Thursday, June 26, 2008

Show Me the Chocolate Part 2 - Askinosie Chocolate

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Patric Chocolate from the Show-Me state of Missouri. I lived briefly in Missouri and it's a fine place full of fine people. Especially considering the horrible flooding they are enduring along the Mississippi, we wish them well. However, I don't generally think of the Show-Me state as a culinary mecca, so I was pleased and surprised to find that there is a second artisinal chocolate maker in the state. (And if there are any more of you, please let me know!)

Askinosie Chocolate is based in Springfield, Missouri (Doh!). Before even tasting the chocolate, my interest was peaked by founder Shawn Askinosie's story. A successful criminal defense lawyer, Askinosie gave up his profession to pursue the making of fine chocolate with an eye toward economic justice and environmentalism.

As a public interest lawyer, I know some criminal defense lawyers, and let me tell you, they do God's work. They defend people who society has cast aside and often prejudged and they often risk the wrath of the public (Askinosie tells of countless death threats). But they are the ones who keep government power in check and tirelessly fight to make our justice system work the way it is supposed to. That being said, it is grueling, tiring work and you can't blame someone for thinking they might rather make chocolate.

Askinosie didn't abandon his ethical commitments when he left the practice of law. Instead, he formed a company that was committed to economic and environmental justice. Askinosie pays higher than Fair Trade Market price for their cacao beans and the farmers who grow their beans receive 10% of net profits, a practice that is quite extraordinary. In addition, he has implemented countless environmentally conscious policies regarding everything from recycling to reducing carbon emissions. People like Askinosie give me hope that global capitalism and economic justice are not mutually exclusive.

On top of all that, Askinosie is extremely open about the production process. For instance, he breaks down the cacao percentage to solids and butter, revealing how much of the cacao count is actually chocolate liquor (what we think of as chocolate), which quite rare. In fact, I can't think of another chocolate maker who openly provides the same breakdown. Secondly, you can actually enter a lot number and see the chronology of any given chocolate bar. Maybe more information then most people want, but impressive nonetheless.

But what about the chocolate? After all, this do-gooderism means little unless the chocolate tastes good.


All Askinosie's chocolates are single origin. They contain only cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. I tried two that they were kind enough to send me.

San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador, 70% (including 2% cocoa butter), $7.50 for a 3 oz. bar.

The hallmark of the Askinosie bars I tried was subtlety. The bars have an understated flavor, less bold than many other chocolates, but no less flavorful.

The San Jose del Tambo is characterized by this subtlety. It has good chocolate flavor, including some fruit tastes (plums, raisins) and a creamy texture. The only flaw I found in it was a slightly bitter finish. Overall, this was a very pleasant bar.

Soconusco, Mexico, Nibble Bar, 75% with cocoa nibs, $8.00 for a 3 oz bar.

Askinosie is particularly proud of his chocolate from the obscure Soconusco region of southern Mexico, near the Guatemalan border. According to Askinosie, they are the first producers in over 100 years to offer chocolate from this region to consumers outside of Mexico.

The Soconusco bar I tried was a nib-covered bar (nibs being the tasty, crunchy crushed hulls of the cacao bean). The bar has a great crunch, with nibs covering the entire bottom of the bar. The flavor was understated, less rich and a bit dull. I think the nibs really make this bar as I was less impressed with the chocolate, which also had a somewhat gritty texture that you can get in high cacao bars.

I liked Askinosie, although I felt it was a bit less refined than neighboring Patric. Still, I appreciate their commitment to quality and ethical production and with a bit of development and experience, I have no doubt that they will continue to improve their very good chocolate. Askinosie chocolates can be purchased on their website.

It's heartening for me to see artisan chocolate being made in Missouri, of all places. The food revolution has truly arrived and, with dedicated producers like Patric and Askinosie, will continue to thrive.

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