Interview with Estelle Tracy of 37 Chocolates with Victoria Cooksey

Note:  This interview first appeared in my original Blogspot blog on 3-2-17.

Estelle Tracy of 37 Chocolates

I’m very excited to bring you this interview with Estelle Tracy of 37 Chocolates.  Estelle is a food writer, a chocolate educator, and so much more.  She is a wonderful supporter of small craft chocolate makers, a valuable resource of chocolate information delivered in an approachable way, and always has encouraging words for people in all aspects of the craft chocolate world.

In 2015 Estelle decided to try 37 US-made craft chocolate bars by her 37th birthday, and the rest is chocolate history.

Victoria Cooksey:  What is your very first memory of eating chocolate?

Estelle Tracy:  Like most French kids in the 1980’s, I grew up eating Kinder eggs and collecting the toys inside. I also liked Milka milk chocolate, which my family would eat watching TV on Saturday nights. My dad would finish the bar and we’d find the empty wrapper on the coffee table the next morning.
V.C.:  After completing your 37 US chocolates by your 37th birthday challenge what were the top 3 unexpected things you learned as part of that adventure?
E.T.:  I knew I did not know much about chocolate but I did not expect there would be so much to learn. For instance, I did not realize most mass-produced chocolate relied on  West African cacao and that child slavery is a common practice on those plantations. I also realized the words “chocolatier” and “chocolate-maker” cannot be used interchangeably: while a chocolatier uses chocolate as an ingredient, a chocolate-maker makes chocolate from cacao beans. But most importantly, I discovered Map Chocolate, a chocolate-maker who made it easy to spend $10 on a chocolate bar.
 V.C.:  How has the chocolate industry changed since you began tasting craft chocolate?

E.T.:  The most exciting part of the past 2 years has been to witness the growth of several small batch makers. Since I discovered them in 2015, LetterPress Chocolate has moved to a bigger production facility. Philadelphia-based Chocolate Alchemist has found  its first stockists all around the area. Map Chocolate is running a crowfunding campaign to purchase new equipment to meet demand for her bars. It’s a great time for craft chocolate in the US.

V.C.:  As you’ve discovered more about the chocolate makers themselves what similarities, or differences have you noticed between them?

E.T.:  A big difference to me is in the texture. Some chocolates are smooth and melt quickly in the mouth, while others like Taza are super gritty. Other bars are smooth but take forever to melt. Some have a nice rounded flavor throughout the tasting while others deliver a burst of intense flavor with a mellow finish. There’s little indication about texture on wrappers which means you have to eat many bars to discover what you like.

V.C.:  How does European chocolates differ from US made ones?

E.T.:  I can’t speak for all European chocolate but the chocolate I eat in France has a very smooth, silky texture. You’ll find most people don’t like chocolate with a gritty texture because it tends to remind them of the cheap chocolate you’d find at the bottom of the shelves at the grocery store.

V.C.:  What makers, or styles of chocolate bars would you recommend consumers start with who are wanting to take the first step into trying craft chocolate?

E.T.:  It really depends on what the person currently enjoys. To someone who likes a milk chocolate, I suggest Patric’s dark milk bar or Map Chocolate’s Nightswimming. If you swear by a bold dark chocolate, give Acalli Chocolate’s bars a try. If you like the idea of dark chocolate better than its taste, try a bar made of Madagascar beans like the one made by Omnom or Twenty-Four Blackbirds and let me know what you think!

V.C.:  Any tips on what to look for on the labeling of a bar?  Any information on labels you would like to see more, or less of?

E.T.:  I like that more and more makers disclose the origin of the cacao they use in their bars. I have grown suspicious of a maker simply listing “cacao” as the main ingredient on a bar because it’s important for me to know where it came from.

I hope makers will stop listing all the steps required to make chocolate (roast-crack-winnow-grind-conche-temper-mold) from the bean because it provides the consumer no information about the resulting taste or the texture of chocolate. When a car maker wants to sell you a car, it does not tell you how it’s made, it tells you how it feels to drive. The same should apply to chocolate. I want makers to tell me on wrappers what eating this chocolate will feel like. And please don’t list tasting notes that are too hard to detect! In my experience, it makes tasters feel like failures when they don’t taste those notes. To them, it’s like a validation they are not worthy of craft chocolate, so they will be less likely to buy it again.

V.C.:  What sparked the transition from trying bars to leading chocolate tasting?

E.T.:  Last summer, my town’s library asked me if I’d be interested in hosting a workshop and I said yes. I’ve hosted two workshops to date and I love seeing people’s reaction when they touch a cacao pod and see an actual cacao bean. This fall, I was also offered to train Philter Coffee’s staff about their craft chocolate offering. We sat around the table, tasted a lot of chocolate, then talked about it, and I realized then how much I had missed the social aspect of chocolate.

V.C.:  After leading a tasting what changes do you see in the attendees opinions on chocolate?

E.T.:  People usually tell me they have a new appreciation of chocolate because they learned so much about it. Most attendees already like dark chocolate and will use my resource sheets to try new bars. I like that I encourage people to make more adventurous chocolate choices.

V.C.:  How does chocolate fit into your plans for 2017?

E.T.:  I want to continue tasting, learning, and educating about chocolate. I am a freelance writer and it’s a treat when I get to write whole articles about my favorite food. After subscribing to ChocoRush’s craft chocolate subscription box (www.chocorush.co) for over a year, I started contributing to their blog in January.

Locally, I’d love to start organizing chocolate tasting with friends, like Megan Giller (www.chocolatenoise.com) does as part of her chocolate underground salons.

V.C.:  What chocolate bars do you currently have in your chocolate stash?

E.T.:  Several Marou bars, a Michel Cluizel sampler pack, three Guatemalan bars by Dulcinea Craft Chocolate, and a Palette de Bine bar… Among many others!I

Thank you Estelle!

To learn more about Estelle Tracy check out:

https://37chocolates.com/

https://www.instagram.com/37chocolates/?hl=en

https://www.instagram.com/estelletracy/?hl=en

https://www.facebook.com/37chocolates

Watch Estelle’s 37 Chocolates review videos here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSQ4-aOepH_jMMj0AFpPRwg

Victoria Cooksey:

https://www.instagram.com/victoria.cooksey/?hl=en

https://www.facebook.com/victoriacookseysrandomdish/

https://twitter.com/VictoriaCRandom

https://www.minds.com/VictoriaCooksey

Watch my chocolate reviews, and cooking videos here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm-lp-lF_wB2oX_592jK9UQ

 

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