Most of us, well, especially women, light up at the mention of chocolate, and with February around the corner, it’s time to start dropping hints or stocking up on gifts for your chocolate-loving valentines.
On Sunday, The Union’s second annual Chocolate Infusion event will feature more than 25 vendors with abundant chocolate tastings both sweet and savory. There will also be four wineries.
And you won’t believe it until you try it, a chocolate stout created by local brewery ol’ Republic.
The fundraiser, which benefits Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, will offer a no-host bar with wine and beer specializing in, you guessed it, chocolate martinis.
Local musician and composer Ludi Hinrichs will provide accompaniment on the piano. A chocolate sonata? Each participant over 21 will receive a free wine glass commemorating the 150th anniversary of The Union.
Actually chocolate/cacao has a fascinating and complex history. Today’s scientists are only beginning to understand its nutrient and energy values.
For the Mayans and other pre-Columbian cultures, cacao was considered a powerful medicine and used for ceremonies and as a valuable trading commodity.
A thick cold, unsweetened drink call xocoatl, meaning bitter water, was seasoned with different spices and even hot chilli peppers. Cortez brought the cocoa beans back to Spain and is credited with the idea of mixing them with sugar, vanilla, cloves and other spices.
The Spanish nobility adored it. Spain managed to keep it a secret from the rest of the Europe for almost 100 years. And, well, we all know how things progressed after that.
The cacao tree grows within a narrow band near the equator from Venezuela and Brazil to Central America. It is a rather delicate shade tree growing under the canopy of much larger trees in the rain forest.
The fruit pods, somewhat football-shaped, ripen into a golden color with multicolored flecks. Inside the pod, enveloped in the white fruit pulp and arranged in five rows are between 20 and 40 precious, almond-shaped cocoa beans.
Like wine, the trees are very susceptible to their ecosystem; the flavor of beans can be influenced by the type of trees growing overhead, the soil conditions and time of harvesting.
Liam Blackmon will have a booth at the Chocolate Infusion event. Two years ago, he created a raw cacao/chocolate drink served at Elixart, a relatively new teahouse in downtown Nevada City.
It was so popular that he and partner Gabriel Mos developed a recipe that they packaged and began selling last summer at the farmers market and other events.
Liam’s inspiration for their company, CaCoCo, came in part from the book “Naked Chocolate” by David Wolfe.
“Most of us think of chocolate as purely an indulgence and a luxury, but when eaten in a less processed form, it is a super food,” commented Blackmon. “More than just rich flavor, it affects concentration, emotional well-being and contains high amounts of bio-available magnesium.”
His company imports spring-fed, heirloom cacao from Ecuador, whereas much of today’s chocolate comes from hybridized African varieties. Information about CaCoCo products and samples of this raw chocolate drink will be available this weekend.
Ned and Debi Russel of Cello Chocolates will return to this year’s event.
They import certified organic, fair trade cacao beans from Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and six other South and Central American countries.
They roast and make their own bars, which are sold locally.
Debi is more enthusiastic than a teenager with a new car — but not just about chocolate itself. Debi is excited about the friends she has made here in the community while learning about the pairing of chocolates with local wines and coffees. They even sell their leftover cacao hulls to the ol’ Republic Brewery, which are then used in making chocolate stout.
Ned, who retired from Ghiradelli in San Francisco before moving here, enjoys the aspect of educating people about the nuances of chocolates. A large company like Ghirardelli blends beans to produce a consistent product.
“Our focus is more on the distinct flavor complexities of beans from each region,” he commented. “There are over 400 flavor compounds in cacao beans. Distinct flavor differences occur from varying the temperature when roasting, fermentation, the sugar and fat content, as well as where and how it was grown.”
Ned also offers informative chocolate classes in private homes.
The Nevada City Truffle Shop, a business located in downtown Nevada City for more than 30 years, will offer samples of their Truffle Tortes made of truffle fillings wedged between two layers of dark Belgian chocolate. Don’t miss this! Your taste buds will stand up and sing!
And, if you want a sweet treat that’s useful too, visit Barry Phillips Sunday. His company, Live Smart 360, will offer samples of quality vitamin and mineral supplements with your chocolate fix. These products are gluten free and diabetic friendly. They also contain Omega 3 and 6 oils from the far northern oceans where the purest oils can be obtained.
The Chocolate Infusion event last year received so many enthusiastic responses from participants that The Union decided to make it an annual event. See you Sunday for an adventure in tasting.
Patti Bess is a freelance writer living in Grass Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.