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O C G S h o w D a i l y 2 5 S u n d a y, Ju n e 5 , 2 0 1 6 BELLWETHER FARMS RINGS THE BELL WITH BLACKSTONE By Lorrie Baumann Bellwether Farms' Blackstone was released to the market in small quantities just this January, and despite the very limited release it's had so far, the cheese already has a small but growing fan base. It's a mixed milk cheese that's made from two-thirds Jersey cow milk and one-third sheep milk, with black peppercorns incorporated into the paste and a hand- rubbed black rind that combines rose- mary and black pepper with vegetable ash. The three-pound wheel has the ele- gant eminence of Patrick Stewart declaiming Shakespeare. When it's cut, slices from the wedge have a thin black border that lends a satisfying weight to even the thinnest of slices and a color contrast that adds beauty to their arrange- ment on the cheese board. Blackstone's flavor is strongly influ- enced by the tang of the sheep milk – think Manchego – with extra zing and texture from the peppercorns along with caramel notes and a rich and satisfying mouthfeel that come from the Jersey milk. It pairs beautifully with a wide range of beers, and the peppery/herbal notes make a nice complement to a pinot noir or Syrah. The black rind was part of cheese- maker Liam Callahan's original inspira- tion for the cheese, he said. "There aren't that many aged cheeses that have a rind that actively contributes interesting fla- vor notes to it. It's more common for washed-rind cheeses, but with aged cheeses, it's just protecting it from the environment," he said. "For this cheese, the rind is more than something to nibble up to and throw away, more than a board- flavored musty component. The rose- mary doesn't taste of rosemary, but it helps give a savory element to the rind. Plus, it looks cool. As soon as you put it out there, people say 'What's that?' They are drawn to the look of the cheese." The vegetable ash/rosemary/black pepper mixture is hand-rubbed onto the cheese in several stages as it ages over about 10 weeks. The ash helps control the acidity at the cheese's surface, but it also melds together the different particle sizes of the rosemary and black pepper, Callahan said. "The very powdery vegetable ash just helped to hold it all together." Blackstone starts its aging on wood shelves, and then it's moved to wire shelves and then back to the boards, with the transitions timed to respond to the moisture levels at the rind. "We're still playing with the timing of those transi- tions to get the right moisture on that rind at the key moments when it needs it," Callahan said. Distribution for the cheese is still ramping up, and it's currently available almost exclusively in California, where it's selling readily for prices between $25 and $30 per pound. "It's a difficult cheese to make, and at retail, it's an expensive cheese that demands the right attention to it," he said. "But restaurants love to fea- ture something that's so visual on the cheese board." "I never make more than about 120 wheels at a time. All of our vats are small, and it's hands-on," he added. "It's been figuring out how to ramp up pro- duction in a way that maintains the qual- ity and consistency. It's really been a fun cheese to work on." Callahan expects Blackstone to reach a wider audience once more people have had the opportunity to taste it and as his production increases. "We're ramping it up through the summer and expect to see it in wider distribution by the end of the summer," he said. "We are actively talking about it now, and samples are get- ting out there, and people are hearing from folks – they're really liking it so much.... We really do expect this to be a major cheese for us. It's so good, and we like it so much, and it's unique in the marketplace." SPECIALTY CHOCOLATE BENEFITS FROM BEAN TO BAR By Greg Gonzales The father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, named the plant from which chocolate is derived Theobroma cacao, Sanskrit for "food of the gods." Hernando Cortez said cocoa could allow a person to go all day without food or exhaustion. Now, science has put cocoa under a microscope to con- firm those long-held beliefs, and farm- ing practices and conditions have improved globally, along with the mar- ket. Cocoa products are also set to boom like coffee and tea, with a dynamic and blossoming specialty market. From no-sugar-added and mis- sion-based brands to single-origin bars that showcase the regional flavors of cacao, there's a chocolate bar for everyone from functional foodies to kids. The best part is, we're learning that cocoa can be quite good for us in moderation. Health is the last thought on any- one's mind in the candy aisle, but dark chocolate can be considered a function- al kind of treat. The cacao plant has been considered a healing and boosting supplement for thousands of years, thought to aid in liver function and feelings of well-being. Researchers now are calling cocoa a nutraceutical, a food that contains physiologically active compounds that promote health, might prevent disease and goes beyond nutrition to aid in cognitive and aerobic activities. The stimulants caffeine and theobromine account for the waking boost, while phenylethylamine has a similar effect to oxytocin, the love chemical, and lifts mood. Cocoa also contains anandamide, a cannabinoid naturally produced in the human body that opens up synapses in the brain to allow for more neural activity and feel- ings of bliss. Combined, these chemi- cals ramp up serotonin and endorphin production in the brain, with effects similar to a "runner's high." Chocolate also provides the build- ing blocks for these feel-good neuro- transmitters, and a mix of fats. Magnesium, iron, calcium potassium, sodium — and vitamins A, B, C, D and E — are all present and accounted for in quality cocoa. And while the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans sug- gests everyone ought to keep saturated fats limited to 10 percent of daily intake, a little chocolate might help. Not all of the fats in cocoa are associated with raised cholesterol and heart disease. Marilynn Schnepf, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Health Sciences at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, said only about a third of those fats in are associated with heart disease, and that limited intake can help combat negative effects. "Turn the package over and look at the label," she said. "The first ingredient in chocolate is sugar, so be aware of that. Many products which you think are good chocolate have different fats in them. Sometimes it won't be cocoa but- ter, but coconut oil or hydrogenated oil. My advice would be to enjoy very high quality chocolate, so you don't have to eat very much of it to really enjoy it." She then explained that chocolate with the highest cocoa powder content that hasn't been Dutch processed is best, since Dutch processing destroys antioxidant properties of chocolate. The more bitter, the better. "The bitter- ness of chocolate comes from the flavonoids, the antioxidants," she said. To reap the benefits of the cacao plant to the fullest extent, consumers have to seek out minimally-processed, high- cocoa products. Gourmet chocolate producers have no shortage of such products, offering a little something for every need. At Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, shoppers can select from a variety of ultra-dark chocolate bars, with some brands offering a full 100 percent cocoa bar. "People who shop for health reasons seek more than 65 percent cocoa," said Kristen Connelly, Grocery Buyer for Rainbow Grocery. "It's extremely bitter, but people have devel- oped a palate for extremely dark choco- late." She also mentioned that a lot of brands will use a blend of cocoa sourced from multiple regions. Other specialty chocolate companies source their cocoa from single regions, such as Chocolate Santander, showcasing the individual flavors from each country and crop like "third wave" specialty coffee. "We see a lot more single ori- gins than blends," Connelly said. "People want to taste the nuances of the product. They want to taste the differ- ence between a Madagascar chocolate bar and an Ecuadorian bar. These might even taste different year to year, based on the crop. Now, the producers try to bring out the flavor of the bean." On top of that, functional food lovers are trying to get more bang for their bar, with added ingredients for more nutri- tional benefit. "I'm seeing more inter- est in functional chocolate, with antioxidants added or kava added, or superfruits," said Connelly. "Five or six years ago, the response to that [from consumers] was no." She described these new developments in chocolate as "double duty." The addi- tives and antioxidants are something these consumers are already eating daily. "It's almost as regimented as tak- ing vitamins," she said. "If you're going to take turmeric and ashwangan- da every day and can fit a square of chocolate in, why not?" Increased global demand and even a recent chocolate shortage have driven prices up, but the market has expanded regardless. The rise of the middle class outside of the U.S., such as those in China and India, have introduced 1 bil- lion potential new consumers to the chocolate market. Jesse Last, Cocoa Sourcing Manager at Taza Chocolate, says the rising price will balance out sooner rather than later, as the potential profit for farmers — who he said are among the poorest in the world — goes up as a result of the increase. "It's going to incentivize people to plant more cacao trees and satisfy demand," he said. "There's always going to be a little lag. Prices are going to go up, and usually when you plant a cacao tree it takes two years to start producing pods." He also said chocolate gets undervalued in the market, often called an affordable luxury, "relative to things like a fine wine or quality coffee, or artisan beer." In addition to health and indulgence, consumers are also willing to pay more for a bar that was ethically and sustain- ably produced, since it gives them a voice in an industry notorious for bad farming practice and child labor. "When you support a chocolate maker engaged in ethical trading practices, it's a way for consumers to vote with their wallets," said Last. Connelly added: "When you think about the idea of child slaves, a dol- lar more is not that much!" The industry seeks to improve con- ditions, too, but some observers are skeptical. Corporate initiatives like Cocoa Action, Cocoa Horizons Foundation and Cocoa Life have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into increasing cocoa yields and sustainabil- ity through farmer education from the Ivory Coast to Brazil. However, Managing Director of Hardman Agribusiness Co. Doug Hawkins wrote in his Destruction By Chocolate report that these efforts aren't quite up to par. "These initiatives, while worthy in their aims, appear to have their greater impact on social welfare issues and brand projection, than in the drive for sustainable cocoa production," he said. Producers aren't sitting idly by, but Cocoa Life had only acquired 21 per- cent of its cocoa sustainably by the end of 2015. "There's room for improve- ment, as well, and the consumer plays a big role in asking for a high-quality product that the farmers are compensat- ed for," said Last. "There's all these craft chocolate makers making really high-quality chocolate and paying fair prices for the cacao beans. Consumers have a choice!"

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