Monday, July 16, 2012

Ep.6: The Vosges Knosges

After I dropped Boren off for his flight back, I had a feeling not unlike homesickness. What’s it called? Oh, yeah. Hunger. Luckily I had anticipated this feeling, knowing I would want a taste of Chicago once I arrived in Boston for this extended stay. Though packing a scoop of Black Dog Gelato was not possible, transporting a selection of Vosges Chocolate was.

A taste of home.
While made in Chicago, Vosges is an international presence. In my travels, they are often the American representative at fine chocolate shops. It is a fitting label; the packaging states that the company was founded on the concept, “Travel the world through chocolate.” (It can also be found at Whole Foods stores.) Truly Vosges absorbs the flavors of different cultures, both domestically and abroad, turning the melting pot concept from the figurative into something literal. Which prompts the question: who gets to lick the spoon?

I purchased one of the Vosges Chocolate Libraries, a selection of nine different .5 oz bars, along with a five bars not offered in the sampler. For those unfamiliar with Vosges, they like to mix their rich chocolate with savory ingredients like ancho chiles, wasabi and pink peppercorns. Salty flavors are commonplace, whether bacon, plantains or pink Himalayan salt. This may sound intimidating to some, but in all of these bold decisions Vosges suggests flavors without dominating the simple experience of indulging in fine chocolate. The textures created by the exotic ingredients are just like more run-of-the-mill ingredients in chocolate. Other times, the texture isn’t affected at all, which is jarring when there are nuts in the bar but you cannot feel their crunch or there are goji berries with very little chew. Perhaps I should explain.

Of those I tried, my favorites were the Gingerbread Toffee Bar (65% dark chocolate, seasonal flavor) and Mo’s Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar (62% dark chocolate). The two runners-up were the Woolloomooloo Bar (45% milk chocolate, macadamia, coconut, hempseeds) and the Black Pearl Bar (55% dark chocolate, ginger, wasabi, sesame seeds). In the latter two, the combination of flavors results in an aromatic difference in the overall chocolate, not a sledgehammer of spicy wasabi and ginger, nor a crunch of macadamia or hemp seed. In the Bacon Bar, the bacon adds a crispness similar to what one might find with the chocolate bar with crisped rice puffs or pretzel crumbs, but the flavor is smoky and sweet. And as for the Gingerbread Toffee Bar, the flakes of toffee in the chocolate have a robust sweetness—think molasses—that overpowers the salty undertones, a far more nuanced flavor than the chocolate covered slabs of toffee available at the grocery store. (If Gingerbread Toffee is out of season, Vosges has another bar, Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee, which is a suitable milk chocolate replacement.)

Savoring these chocolate bars over the next weeks made me feel connected with Chicago, even though it was now over a thousand miles away. Though the date of my return to Chicago was uncertain—what ended up being almost a year later—I could only look ahead at all of the trips to Toscanini’s that lay ahead of me in Boston. And they were many.

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