By Shawna Wagman
Snap! Oh, the satisfying snap. Then you put a piece in your mouth, and it instantly starts to melt. The seductive texture coats your tongue, and the fruity explosion begins. There are lemons and cherries — or was that raisin? Was that smoke or honey? Peach, pepper, or apricot? Who knew that plain, dark chocolate could have so many flavours?
Thanks to chocolate maker Erica Gilmour and her husband, Drew, of Hummingbird Chocolate, more of us can enjoy the true character of good-quality cacao beans, an experience that has been disappearing because of industrialization and over-processing by giant chocolate companies.
The couple met in Afghanistan as foreign-aid workers and ultimately settled in Stittsville. Drew continues to travel to small farms in developing countries, including cacao-growing co-operatives, while Erica pours her passion into the task of making small batches of chocolate by hand from the beans. She explains that each step in the process can have a dramatic impact on the final product. “Roasting the beans gets rid of bitterness,” says Erica, “but if you roast them too long, you lose the low and high notes that give good chocolate its depth.”
The quality of the beans is paramount, and to that end, Erica is committed to establishing more direct relationships with farmers. Travelling to Costa Rica last year, she was able to bring back beans from a co-operative on the Caribbean coast. She began producing single-origin bars to sell at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market in June, also featuring beans from Bolivia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. As well, she is eyeing beans from Haiti and Nicaragua. “I order from places I would like to go,” she says. “I am also attracted to the most impoverished places, because these are the places I’d like to support.”
For a list of locations where the bars are sold, visit www.hummingbirdchocolate.com.