – Meyer Lemon infused semi-sweet chocolate ganache, enrobed in dark chocolate.

Genevieve: Not my favorite combination.  Maybe at this point in the tasting we were blown away by the rest of the chocolates, so whichever one we tasted last was doomed to be judged in the shadow of the previous five.

Me: Not my favorite either.  Something doesn’t work well for me, but the citrus is a nice clean note against the chocolate.  This is a matter of taste, of course, and you may totally love this one.  Enjoyable yes, but it comes in at #6 for both of us.

Overall Impressions:

Me: It seems that Chef Sterm is not at all heavy handed with the flavorings.  Rather, he achieves this subtle balance necessary to let this special single-origin chocolate shine through like a conductor that draws out the flutes and the French horns at just the right volume while making sure the rest of the orchestra doesn’t drown them out.  I think this is critical if you are going to call something “fine” chocolates – you can’t be clumsy with the flavorings or use them to mask inferior chocolate.  Clearly Chef Stern gets this and has only the highest respect for the Arriba chocolate that is the basis for all these confections.

Genevieve: “That’s really *&%^in’ good chocolate!”  The kids are asleep; she can use whatever colorful descriptors she wants!

Here’s our vote for top three:

Genevieve: #1 Amazon, #2 Salted Caramel, #3 Blackberry Cobbler

Me: #1 Amazon,  #2 Blackberry Cobbler, #3 Salted Caramel

Update:  To our  Aequare Fine Chocolates are no longer available.  It was fun while it lasted.

Disclosures:  I paid for these chocolates myself.