My hero, Shawn Askinosie. He used to be a feared, and fearless, criminal defense lawyer; now is he a fearless chocolate maker, feared by century-old chocolate manufacturers whose quality he has eclipsed.
Long-time readers of napaman.com are probably aware of my vocal, even exuberant, support of Shawn Askinosie, who makes single-origin chocolate bars, or tablets, in his Willy Wonka-like factory in Springfield, MO.
Shawn buys cacao beans directly from farmers who nurture their plants in the Philippines, Tanzania, Mexico, Ecuador and Honduras; this ensures quality but, more importantly to Shawn, this ensures that ALL the money he pays for these organic beans goes to the farmers. Nothing is siphoned off by middlemen, or negociants.
I met Shawn four years ago and immediately fell in love with his chocolate, his work ethic and his story and proclaimed his chocolate “the best tasting in America. Maybe the world.”
Fresh back from Europe a few weeks ago, where I tasted many great chocolates, I haven’t changed my tune. Askinosie is still at the top of the heap.
For one thing, Askinosie is the only chocolate-maker I know who does NOT add vanilla, or vanillin, to flavor his chocolate; he may also be the only producer who does NOT add lecithin, an industry-used emulsifier, which other chocolate-makers add to give their chocolate a satiny, smooth texture.
Shawn doesn’t need to rely on chemistry to achieve greatness. His careful sourcing and his tedious attention to detail at the manufacturing level means he doesn’t have to add lecithin.
For this holiday season, Shawn has gone into cahoots with two of his favorite food suppliers to create two new dark chocolate tablets. He calls these CollarBARation Bars, because he has made them in a collaborative fashion. What works for him, also works for his pals.
CollaBARation Bar #1: Dark Milk Chocolate + Black Licorice
This is the most original chocolate bar I have eaten in a decade. AND I LOVE IT.
Shawn partnered with his Scandinavian distributor Martin Jörgensen. (Yes, Askinosie chocolates are a HUGE hit in Scandinavia! I guess they must find something to temper the taste of reindeer pate.)
As Martin owns a licorice factory called Lakritsfabriken, in Ramlösa, Sweden, Shawn has added Martin’s premium organic licorice (it’s gluten-free!) to his own ethereal dark milk chocolate, made with cacao beans from Davao, Philippines.
I am swooning from the taste of this new creation; the sensual melt of chocolate reveals tiny nibs of delicious, salty licorice, which slowly dissolve on the tongue.
A tweak of fleur de sel sea salt in the bar increases the length of the finish.
There are also tiny anise seeds in the bar, a sort of flavor booster to augment the licorice-ness.
This is one of those food experiences where the sum of the ingredients is 1 + 1 + 1 = 5. So maybe it turns out that Shawn’s not so hot at math, but he sure is one helluva chocolate-maker.
The bar is now available on the Askinosie website (www.askinosie.com) and, if you are reading this column in Sweden, you will find it at the Lakritsfabriken licorice factory in Ramlösa.
The 3-oz (85 g) bar is $10.
But wait, there’s more!
If you are a coffee geek and have been to Los Angeles or Chicago, you doubtless know about one of America’s greatest coffees – Intelligentsia.
As Shawn has such a high regard for the purity and flavor of this coffee firm’s roasts, he has teamed up to make a CollaBARation Bar that is a mixture of dark chocolate from single-origin, organic, Davao, Philippines cacao and organic, single-origin coffee from La Perla de Oaxaca, Mexico.
Talk about intensity of flavor! Here is chocolate from the dark side, so dark, in fact, that it makes Darth Vader look like an albino. Here we have dark chocolate infused with darkly roasted, Mexican coffee.
This somewhat gritty bar has the texture of canvas. It is so intense and dark that if it were a weather system, you’d be preparing for a black funneled tornado.
The press release says to look for “creamy caramel and a crisp citrus acidity.” I don’t share this sentiment and didn’t detect any of these flavors. But I’d still encourage you to get this bar if you need a caffeine, or theobromine, hit and if you love dark chocolate and dark coffee.
Available at www.askinosie.com and Intelligentsia stores in LA and Chicago.
The 3-oz (85 g) bar is $10.