Chocolate or vanilla: a difficult choice made easier

Monique A. LeBleu/Courier Choctál’s eight single-origin chocolate and vanilla ice cream flavors displayed for tasting at the 9th Annual LA Chocolate Salon at the Pasadena Convention Center on Saturday, September 26, 2015.

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Within the friendly battle between chocolate and vanilla lovers, single origin ice cream maker Choctál is making it extremely difficult to choose one over the other. But purists in either camp will surely agree that flavor is not lacking in any of the four chocolate and four vanilla varieties that the Pasadena company has put great care and research into.

Choctál’s business partners Michael Leb, Nancy Hytone-Leb and Robert Michero, pooled their expertise in the legal, marketing and food and wine distribution fields over two years ago and ventured to remarket and produce their ice cream with those purists in mind.

The company does not see itself as an ice cream producer, but a “single origin chocolate and vanilla specialist company with two flavors and eight single origins,” said Hytone-Leb.

“The concept of single origin translates as the variation in the flavor profile of each of the vanillas,” further explains Michero. “They differ because of the origin of the bean itself. It is also the same case in the chocolate.”

In the vanilla flavors, Choctál’s regional single origins include the Mexican, Papua New Guinea, Indonesian, and Madagascar. In the chocolate, the flavors are the Costa Rican, Ghana, Dominican and the Kalimantan.

Choctál exhibited their eight single-origin chocolate and vanilla ice cream flavors at the 9th Annual LA Chocolate Salon at the Pasadena Convention Center on Saturday, September 26, 2015.

Attendees filed in and immediately lined up at the Choctál booth, eager to taste. Christy Ottesen, 21 and Hannah Deverich, 21, of Chapman University, Public relations & advertising, enjoyed their share of each.

“I really like the Indonesian Vanilla. It’s so good! It’s like nothing I have ever tasted before, as far as ice cream,” said Ottesen. But then she had the Costa Rican Chocolate, and that became her new favorite.

Notes printed on the top of each cup hint as to what you should expect to taste inside. The Madagascar Vanilla lists “pure bourbon vanilla and flakes of vanilla beans” while the Indonesian Vanilla lists that it’s a “classic bourbon vanilla with luscious, woody, floral notes.”

Each flavor has the exact same base of unrefined natural sugar, milk, cream, salt and emulsifiers that hold it together in the recipe, along with the equal percentage of pure cacao or vanilla bean. The only exception is in the Mexican Vanilla, which has the addition of a trace of cinnamon for that traditional flavor.

With 40 years in the wine-making and distribution business with for Michero Family Wines, partner Michero has the distinguishing palate, and he rolls flavor notes off his tongue like an ice cream sommelier.

“The Tahitian Vanilla finishes with a nutty, almondy texture,” said Michero. “And the Mexican Vanilla finishes with a coconut. I like the Costa Rican chocolate because it finishes with a natural coffee flavor.”

Each flavor tastes unique solely based on the single origin’s qualities. This includes how sweetness is affected, especially where tannins and acidity levels differ between cacao beans, which can bring a tartness to the chocolate.

“The proportion of unrefined sugar is identical in each product,” said Michero. “And yet some will taste a little sweeter than others.”

Once again the connoisseur makes direct comparisons with regard to wine.

“The tannic structure of coffee and in the cacao are very similar,” Michero said. “And vanilla is to chardonnay as cacao or coffee is to a Cabernet, Pinot or red wine varietal in regards to the proportion of the tannic acid.”

Not wishing to impugn blended varieties of chocolate and vanilla makers of ice cream, Michero and Hytone-Leb said the emphasis is in the differences in the origins.

“Not to say that blends are bad,” said Michero. “Wine blends are good. Cocoa blends are good. Coffee blends are good. We’re just trying to focus on a unique flavor profile to each individual bean.”

“Our focus in our concept is to really grow the company as a single origin product,” elaborated Hytone-Leb.

As choices go, any plans to expand toward ice cream scoop shops in the immediate future may have to wait.

“We’ve talked about it,” said Michero. “Maybe we’ll put something together in Pasadena. It’s been on the table. But the fact of the matter it’s a different type of business than what we’re doing right now. But it’s a possibility.”

But as proud parents of a relatively new company, the partners are still quick to show favoritism and choose.

“My favorite vanilla is the Mexican,” said Hytone-Leb. “And the Dominican, which is a very smoky, savory chocolate. I like those particular notes, which is interesting because I am not a dark chocolate person.”

“My favorite vanilla is the Papua New Guinea Vanilla. It’s part of the Tahitian vanilla family. And I really like the hint of cherry that surprises you at the end,” said Leb. “And for the chocolate I really like the Kalimantan. It tastes to me like a caramel truffle melting in your mouth.”

The company may wish to eliminate the words “plain vanilla” from the English language. But with all the choices in Choctál’s origin flavors available, the solution in the end may be simple: have them all.

 

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