I discovered chocolate last weekend.

Real chocolate. Chocolate like I’ve never even come close to tasting before.

And I want to pull you down with me.

if you follow me on Twitter, you probably hated me all weekend.

(I know this because several of you told me so.)

And that’s okay. I would have hated me, too.

I attended the Third Annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, hence all of the pretty tweets. Last year I attended as well, and had major breakthroughs in my appreciation of fine cheese and local sourcing of food.

But this year. This year was all about the chocolate.

Can you tell the seriousness of my issue yet? It’s bad. Real bad. Like, get a job to support my habit bad.

I road-tripped with my blogger friend Jamie, and the first session we chose was on fine chocolate.

It was taught by Kristen Hard of Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company and Edward Russell of Parish Foods and Goods.

This is where I found out that we’ve all been eating a sham for our entire lives.

You see, chocolate fell victim to the same curse as tomatoes: America was impatient, America wanted it whenever they wanted it, and America genetically modified the seeds to make them grow quicker, more plentiful, and with less work.

And, just like tomatoes, chocolate lost its taste and quality.

But despair not! For there is now a band of chocolate superheroes who are scouring the countries of Venezuela, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and more for the fabled original strains of the Cacao Tree.

(Seriously – Kristen Hand Is basically a chocolate geneticist. She told us the numbers and letters of the exact genetic strain of heirloom cocoa bean that we should all desire, but I didn’t write it down.)

(Which is probably good, since it might bring the Chocolate Mafia down on my head.)

So here’s the deal: Cocoa beans are found inside of (relatively) giant pods on cacao trees.

Cacao Atlanta Coffee Pod

Long ago, these beans were pure white, providing fantastic flavor and purity. But as we modified the genetics, the beans purple, adding a dry bitterness that chocolate was never intended to have, and masking its true essence.

So Kristen, along with other chocolate preservers, are doing amazing things to reinvent the industry. To rediscover lost strains, and to work with South and Central American farmers to understand the value of non-modified beans.

But here’s the deal: the beans are picky. They won’t grow out of their native soil. So once a plant is found, that’s where they have to be cultivated and grown. Kristen shared the story of one chocolatier that spent months doing nothing but scouring the Dominican Republic jungles to find just one Cacao tree with White Cocoa Beans. And he found it – just one. He brought the beans back to the states for genetic testing, then began the process of creating a cacao farm in the DR – but it will take six years for it to produce it’s first harvest.

That, my friends, is a proper chocolate adoration.

So after hearing all of this, they gave us our first taste of True Chocolate – paired, oddly enough, with radishes.

Chocolate and Radish

And it changed my universe.

I thought that I was a chocolate snob before, but my whole world exploded when I took my first bite.

And I knew that I was going to need a new budget item for True Chocolate.

The flavor, the richness, the experience – it’s indescribable. If you have a chocolatier in your city, you need to quit reading right now and go visit them.

As soon as the festival tasting tents opened, I was ready to find more.

There were two artisan chocolatiers that I immediately fell in love with – Chocolate South from Atlanta, and French Broad Chocolates from Asheville.

Chocolate South had beautiful chocolates with delicate flavors and lovely patterns, including the Georgia Peach and Mississippi Mud:

Chocolate South Truffles 2

And French Broad Chocolates had…the most amazing (and beautiful) truffles that I’ve ever put into my mouth.

French Broad Chocolate Counter 2

Dan and Jael of French Broad were so fantastic that they sent us back to our room with the best gift ever:

French Broad Chocolate Box

But those didn’t last long. And I couldn’t stop my chocolate neediness. So after the festival activities were over for the day, Jamie and I tracked down one of Cacao Atlanta’s cafes for more.

Cacao Atlanta Virginia Highlands

I cannot tell you how much it hurts me to know that Atlanta has artisan chocolate shops that stay open until TEN AT NIGHT. And French Broad’s Chocolate Lounge in Asheville stays open until midnight!

If we had this luxury in Birmingham, every date that Chris and I ever had would end at a chocolate shop.

At Cacao, Jamie and I drooled over (but not in) the Choco 77.

Choco 77Photo by Jamie and her Rabbits

We stared lovingly at the truffles.

Cacao Atlanta Truffle Selection

Even the bathroom was educational.

Cacao Atlanta Photos

And I bought a bunch of artisan chocolate bars – “To take home to Chris.”

Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Bars

(In the interest of full disclosure, we have eaten one bar per night since I returned home, each split between the two of us.)

(I have a good husband.)

And so now I find myself. In a deep neediness for true chocolate, but with no local way (that I have found) to satiate my needs.

I begged Dan of French Broad Chocolates to open a Birmingham Branch.

French Broad Chocolate Dan Rattigan

I repeatedly tweeted Cacao Atlanta, telling them that Birmingham could not live without them.

Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Bars 2

But alas, good chocolate takes time – years, in fact.

As does, I suppose, getting such a thing in every deserving city.

In the meantime, I may be getting a lot of refrigerated boxes delivered to my house, because it only takes one hit to become hopelessly addicted.

26 thoughts on “The Slippery Slope into Chocoholism.

  1. Cacao offers private chocolate making classes! I went to one with a group of friends for a birthday celebration. They showed us around the workroom and we got to create our own chocolate creations by adding different ingredients like fruits, nuts, and their amazing homemade marshmallow. It was so delicious and fun!

    1. You’ve sealed the deal. We typically celebrate my birthday in Atlanta anyway, and now we’ll have an activity to go along with a weekend date.

      Now if October would only hurry up and get here…

  2. Wow, those chocolates ARE pretty! I rarely say this out loud but I’m not a huge chocolate fan! It seems like a disgrace to our gender to say that, but its true. Maybe I could somehow tell I’ve been fed the over-processed, genetically-modified stuff. Maybe if I tasted “real” chocolate I would tell a different story. And maybe I shouldn’t try the good stuff, or I might get hooked too!

    1. Maybe so! The good stuff is much darker than milk chocolate, so it was an easy transition to me because I like dark chocolate. But if dark chocolate is even worse to you, then it may not work.

  3. Of all the days to be consuming a very stale chocolate-flavored calcium chew as I read your blog. I think I will try to swallow now. Wish me luck.

    The pairing of chocolate with radish is intrigueing… Beautiful presentation!

  4. I love and crave dark chocolate, after many years of only eating milk chocolate (which now tastes fake to me). So I am very intrigued about this pure chocolate. Sounds delish!

    1. You would love good chocolate then, because it has a much darker tone than milk chocolate, but it’s smoother and less chalky than “regular” dark chocolate.

  5. I love your advocacy work (<<that makes it sound so noble) for a real chocolatier in Birmingham! I'm ALL for it!!!

  6. I grew up in Belgium & one of my favourite memories is visiting the chocolate factory near us!

    The owner started his chocolate making in his garage. He used to dip a giant spoon into the vat & let us lick it. He’d say he was like Popeye, except HIS muscles came from chocolate. That was wonderful stuff (I do not terribly like the “chocolate” I’ve had then. Has to be at least semi sweet to be edible!

    It was really neat to see how they made the chocolates. Wish I could go visit again!

    1. That sounds perfectly dreamy! You make me want to visit Belgium…except that I watched Anthony Bourdain’s show on Congo last night, so I’m also having very negative feelings toward a certain Belgian King in the early 20th century…

  7. I rarely eat chocolate because it gives me migraines. But over the years I have been figuring out that it is the cheaper chocolate that triggers the migraines. And then I read a news story about most people that have an allergy to chocolate, actually have an allergy to the *cockroach* pieces and parts that end up in the chocolate. Yes, I said cockroach. Blech! So now, I have found that the more premium chocolate does not affect me. I could very easily become addicted to this premium delectable chocolate that you describe. I second the giveaway idea!

  8. Wow… if I had known about this while we lived in metro Atlanta, I would have been in trouble! I shall have to see what we have here in Boston or Portland. If I find anything, perhaps a business trip for you?!

  9. Still have 916 posts to go in my Reader before I’m caught up, including probably some more of yours. But yes, I was TOTALLY jealous of all the chocolate you consumed that weekend. Totally. It nearly killed me.

    1. I’m sorry. I did and do feel sorry about that. Perhaps I need to put you together a chocolate gift basket. When is your birthday?? :-)

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