Q&A: Rebecca Arnold of Whole Heart Provisions
Tableside with a Somm: Branch Line
All it takes is one bite. Bold, decadent and gritty, complex flavors cascade from fruity to nutty to earthy despite a simple list of ingredients. It’s not cloying like Hershey’s. It’s not as harshly bitter as its high-octane counterparts. With one bite, you know: This is not your typical chocolate bar. Indeed, Taza’s chocolate is made in the Mexican stone-ground tradition, using hand-carved granite millstones to grind raw cacao beans into a paste that brings out multilayered flavors.
It all harkens back to founder Alex Whitmore’s trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. For the entrepreneur, it also only took one bite; stone-ground chocolate was more intense than other varieties he’d tasted, and he became fascinated by the intricate process that creates it. Fixated on the idea of producing the confection stateside—and wanting to ensure his chocolate would be as true to its inspiration as possible—he began apprenticing at a Oaxacan molinero (miller), which included hands-on training in carving millstones to grind the cacao.
In 2005 Whitmore and his wife Kathleen launched Taza Chocolate, securing factory space in Somerville shortly thereafter. Aside from importing molinos from Oaxaca City, he traveled through Latin America and the Caribbean to source the highest quality cacao possible. Just in time for Valentine’s Day 2007, the company packaged its first 75-percent stone-ground chocolate bar. Since then, the line has expanded to the delight of sweet-tooths everywhere.
Purists can appreciate the nuances of single-origin bars: The 80-percent dark Dominican Republic, for example, boasts flavors of ripe berries and a smoky finish, while the 77-percent dark Belize is brighter, with stone fruit and toasted nuts on the palate. But creatively combining flavors has also earned Taza recognition. Amaze Bars contain mix-ins (we love the toffee, almond, and sea salt blend). Dark Bark combines crispy puffed quinoa with 80-percent dark chocolate and flavors like peppermint or pumpkin seed. Meanwhile, Taza Mexicano discs are made with 85 percent chocolate and a kick from Guajillo chili, chipotle, and cinnamon. For caffeine fiends, some disks incorporate Counter Culture coffee. The 95-percent Wicked Dark bar is certainly not for the faint of heart; with barely enough sweetness to balance out the bitterness, we suggest pairing it with a glass of tawny port.
From the beginning, Taza has been a direct trade company—that means cocoa beans are bought directly from farmers. A trusted network of cacao growers, all USDA-accredited organic farms that adhere to fair labor practices, spans Mexico, Belize, Ecuador, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. A vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and non-GMO assurance also pleases conscious eaters.
Those curious about chocolate-making can hop on a 45-minute, $8-per-person tour, which includes samples galore. Online reservations are required (and they fill up fast). Afterward, stock up on bars plus limited-edition and seasonal releases at the factory store. And be sure to look out for pop-up collaborations with other local businesses, including Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee, MEM Tea, Boston Bon Bon, and Ava’s Popcorn.
Struck with a craving but can’t make it to the factory? Fret not: The full product line is available at the Taza Chocolate Bar in the Boston Public Market (watch the cacao being ground in stone mills here to concoct specialty dessert drinks). Or swing by Whole Foods, DeLuca’s Market, Bacco’s Wine & Cheese, Savenor’s Market, Patisserie on Newbury, Formaggio Kitchen, Trident Booksellers, Roche Bros., or Siena Farms. Local chefs have also taken to Taza’s chocolate—Oak & Rowan pastry chef Brian Mercury, for example, has been lauded for his Taza Chocolate Crémeux, a dense pudding garnished with brown sugar, granola, and sea salt.