Saturday, February 27, 2016

Alter Eco: Brown Butter

What a wonderful day is today. A morning bike ride in this gorgeous, extended spring weather (I don't get it: February is usually the coldest month here--though there is a 40 degree difference in highs and lows for each day right now). I'm off to see Star Wars again this afternoon. And I have this bar of chocolate to ponder.

I have general good thoughts toward Alter Eco, though I was having trouble remembering the specific taste of any of their bars--until I realized that it's been years since I reviewed them. So I guess it was about time. It was the title of this bar ("Title?" I'm such a book person) that got my attention. Brown butter? For a chocolate bar? That reminds me of Theo's Bread and Butter bar that I reviewed several years ago. I just had to see what this one would be like.

The earthy yellow card box has the right balance of explaining the quality and content of the bar (organic, fair trade, non-GMO, 70% cocoa content) and also enticing you with imagery. Squares of chocolate sit next to partly melted squares of butter until they, too, look like squares of melting butter--until you can imagine them melting also in your mouth. Sweet but also a little salty from the white salt specks that are visible on top.

The actual chocolate (sealed in silver) does not have specks of salt. There are ten thin squares (or rectangles, to be more exact) with a fine texture and "Alter Eco" printed on them (there I go again with the book phrasing--the words were most certainly not printed on the chocolate). The smell is almost creamy, in a rich and lightly sweet sort of way. It reminds me much of Alter Eco's truffles (which I get sometimes by the register at Whole Foods and have been meaning to review but they somehow never last long enough to review--someday, though). So is this going to be like a truffle flattened out into a bar?

Pretty much. Wow, first you get a taste that is unmistakably butter, then the salt hits you, then the chocolate comes into more dominance. And then the salt proceeds to dance around the edges, while the butter forms a warm and melty center flavor and the chocolate holds it all together. I don't entirely understand it. The texture is just one smooth and cohesive melting chocolate: there is no filling or much of a feel of the grains of salt (you can sometimes tell that they're there, but not much: they're tiny and therefore melt quickly). And yet there is so much layered flavor.

The description on the back of the card box is titled "A Bar to Melt Over." It explains that this bar "proves the motto that everything is better with butter." The butter is made from cream sourced from grass-fed, Heritage Swiss cows (in fact, this bar is made in Switzerland, though Alter Eco is based out of San Francisco). And even though I never would have thought to combine butter with chocolate in this particular way, it works completely. Somehow the butter sweetens the dark chocolate and in a more enticing way than sugar does--and without taking away any of the richness. In fact, butter tends to add richness rather than reduce it.

The cocoa, in case you were wondering, is sourced from Ecuador, and the salt is Fleur de Sel de Guerande. And when you open up the box, a little note asks you to read inside about how this bar is restoring the rain forest. I do appreciate when boxes are designed this way: it allows you to get info without having to go on a company's website but it also keeps the outside of the box clear for information about the flavor profile of the chocolate (because if a chocolate doesn't taste good, then it doesn't help much that it's eco-friendly because you're not interested in getting it, anyway).

I'd like to see more flavored bars like this. Essentially it's a very casual chocolate, something you can enjoy when you don't want to sit quietly and think about flavor notes--and it's also quite good. And in a way, it's almost like a substitute for a truffle for those of us who can't get their hands on many truffles. I would put this bar in a category near Theo's Creamy Milk Chocolate, something that I would want to share with people knowing that they would really enjoy it.

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