Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Nibble Chocolate: Sweet Single Origin Bars in San Diego

San Diego has a newcomer to the handcrafted chocolate scene: Nibble Chocolate, run by Colombia natives Sandra Bedoya and her husband David Mejía.

When Sandra and David moved to the U.S. 16 years ago making chocolate wasn't on their radar. Nor was it when they relocated from North Carolina to San Diego just over a year ago. After all David is a brand manager for a North Carolina wine broker and Sandra is an accountant.

But the couple have been trying to become more health conscious and in changing their diet gave up meat and dairy. But what do you do when you still love chocolate and have a hard time finding a chocolate that has more cocoa than chemicals or other additives, like soy lecithin, vanillin, and non-fat milk? That piqued their interest and they started researching all things chocolate.

"We realized how unattended this market was," says Sandra. "We also loved that it was so similar to wine. And that's how we started this project."

The couple decided to start their business making single-origin bars with as few ingredients as possible. The first step, however, was education. Not only did they read everything they could put their hands on, they got certifications at the Ecole Chocolat. And, Sandra, explained, there was a lot of trial and error--with beans, with technique. After extensive tasting they settled on four origins for their beans: Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar. And within those beans they came up with three cacao percentages: 62, 72, and 77. The ingredients? Just cacao beans and organic cane sugar. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

Of course, the buying of the beans gets complicated. Their goal was to get organic, fair trade beans. And beans from their home country. But trading practices in each country vary--and for a small start-up it's even more difficult to buy small amounts of beans. They're still working on getting Colombian beans, but for now all of their beans but the Venezuelan are organic. The Peruvian beans are, in fact, fair trade. The Dominican Republic beans are direct trade. And the Venezuelan beans are ethically and sustainably traded.

With the bean strategy set, they launched Nibble Chocolate a mere four months ago in their La Jolla kitchen. They've since moved into their own commercial kitchen in Sorrento Valley.

The process of converting the beans into bars is simple but time consuming. The beans come to the couple already fermented. They then roast the beans before embarking on the winnowing process, in which a machine breaks down the beans into nibs (which they are considering selling). From there, they put the nibs in a stone grinder for several days and then a refining machine. They add the sugar--another day's effort--and then the mixture is tempered, poured into bar molds, and packaged.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

While traveling to the various countries where they purchase their beans, the couple learned how to make a local Dominican Republic confection, bolas de cacao. Again, it's a simple if labor-intensive process--grinding nibs together with sugar. Here's David learning to make this from local farmers.

photos courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

With their wine expertise, it wasn't difficult for the couple to develop tasting notes for each of the single origin bars they create. Like wine and coffee, terroir adds to the distinctive flavors of each bean. So, you'll find that the Peruvian bars have a smokey flavor with notes of nuts, dried fruit and malt. Think dried cranberries in the fall.

The Dominican Republic bars are noted as being rich and earthy, and reminiscent of coffee. I actually found the flavor to be brighter.

The Madagascar bars are fruity--with plum, citrus, and raspberry notes. There's a hint of spice and earthiness. And I find a bit of tartness in each bite--or nibble.

Finally, there's the Venezuelan bar. The flavor description for these bars is soft fruity, strawberry, with delicate nuts and coffee notes. I also got soft raisin in my bites.

Regardless of the country of origin or the cacao percentage, the tempered chocolate has a gentle, full-bodied mouth feel to it in each bite.

The couple is now working on truffle recipes in different flavors.

You can find Nibble Chocolate at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, the Little Italy Mercato, and the Hillcrest and North Park farmers markets. The bars are $6 each or $20 for a flight of four.

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