Dark milk chocolate bars are known for being creamy and accessible to the palate. This fine flavor 63% dark milk chocolate bar from Castronovo, made from rare Criollo and Trinitario cacao beans, stands out from the crowd with its lustrous auburn color and layered notes of caramel crème brûlée, nutty chocolate truffle, fruit, and a tart hint of sour cream. If I had to describe this bar in just one word, I'd call it cosmopolitan.
- Golden Bean Winner 2019 at the Academy of Chocolate, London
- Gold Winner of the International Chocolate Awards World Finals 2016
- Gold Winner of the 2019 & 2016 Academy of Chocolate Awards (London)
The rare cacao beans that comprise this bar grow wild, at high altitudes, along the remote slopes of Colombia's Sierra Nevada coastal mountains. There are no roads here, so the Arhuaco indigenous people harvest the cacao themselves, traversing the steep slopes on the backs of mules, using jute sacks to collect the precious pods. The local people measure the journey in pursuit of cacao not by distance but by how long it takes them to smoke their homemade "tobacco" cigars.
Denise Castronovo (chocolate maker extraordinaire) and a team of chocolate professionals (including a friend and colleague of mine), were granted a rare visit with the Arhuaco people on a trip to Colombia in 2019. Typically El Mamo (the spiritual leader of the Arhuaco) doesn’t meet with strangers so this was a most special honor indeed, indicating the deep trust he has in Denise and those who traveled with her to the place the Arhuacos consider the “heart of the world.”
To learn more about the Arhuaco, watch this video.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Denise Castronovo, the maker of this fine chocolate bar. Denise leads the pack of solo female chocolate makers, a rare breed and a group I love to support. She is the only one among them whose U.S. bean-to-bar company has amassed dozens of awards from the International Chocolate Awards (as well as Academy of Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards). You might expect that a maker as accomplished as Denise has spent a lifetime working in the world of craft chocolate, or at least in the food and pastry industry. Actually, in her former career Denise was an ecologist and preservationist after having studied environmental science and economics in undergrad and graduate school.
Denise had always been a foodie and fine chocolate lover thanks to an aunt who lived in Switzerland and kept her supplied with spectacular chocolate bars that were unavailable in the United States. Those bars, far superior to any chocolate she had ever tasted, made an impact that imprinted on her soul. After a long and successful career dedicated to protecting the environment through mapping technology and spatial analysis, Denise and her husband moved from Massachusetts to Florida, where she decided to approach protection of the environment from a far tastier perspective.
In 2008, Denise bought some cacao nibs from Whole Foods with which to experiment, and began doing research on cacao. She was fascinated by all the different flavor notes and profiles based on genetics and origin. Eventually, in 2013, Denise began to work with fine, heirloom, single origin cacao in earnest, and knew she had found her calling.
Extremely talented and perhaps just a little bit lucky, her first batch of chocolate turned out absolutely delicious, and that kept her motivated to make more. Most craft makers talk about the many mistake batches of “bad” chocolate they had to endure before they honed their skills and turned out something truly special. Denise magically skipped that phase.
For Denise, making bean-to-bar craft chocolate is a way to improve lives and livelihoods of indigenous people. She insists on protecting the rainforests by supporting natural utilization of the land. None of Denise Castronovo’s beans come from manicured cacao plantations that had once been lush rainforests, cut down in the name of profit. All of the cacao beans she uses to make her luscious bars and treats either grow naturally in the wild or come from small, family-owned farms where cacao just happens to be one of their crops.
Denise is an inspired artisan as well as a steward of the land and protector of indigenous communities. Her chocolate is exceptional, and I know you will appreciate the fine flavor of her bars as well as her commitment to nurturing the natural world and its inhabitants.
- Ingredients: Cocoa Beans, Organic Cane Sugar, Whole Milk, Organic Cocoa Butter
- Net Weight: 62 g. / 2.2 oz.
- Country of Origin: USA