Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Today I am talking about "Crow and Moss" who is a craft chocolate maker based in Petoskey, North Michigan.
They use traditional techniques and high-quality ingredients "to bring out unique and true-to-bean flavor" tasting experiences.
I was very lucky to receive two of their chocolate bars. And let me tell you something, it was love at first BITE.
That`s why I decided to interview this talented couple.
Below you read more about them and discover tasting notes about their gingersnaps and Honduras 'Wampusirpi' bars. You can even check out a photo gallery they kindly shared with me. I hope you enjoy!
Let`s start with the sample bars!
Ingredients: 67% colombian aruaca cacao, sugar*, gingersnaps* (whole wheat flour*, white flour*, molasses*, butter, sugar*, brown sugar*, fresh ginger*, baking soda, spices*, salt*) *organic
Cacao origin: Colombia Aruaca 2018 Harvest. From the Aruaca River Basin on the border with Venezuela, the farm is owned by Elizabeth Agudelo.
They bake their own gingersnaps cookies in house. Then crumble these over the back of the Colombia Aruaca chocolate. The result is lightly crunchy, warm, spicy and sweet. The snap is sharp. The texture is creamy. It delivers a warm-spicy mouthfeeling. Also the scents are sweet and spicy with light fruitness like honeysuckle. The Colombia Aruaco cacao delivers a full round flavor profile: ripe sweet nectarine and nutty finish. What an amazing choice the gingersnaps crumble! They enrich the bar with abundant fresh ginger flavor: peppery, slightly sweet, pungent and spicy.
The only downside of this bar is the powdered crumble mouthfeeling. It creates some kind of dryness effect at the bottom of your throat. So I suggest to taste it with their single origin Colombian Aruaca cacao drinking chocolate. But other than that, this bar makes you happy!
Ingredients: 70% Honduran Wampusirpi cacao beans, organic cane sugar. The cacao beans from this bar come from a remote part of the north-eastern Honduras, accessible only by two day`s journey via canoe. The beans are not organic but they are grown according to traditional farming practices without the use of any chemicals. The farmers received premiums well above market minimums! The bar has a dark brown color. Hard snap. Sweet honey scents. Smooth and buttery texture. Very aromatic and sweet chocolate taste. At first you can detect all the sugary flavors like honey and banana. But the tasting experience rapidly evolves in something unique: mocha like aroma, deep earthy and malty notes and a lot of toasted walnut finish. Clean slightly bitter aftertaste lingering on the tip of your tongue. Be ready to a moist walnut chocolate cake!
It is the time for the best part of this section of my blog: the interview.
These are the questions I asked to Crow & Moss which they kindly answered in a very detailed way.
Who is behind Crow & Moss? My name is Mike Davies, I am a professional baker specializing in viennoiserie and wood-fired pizza while my wife Danielle Charles heads up the graphic design and social media side of things.
When did you start to think to become a craft chocolate maker and why? We were selling our bakery/cafe in northern Michigan, and I was literally driving home from work (just before we actually put our business up for sale) thinking of different business ideas, each one weighing the pros and cons, knocking down each one as the negatives outweighed the positives. Chocolate popped into my head, and within a few seconds I decided to teach myself how to make bean-to-bar chocolate from the ground up in my basement.
Your chocolate bars are made with just two ingredients: cacao and sugar. During the making process, what is the effect of the absence of cocoa butter? The first effect from a maker's standpoint is, not using cocoa butter makes tempering and handling cocoa liquor more difficult, as the viscosity of the liquid will change bean to bean and based on environmental factors that the chocolate maker needs to anticipate, and tweak for. From the chocolate eater's standpoint, if they have never experienced two ingredients chocolate it can be profoundly different than what they are used to. I like to think of the cocoa butter as watering down the flavors of the cacao, when you eat chocolate without it, it hits your palette straight on.
In texture terms, what is the difference between chocolate with or without cocoa butter? Chocolate with cocoa butter will coat the tongue with a smooth film, akin to looking for something through a fog, which can be beneficial when infusing delicate flavors. Whereas 2 ingredient chocolate tends to be a bit more rustic, more in part to the ease of use of melangers for small scale production than anything else.
Can you describe step by step how do you produce each bar and what is the most important part to focus on in order to have an high quality product? The cacao is grown on small farms, ripened, cut, fermented and dried. There are few importers who import heirloom cacao for the craft chocolate makers such as myself, usually storing it in warehouses on the east and west coast. Once the cacao arrives it can be in bags from 50 lbs to 150 lbs and then the fun begins. I work in 100 lb batches, first all the cacao is sorted, looking for foreign particles and imperfect beans which get removed before getting roasted on perforated sheet trays at 270 F for 40 mins. Once cool the beans are cracked, and sent through the winnower which separates the husk from the actual cocoa nibs. Then they go into the melanger for 3-4 days to refine and conche until a smooth cocoa liquor is created and ready to get tempered in the tempering machine and extruded into molds, chilled and turned out as bars.
I noticed you use a lot Colombian Aruaca cacao for your inclusion bars. Why? I used the Colombian because out of all the cacao I had when I started out it was the most neutral, a real middle of the road with a "true chocolate" flavor, it have since moved into blending for the Aruaca with the Dominican Zorzal for my Bolivian Rose Bar, adding some work-ability (the Colombian is by far the most viscous liquor to work with) combined with the fruity notes from the Zorzal. I am very much learning in all areas of chocolate making but choosing which cacao to use for inclusions, is getting easier. For instance I have started using the Honduras Wampusirpi for both my Brazilian Santos Coffee and my newest inclusion Earl Grey Tea bars as, its nutty almost mocha flavor seems to compliment both a coffee on coffee bar and the floral notes from the bergamot in the Earl Grey Tea (whereas I found that using a more fruity cacao combined with the bergamot to amplify it, whereas I was looking for a note that sang out quietly in the background, lingering while never "in-your-face").
What is your favorite bar in your selection? I am sucker for the Bolivian Rose Salt, as in baking a little salt pretty much makes everything a bit better :)
Any future plans or dream? Essentially Crow & Moss is in it's startup year, with 5 months of production behind us so far, I consider many aspects still in the 1.0 stage. While financial considerations are a big factor in improving certain areas, the first stage 2.0 thing that should be complete in early April are fully printed pouches with a more vibrant color palette. The next would be moving towards a universal refiner to decrease the partical size in the bars lending a smoother mouthfeel and experience. Beyond that, improving and growing, adding more unique infusions and eventually creating direct relationships with farms and importing our own cacao once the means are there :).
During this corona virus period, what kind of issues are you facing? Business has slowed to a trickle, and while it is hard I am feeling very grateful to be in a country of privilege where we have such a strong economic infrastructure to weather the storm with. As a young business my overhead is tiny, I don't have to lay off any workers, and while my debts are relatively high, I can't help but think how hard this must be for so many that don't have savings, or some where to go to ask for help, I think it really highlights the shortcomings of our modern age's lack of safety nets and planning for things that aren't "business as usual".
What is your chocolate message to the world?
Embrace high-paid, small-farmed heirloom cacao varieties in all of their nuance and character, and remember and consider the people in the chain of the commodity cacao market, at best making little, at worst working as indentured servants or slaves.