October 28 is National Chocolate Day in the US. It's pretty timely with one of the biggest holiday for chocolate just 3 days later. Since I've been participating in Unprocessed October I've tried to stay away from the Halloween candy the boy purchased as it is about as far from unprocessed as you can get. I did make an exception though for some of the delicious chocolates from Laughing Moon Chocolates. Back in August when the boy and I went to an Outstanding in the Field dinner at Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, VT we were fortunate to be sitting at a table with Leigh Williams of Laughing Moon Chocolate, an adorable artisinal chocolate shop in the heart of ski country, Stowe, VT. We weren't able to visit the shop as we were only in town for the dinner (though we drove by early in the morning on our way out of town and I did peek in the window), but Leigh sent me some goodies to try*.
I love chocolate, so that was my primary reason for wanting to try Laughin Moon's, but I was really struck by listening to Leigh talk about how she strives to use ingredients that can be locally sourced. Obviously cacao doesn't grow in Vermont, but everything from the butter and milk to the oreos she dips in fudge, which she contracted a local baker to make, is sourced locally. Leigh goes above and beyond to support her community and buy local. Her passion is for handmade chocolates which also makes them so special. I mean how gorgeous are their signature chocolate bars?!
I was sent four Signature chocolate bars and a 1/2 pound box of Assorted Handmade Chocolates. I opened the assorted box first on the off chance that there were some of the amazing sounding Bayley Hazen Blue truffles in it or maybe one of the boozy truffles. If you don't know what Bayley Hazen Blue is, go to the Jasper Hill Farm website and see if you can buy it nearby. If not, go to your local cheesemonger and tell them they have to bring it for you. It is an amazingly special blue cheese, so special that they have to make it 7 days a week to keep up with demand! But this post isn't about Jasper Hill, it's about Laughing Moon. In Leigh's quest to use local ingredients she came up with a handmade chocolate truffle using the Bayley Hazen Blue. I love chocolate and I love blue cheese and really how special and amazing does pairing them together sound? But alas, there was no Bayley Hazen Truffle. I'll just have to order some for myself. The Assorted box is full of all kinds of delicious chocolates but my favorite was a deliciously perfect piece of toffee with milk chocolate.
I then moved onto to the Signature Chocolate Bars, not that the rest of the assorted box wasn't great, but I love dark chocolate and Leigh sent along some really interesting sounding flavors: Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Black Pepper, Dark Chocolate with Hot Smoked Paprika, Dark Chocolate with Peppermint and Dark Chocolate with Cardamom. Where was a girl to start?
I decided to dive in with something familiar, I love chocolate and peppermint. I always make chocolate mint squares at Christmas and love spiking homemade hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, so I broke of a piece and tried it. All of a sudden I was 10 years old sitting in my parents kitchen stirring a piping hot mug of hot chocolate with a candy cane, sipping the chocolately minty goodness hoping to get a glimpse of the teddy bear at the bottom of my mug. Now back then there were four of us kids, so the cocoa was Swiss Miss which we all loved and the candy canes were from the 99 cent boxes we got for the tree, it wasn't fancy but it was perfect. This candy bar is the grown up version of powdered cocoa mix and candy canes. Leigh has elevated that sense memory into something so much more special. You are immediately hit with the freshness of peppermint and then finish off with the deliciously bittersweet chocolate. It so good and I think would be amazing broken up and used as chocolate chunks in cookies.
I moved on to the Dark Chocolate with Cardamom next. It says right on it that it's meant to be paired with red wine and who I am to argue that? Now my preference to pair with Dark Chocolate is Shoestring Syrah out of the Santa Ynez Valley, which couldn't not be more perfect with chocolate, but alas they don't ship to TO so I went with a red I had on hand, Malivoire Gamay. A nice local red, that I enjoy and actually seemed right to drink with these chocolates as Laughing Moon's focus is all about supporting local. I first took a bite of the bar on it's own and if I'm honest didn't really get that sweet spice of the cardamom. So I took a sip of red wine and another bite and there it was, that sweet spicy cardamom flavor really stood out against the wine and was so nice. I can imagine this being a perfect way to finish a big meal, just a few bites of chocolate with a nice glass of red. I'm going to try to hang on to what left of this one for the next time we have people over for dinner. I'm not sure it will last though.
Next up was the Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Black Pepper. Most of us have had Salted Caramel and if you haven't I recommend heading out to your local Starbucks for a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, so tasty. But on to the chocolate bar. Salty and sweet are much like spicy and sweet for me, so much so that I often use coarse sea salt in my baked goods because I love that crunch of the salt intermingled with sweetness. That's what this par was, you see the salt on the back of the bar and taste instantly on the first bite it then mixes with the chocolate flavor and finishes with the slightest hit of fresh cracked black pepper. Delicious!
I finished with the Dark Chocolate with Hot Smoked Paprika. In case you didn't already know, I love sweet with heat. Well, this chocolate bar is a near perfect pairing of sweet with heat in my book. Upon that first bite you taste chocolate, which is to be expected, but I sat there for a moment almost disappointed because I didn't get any heat. How silly for me to judge it so quickly! All of a sudden I tasted smoke and then felt a slow mellow burn at the back of my tongue. My ideal kind of heat, not the in your face heat of a jalapeno or a habanero, but that heat that finishes a bite in a pleasantly mellow way. I love that she used the Hot Smoked Paprika as it is such a unique heat and not one I've ever seen with chocolate. Usually it's chipotle or Mexican Chili, both of which are good, but the paprika was a refreshing change.
These are some seriously special chocolate bars. I love that each one has it's own distinct flavor profile and taste experience. I can't wait until I am next in Northern Vermont as a stop at Laughing Moon is so on the agenda. I want to see it from the inside not just a peek in the window and maybe I'll even see if Leigh will let me into the back to make some chocolate. I'm hoping we can make it work over the holidays. I got a sense from speaking with Leigh that she is doing something special there, and now I'm certain of it. Happy National Chocolate Day, I truly hope that you were able to enjoy something as special as this and if not, head on over to the Laughing Moon website and order some of these delicious handmade chocolates. Next on the agenda for me are some of the amazing sounding truffles!
* The chocolates were sent to me free of charge to taste and review. All opinions are my own and were not influenced by Laughing Moon Chocolates in any way.