The Pig Farmer, Chewbacca and Our Daily Chocolate Habit
We call our daughter The Pig Farmer because she is up and almost painfully chipper at the crack of dawn—ready to feed the pigs (if we had any, which she regularly reminds us we should), devour a multi-course breakfast and basically carpe diem with both hands.
My son, however, is not a morning person. Lately, we call him Chewbacca. Waking up means Wookiee-like groans and grunts from a mop of hair streaming out from under a pillow. There is, however, one thing that will propel him to drag his limp body out of bed: a steaming cup of hot cocoa.
I get it. Not only am I not a morning person, but I am also a firm believer in the goodness of chocolate for breakfast—and for snack and for mealtime too. Just this morning I ate a piece of whole-grain toast with NewTree Belgian chocolate spread and sliced banana. And then I nibbled some Violet Sky chocolate made with single-origin Guatemalan beans. It’s a rare day that I don’t eat a bit of chocolate at least once.
I’m not sure why Americans seem so intent on limiting chocolate to dessert, but I suspect that it has something to do with the massive amounts of sugar that seem to go hand-in-hand with mass-produced chocolate in the United States. Most commercially available hot chocolate is a sugar bomb. And Hershey bars? Don’t get me started.
The good news is that an increasing number of American producers are now making excellent chocolate that isn’t overly sweet and is carefully sourced and crafted—often from organic and fair-trade beans. Our morning cocoa comes from Vermont’s Lake Champlain Chocolates, one of the early proponents of bean-to-bar chocolate in the United States. (They started in 1983—that’s Vermont for you.) For snacking, I look for bars with a high percentage of cacao (the higher the percentage the less sugar)—around 70-80 percent is what the kids and I like best. I also prefer no add-ins. I may be in the minority here, but I want my chocolate to taste like chocolate, not caramel, nuts or bacon. There are some decent brands in supermarkets and gourmet food markets (Equal Exchange’s Organic Very Dark Chocolate bar makes a good everyday snacking bar at a price that won’t keep you from sharing it with the kids—usually under $4 a bar).
But my favorite American-made bars these days come from Askinosie Chocolate (Springfield, Missouri), who feature their farmers right on the labels of their bars (a shout-out to the folks at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan for recommending the fantastic Honduras bar), and Violet Sky Chocolate (South Bend, Indiana), who craft exceptional chocolate right in my home town. (I’ve just written a story for Edible Michiana magazine about Hans Westerink, the founder and chocolate genius behind Violet Sky, and you can read it HERE.)
American craft chocolate is popping up all over the place, which means that when we travel, we now visit the local chocolate maker almost as often as the local brew pub or farmer’s market. This year, we savored Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco and Escazú Artisan Chocolates in Raleigh, North Carolina—both delicious! (Try the goat milk chocolate bar from Escazú!!) And while Chewbacca groans a bit each time I drag him to another vegetable stand, the Wookiee never complains when the destination is chocolate.