Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Dairy-Free Chocolate Bar We Can’t Stop Eating

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In the heart of Portland, Oregon, neighbors Gregory Gourdet, 2023 BA Best New Restaurant chef, and George Domurot, founder of Ranger Chocolate Co., are proving that proximity can foster more than just familiarity — it can cultivate ongoing support, admiration, and now chocolate. Their shared interest in celebrating heritage and commitment to Haitian cacao — and those who grow it — has brought them together for a delicious new project two years in the making: the Caribbean Chocolate Bar.

“What does it mean to make a chocolate bar that puts the power of agriculture back in the hands of the people?” asks Gourdet. The pursuit of that answer is at the heart of this collaboration. Haiti has a rich history of cacao production, dating back to the 18th century when the country was a leading exporter of the crop. However, political instability and natural disasters have impacted the industry in recent decades. Despite these challenges, Haitian cacao remains highly regarded for its unique flavor profile and the potential it holds for supporting local communities.

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Ranger Chocolate Co. has been using Haitian cacao in all its chocolate since 2015. Partially because they like to source ingredients locally (Haiti is the United States’ closest exporter of cacao) and primarily because the cacao is exceptional. “We were among the first to import from Northern Haiti,” says Domurot, who has roots in Puerto Rico. They work with ethical farming organizations like PISA (Produits Des Iles SA), and Fair for Life to ensure the cacao they import is not only some of the finest in the world, but produced in a way that keeps the profits in the hands of the farmers. “PISA established a collective processing facility to help the farmers grow the industry there. We’re able to establish actual relationships,” Domurot shares. As Ranger grew, so did the farming cooperatives they were buying from. “It’s healthy for them, and it’s healthy for us.”

Haiti’s super-premium cacao has a distinct fruitiness that creates the foundation of flavor for this bar. Its scent is the first thing you notice. “Smell it first — quality chocolate smells clean and fresh,” explains Domurot. A combination of island-defining ingredients provide the remaining character. The essence of mango (fondly referred to by Gourdet as “Haiti’s most important fruit”) partners with ginger for warmth, while a lush sweep of vanilla rounds out every bite. However, the crunchy bits of sea salt that show up throughout the bar are from another Portland neighbor, Jacobsen Salt Co.

Gourdet had another question to answer while working on this project. How do we make the bar so good you’d want to eat the whole thing? Between the final flicker of heat from habanero and a creamy cushion of coconut milk to temper any sting, it would be difficult not too.

The Caribbean Chocolate Bar ($24 per 2.25-ounce bar and $14 per 1.25-ounce bar) is available for online purchase, nationwide shipping at Ranger Chocolate Co.

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