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Most people know that Valentine's Day falls on February 14th and that it's a great excuse to buy chocolates. Some say its origins began in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a boozy pagan fertility rite, but its long, illustrious history can be firmly traced back to around 496 AD, when it was a religious – not romantic! – celebration of St. Valentine and an occasion for feasting.

Valentine's Day became associated with the concept of "courtly love" in the High Middle Ages, when chivalrous knights would profess their love with noble deeds and gestures in order to win the affection of a maiden. By the 18th Century, Valentine's Day had evolved into something more closely resembling the romantic holiday we celebrate today, replete with lovers exchanging gifts of sweets and flowers, as well as the eponymous cards known as valentines.

During the Victorian era, enterprising British chocolatier Richard Cadbury saw a great opportunity to sell prettily-decorated boxes of chocolate as Valentine's Day gifts that could be used to store romantic mementos long after the candy was eaten. Around the same time, preprinted greeting cards gained popularity, and in 1913, Hallmark began mass-producing valentines.

Nowadays, Valentine's Day isn't just for lovers. Parents buy Valentine's Day gifts and cards for their kids and vice versa, kids buy them for classmates, single friends buy them for each other... Some people even hold anti-Valentine's Day parties to vent about the holiday, or Galentine's Day get-togethers to celebrate the women in their lives.

Whatever your feelings are about Valentine's Day, a gift of Cocoa Dolce chocolate is always appropriate!

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FROM THE ANCIENT MAYANS

The history of chocolate begins over 2,600 years ago in Central America. The ancient Mayan Indians are the first known consumers of chocolate. Images of cocoa pods were carved into the walls of their temples, and ancient Mayan writings refer to cacao as "food of the gods." It was the Mayans who first created a beverage from crushed cacao beans which was enjoyed by royalty and shared at sacred ceremonies. The Mayans established the earliest known cacao plantations in the Yucatan. But many historians believe that chocolate may be even older, dating back to the Olmec civilization, which predates the Mayans.

By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Aztecs were an advanced and powerful civilization located in what is now central Mexico. Chocolate's importance to the Aztec empire is also clearly recorded. The Aztecs called the prized drink they made from cocoa beans "chocolatl," which means "warm liquid." Like the earlier Mayans, the Aztecs drank the unsweetened beverage during special ceremonies. Montezuma II, a royal monarch of the Aztecs, maintained great storehouses filled with cocoa beans and reportedly consumed 50 or more portions of chocolatl daily from a golden goblet. The frothy beverage, which was sometimes made with water, and sometimes with wine, could be seasoned with vanilla, pimento, and chili pepper. It was thought to cure diarrhea and dysentery, and was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Cortez was said to have tried the beverage, but found it too bitter. He did, however, write to King Carlos I of Spain, calling "xocoatl" a "drink that builds up resistance and fights fatigue."

Cocoa beans, however, were not only consumed. They were also used as a form of currency. According to records of the time, a rabbit could be purchased for four cocoa beans. In Mexican picture scripts, a basket with 8,000 beans represents the figure 8,000.

Europe was first introduced to the primary ingredient in chocolate when Christopher Columbus brought a handful of dark, almond-shaped beans back to Spain from his 1502 voyage. Among the many strange objects that Columbus presented to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, these cocoa beans from Nicaragua seemed the least promising. Columbus, who was still searching for the sea route to India, was not interested in the cocoa. And the King and Queen never dreamed how important cocoa beans would become. It would be Hernando Cortez, the Spanish explorer, to grasp the commercial possibilities of cocoa beans.

Mistakenly believed to be the reincarnation of the former Aztec god-king, Hernando Cortez was able to infiltrate the Aztecs, overpower them and within three years, bring about the fall of the Aztec empire. It was during this time that Cortez realized the economic potential for cocoa beans. He experimented with chocolatl, adding cane sugar to make it more agreeable to Spanish tastes. He also established additional cacao plantings in the Caribbean region before returning to Spain with the first cocoa and the utensils necessary for preparation of the beans.

Back in Spain, Cortez' version of Chocolatl became a favorite of the wealthy and continued to undergo flavor refinements. Newly discovered spices such as cinnamon and vanilla were added to the drink. Finally, someone determined the drink would taste better hot, which quickly won followers among the Spanish aristocracy. Seeing the growing economic potential for cocoa beans, Spain planted more cacao trees overseas in Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Jamaica to insure an ample supply of cocoa beans. Remarkably, the Spanish were able to keep their cocoa cultivation and creation of cocoa drinks a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly one hundred years.

The first cocoa processing plant was established in Spain in 1580. In 1615, the Spanish princess Anna of Austria married Louis XIII and introduced, amongst other Spanish customs, the drinking of chocolate to the French court. It did not take long before chocolate was acclaimed throughout Europe as a delicious, health-giving drink. Chocolate drinking spread across the English Channel and to Great Britain, and in 1657 London the first chocolate shop was opened. As other countries challenged Spain's monopoly on cacao, chocolate became more widely available. Soon the French, English, and Dutch were cultivating cacao in their colonies in the Caribbean, and later, elsewhere in the world. With more production came lower prices, and soon the masses in Europe and the Americas were enjoying chocolate. For many people, however, the expanded production of cacao in the New World meant slavery. Cacao production relied heavily on the forced labor of Native Americans and imported African slaves.

As cacao became more commonly available, people began experimenting with new ways of using it. But it wasn't until 1828 that the "modern era" of chocolate making and production began. In 1828, Dutch chocolate maker Conrad J. van Houten patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cacao beans. This not only helped reduce prices even further, but more importantly improved the quality of the chocolate by squeezing out about half of the cocoa butter. This created a "cake" that could be pulverized into a fine powder known as "cocoa." From then on, chocolate drinks had more of the smooth consistency and the recognizable flavor of those enjoyed today.

The introduction of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks much easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter to create a solid. The 19th Century saw two revolutionary developments in the history of chocolate. In 1849, English chocolate maker Joseph Storrs Fry combined melted cocoa butter, sugar and cocoa powder to produce what was arguably the world's first eating chocolate. The second development occurred in 1876 in Switzerland when Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, had the idea of using milk to make a new kind of chocolate, milk chocolate.

In the U.S., the production of chocolate proceeded more quickly than anywhere else in the world. In 1765, the first chocolate factory was established. During WWII, the U.S. government recognized chocolate's role as nourishment and morale for the Allied Forces. Today, the U.S. Army's Ready to Eat Meal contains chocolate bars and chocolate candies, and chocolate has been taken into space as part of the diet of U.S. astronauts.


The job of picking ripe cacao pods is not an easy one. The tree is so frail and its roots are so shallow that pickers cannot risk injuring it by climbing in it to reach the highest pods. It requires experience and training to know which fruit is ripe and ready to be picked. Ripe pods are found on trees at all times, since the growing season in the tropics is continuous. Gatherers follow the harvesters who have removed the ripe pods from the trees. The pods are collected and transported to the edge of a field where the pod breaking operation begins. One or two lengthwise blows from a well-wielded machete are usually enough to split open the woody shells. A good breaker can open 500 pods an hour. A great deal of patience is required to complete harvesting. Anywhere from 20 to 50 cream-colored beans are scooped from a typical pod and the husk and inner membrane are discarded. Dried beans from an average pod weigh less than two ounces, and approximately 400 beans are required to make one pound of chocolate.

DRYING

The cocoa beans or seeds are then either removed from the pods and put into boxes or thrown on heaps and covered. Around the beans is a layer of pulp that starts to heat up and ferment. Fermentation lasts from three to nine days and serves to remove the raw bitter taste of cocoa and to develop precursors and components that are characteristic of chocolate flavor. This process generates temperatures as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit, which kill the germ of the bean and activate existing enzymes in the beans to form compounds that produce the chocolate flavor when the beans are roasted. The result is a fully developed bean with a rich brown color, a sign that the cocoa is now ready for drying. Like any moisture-filled fruit, the beans must be dried to preserve them. In some countries, drying is accomplished simply by laying the beans on trays or bamboo matting and leaving them to sit in the sun. When moist climate conditions interfere with sun-drying, artificial methods are used. For example, the beans can be carried indoors and dried by hot-air pipes. With favorable weather the drying process usually takes several days. In this interval, farmers turn the beans frequently and use the opportunity to pick them over for foreign matter and flat, broken or germinated beans. During drying, beans lose nearly all their moisture and more than half their weight. When the beans are dried, they are prepared for shipping in 130 to 200 pound sacks. They are seldom stored except at shipping centers, where they await inspection by buyers.

SCIENCE AND ART

We now come to the remarkable art of chocolate making, a process that is comparable with the skill and finesse of the world's greatest chefs. The manufacturing process requires much time and painstaking care. Just to make an individual-sized chocolate bar, for instance, takes from two to four days or more. In a factory, the beans are washed and sorted. When thoroughly clean, the beans are weighed and blended according to a company's particular specifications. These formulas are based on experience and desirability. In the science of chocolate making, much depends on the ability to achieve the right formula for the desired end product. To bring out the characteristic chocolate aroma, the beans are roasted in large rotary cylinders. Depending upon the variety of the beans and the desired end result, the roasting lasts from 30 minutes to two hours at temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. As the beans turn over and over, their moisture content drops, their color changes to a rich brown, and the characteristic aroma of chocolate becomes evident. Next they are de-hulled by a "nibber" machine that also removes the germ. The nibs, which contain about 53 percent cocoa butter, are sent to the mills, where they are ground between three sets of stones until they emerge as a thick creamy paste commercially known as chocolate liquor. The term liquor does not refer to alcohol, it simply means liquid. When the liquid is poured into molds and allowed to solidify, the resulting cakes are unsweetened or bitter chocolate. Up to this point, the manufacturing of cocoa and chocolate is identical. The process now diverges, but there is an important interconnection to be noted. The by-product of cocoa shortly becomes an essential component of chocolate. That component is the unique vegetable fat, cocoa butter, which forms about 25 percent of the weight of most chocolate bars.

HOW TO MAKE CHOCOLATE POWDER

The chocolate liquor, destined to become a cup of cocoa, is pumped into giant hydraulic presses weighing up to 25 tons, where pressure is applied to remove the desired cocoa butter. The fat drains away as a yellow liquid. It is then collected for use in chocolate manufacturing. The pressed cake that is left after the removal of cocoa butter can be cooled pulverized and sifted into cocoa powder. Cocoa that is packaged for sale to grocery stores or put into bulk for use as a flavor by dairies, bakeries, and confectionery manufacturers, may have 10 percent or more cocoa butter content. "Breakfast cocoa," a less common type, must contain at least 22 percent cocoa butter. In the so-called "Dutch" process, the manufacturer treats the cocoa with an alkali to develop a slightly different flavor and give the cocoa a darker appearance characteristic of the Dutch type. The alkali acts as a processing agent rather than as a flavor ingredient.

HOW TO MAKE EATING CHOCOLATE

While cocoa is made by removing some of the cocoa butter, eating chocolate is made by adding it. This holds true of all eating chocolate, whether it is dark, bittersweet, or milk chocolate. Besides enhancing the flavor, the added cocoa butter serves to make the chocolate more fluid. The finest dark chocolate couvertures contain at least 70 percent cocoa (solids) whereas milk chocolate usually contains up to 50 percent. High quality white chocolate couvertures contain only about 33 percent cocoa. Inferior and mass produced chocolate contains much less cocoa (as low as 7 percent in many cases) and fats other than cocoa butter. Whatever ingredients are used, the mixture then travels through a series of heavy rollers set one atop the other. Under the grinding that takes place here, the mixture is refined to a smooth paste ready for "conching."

WHAT IS CONCHING?

Conching is a flavor development process which puts the chocolate through a "kneading" action and takes its name from the shell-like shape of the containers originally employed. The "conches," as the machines are called, are equipped with heavy rollers that plow back and forth through the chocolate mass anywhere from a few hours to several days. Under regulated speeds, these rollers can produce different degrees of agitation and aeration in developing and modifying the chocolate flavors. In some manufacturing setups, there is an emulsifying operation that either takes the place of conching or else supplements it. This operation is carried out by a machine that works like an eggbeater to break up sugar crystals and other particles in the chocolate mixture to give it a fine, velvety smoothness. After the emulsifying or conching machines, the mixture goes through a tempering interval-heating, cooling and reheating-and then at last into molds to be formed into the shape of the complete product. The molds take a variety of shapes and sizes, from the popular individual-size bars available to consumers to a ten-pound block used by confectionery manufacturers.

While flavor is the most important aspect to chocolate, there are a number of factors contributing to how people perceive and articulate flavor. Although there is a scientific foundation to the process of taste, how a person perceives flavor depends on a number of non-scientific variables such as: childhood exposures to flavors, ethnic origin, physiological reaction to flavors, range of flavor experience.

So how do you taste chocolate? Here are some suggestions:

LOOK
First, use your eyes to judge the appearance: Take a look at your chocolate. What does it look like? Is it glossy, shiny, dull, gray, have cracks? A fine, well-tempered chocolate should have a shiny finish if it has been molded and a satin finish if it has been dipped. What color is it? Chocolate can range from deep brown to reddish brown. Color depends on the origin of the cocoa beans and how they were roasted.

TOUCH
Break off a piece of the chocolate. You should hear a distinctive snap. This is the sound of a well-tempered chocolate. Also, hold a piece of the chocolate between your fingers and notice how quickly it melts. Rub your fingers together to test its smoothness. Cocoa butter melts more quickly than sugar, so the higher the proportion of cocoa butter, the more quickly it will melt.

SMELL
Lift your fingers with the melted chocolate to your nose. It should smell like chocolate with no off odors. Fine chocolate can have floral, fruity or caramel aromas and some chocolatiers use similar language as wine tasters to describe the aromas.

TASTE
Place a small piece of chocolate on your tongue and let it slowly melt. Once it has melted, run your tongue around your mouth to get the full mouth feel of the texture of the chocolate, it should be smooth and velvety. Fine chocolate will be smooth while cheap chocolate will feel gritty.

Cocoa liquor flavors naturally include:

  • Nuttiness/sweet (cashew) or bitter (burnt almond)
  • Acidity: Present in all chocolates in differing amounts and keeps the flavor from being flat
  • Fruitiness: can range from citrus to berry to dried fruit (raisin)
  • Floral: usually close to jasmine or roses
  • Bitterness: this is an integral part of chocolate flavor, but how it is balanced with sugar and spices is the mark of a great chocolate

THE FINISH
There should not be a greasy or waxy film left in your mouth after you swallow. You should only have a lingering flavor in your mouth. Flavor that lingers for a while in your mouth indicates that the chocolate has a long finish.

NOTE: Most experts recommend room temperature water as the best palate cleanser between tastings– still or fizzy water will work.
If you are getting a little confused and you are finding if difficult to differentiate aromas, try smelling a cup of freshly brewed coffee to clear your nose between tastings.

Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Our gourmet chocolates are made of the freshest ingredients, without preservatives of any kind.

For an optimum taste experience, store these chocolates in a cool, dry place (66 to 76 Degrees Fahrenheit), avoid refrigeration and serve at room temperature. Chocolate should be stored away from other foods, as chocolates can absorb different aromas.

We recommend that Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates be consumed within four weeks of purchase, unless otherwise noted.
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Chocolate Assortments
The Mayan

The Mayan

54% bittersweet ganache infused with vanilla, Cassia cinnamon, honey and ancho chili

Classic

Classic

54% bittersweet chocolate ganache enrobed in dark chocolate and finished in original artwork

Mocha

Mocha

Espresso-infused ganache with a hint of Kahlua Especial in a dark shell

Cocoa d'Or

Cocoa d'Or

75% bittersweet Tanzanian chocolate ganache enrobed with edible gold

Irish Cream

Irish Cream

Milk chocolate ganache kissed with just a hint of Bailey's Irish Cream

Amaretto

Amaretto

Milk chocolate ganache flavored with Amaretto & rolled in toasted almonds

Tahitian Vanilla

Tahitian Vanilla

57% bittersweet ganache infused with Tahitian vanilla bean & Stoli vodka

Strawberry

Strawberry

Milk chocolate strawberry ganache with strawberry vodka & sugar

Champagne

Champagne

Spanish brut cava infused in a bittersweet ganache rolled in sparkle sugar

Gianduia

Gianduia

Milk chocolate & hazelnuts dipped in milk chocolate & dusted with hazelnut praline

Burnt Caramel

Burnt Caramel

Smokey burnt caramel in a 70% bittersweet ganache in hand painted shell

Raspberry

Raspberry

Fresh raspberry puree in a 57% bittersweet ganache

Scotch

Scotch

57% bittersweet ganache flavored with Sherry Wood-aged scotch and encased in a hand-painted chocolate shell

Lemon

Lemon

Lemon-infused white chocolate ganache nestled in a hand-painted shell

Strawberry Balsamic

Strawberry Balsamic

Strawberry preserves with Balsamic vinegar in a white chocolate ganache

Coconut Cream

Coconut Cream

Fresh coconut cream and roasted almonds in a 57% bittersweet shell

Key Lime

Key Lime

Key lime juice & zest in a white chocolate ganache with roasted coconut

Crème Brulee

Crème Brulee

Chocolate crème brulee nestled in a bittersweet chocolate cup

Margarita

Margarita

Corazon Anejo, Grand Marnier and lime-infused white chocolate ganache

Peanut Butter Truffle

Peanut Butter Truffle

Fresh peanut butter in a white chocolate ganache rolled in a peanut praline

Grey Salt Caramel

Grey Salt Caramel

Buttery brown sugar and vanilla bean caramel enrobed in bittersweet chocolate and a dusting of French Grey Sea Salt.

Honey Lavender

Honey Lavender

Milk chocolate and honey ganache combined with homemade vanilla bean caramel, honey and a touch of local lavender. A great way to show ICT Pride!

Red Velvet

Red Velvet

A cream cheese milk and dark red velvet ganache finish in premium white chocolate and drizzled with dark chocolate

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

Homemade cinnamon graham cracker layered with a creamy white chocolate cheesecake

Classic Caramel

Classic Caramel

Traditional walnut caramel hand-dipped and decorate in bittersweet chocolate

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche

Homemade sweet, creamy caramel with a coffee-infused milk ganache and a dash of Bailey’s liqueur

Chocolate Caramel

Chocolate Caramel

Belgian bittersweet chocolate caramel with a dusting of  chocolate vermicelli

Mimosa

Mimosa

Organic orange juice and zest in a white chocolate prosecco ganache topped with orange sugar

Rose Champagne

Rose Champagne

Sweet pink rose champagne in a white chocolate ganache with a hint of rose oil

Blackberry Sangria

Blackberry Sangria

Sweetened blackberries soaked in red sangria covered in a 54% ganache with a citrus zest

Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie

Tart sour cherries kissed with almond liqueur in a white chocolate butter ganache with graham cracker “crust”

Red Zinfandel

Red Zinfandel

Bold Zinfandel wine with a hint of vanilla in a 54% bittersweet ganache

Pineapple Moscato

Pineapple Moscato

Caramelized pineapple puree in a sweet white chocolate and moscato ganache

Port

Port

Sweet port wine in a dark and milk custard ganache

Salted Caramel

Salted Caramel

Fresh caramel infused in a dark milk ganache with a pinch of Fleur de Sel