If you ever need an example of a labor of love, look no further than the Rogue Chocolatier. The small Minneapolis company prides itself on creating the finest chocolate from the finest cacao beans available.
Wearing a black Whole Foods hat, jeans, and a T-shirt with chocolate smears, Rogue Chocolatier founder Colin Gasko is sitting in a Minneapolis warehouse break room with me and his chocolate. For the last three years, he’s been hard at work inventing and tweaking chocolate-making machinery, corresponding with foreign suppliers and go-betweens, and sampling cacao from farms in another hemisphere — all in a quest for quality.
Last week, that quest resulted in the launch of Rogue Chocolatier’s latest artisan chocolate bar. It’s called PIURA and it’s made from a “nano-lot” of four bags from Juan Tirado’s 7.5-acre organic cacao farm in Northern Peru. Gasko says Tirado’s cacao is that rare combination of strong genetics and excellent post-harvest handling.
Gasko says his PIURA bars are like a “thumbprint” of what’s going on at Tirado’s farm. PIURA may also be groundbreaking because, to the best of Gasko’s knowledge, it marks the first time that a lot of cacao so small and from such a specific origin has been made into a single origin chocolate bar.
Among other spots, the bars are available France 44, Surdyk’s, Kopplin’s Coffee, the St. Paul Cheese Shop, Sugar Sugar, and through the Rogue Chocolatier website; Gasko estimates the bars will be available through the summer (there are 4,000 bars in total, with some stores pre-ordering throughout the country). They sell for $9 (gasp!), but while you may be rubbing your eyes in astonishment at that price, Gasko doesn’t flinch when he says matter-of-factly, that, “it’s a bargain.“
He should know – he made the chocolate himself and can remember everything from air freighting cacao beans from Peru to the intense labor involved in the chocolate-making, not to mention wrapping the bars in their letterpress packaging. Each PIURA bar includes an insert with the bag number, batch number, and date of production, underscoring how each Rogue Chocolatier bar has its own particular history.
You might think such a pricey bar must pack a whollop of flavor, but as Gasko explains, it’s more like buying a fine wine. “What you are really after is something refined, complex, subtle, balanced,” he says.
The ingredient list for PIURA is simple, just cocoa beans and cane sugar. That means no cocoa butter — but the chocolate is mild rather than bitter, a quality that Gasko points out is rare for a 75% bar.
When Gasko bites into a PIURA bar, he mentions the notes of nuts and raspberries, and the faintly floral hint. When I take a bite, I notice the smoothness of the chocolate, the luscious texture as it melts. The flavor moves from a more strident berry note on the first bite, similar to dried cherries, then dissolves into a lingering soft, sweet, well-balanced finish.
So much work goes into creating the chocolate bars. But to eat them? Effortless.