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Jul 23, 2006 11:21 PM

Trader Joe's Chocolate

Now that NYC has finally been blessed with a Trader Joe's, I'm overwhelmed by the variety of chocolate at the checkouts...what you hounds prefer for baking? The Ghiradhelil? The Belgiam pound plus? Something else? I make make more pots de creme and chocolate bread pudding, but occassionally I venture deeper into my Cake Bible...

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  1. I buy the Belgian Pound plus (i.e. 500gm.) 70% bittersweet. There may be discernible taste differences between it and Valrhona or Scharffenberger, but if my life depended on telling them apart in a blindfold test I'd be a dead man. And you can't beat the price.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rootlesscosmo

      I used to love the rice crispy/milk chocolate version of these, but they seem to have discontinued them as of a couple of years ago. Always wondered why...

      1. re: rootlesscosmo

        I too buy the dark pound plus. It's an awesome way to get good chocolate at a great price - particularly for baking where I always hesitate to use chocolate that costs $6 for 4 ounces...

        I have noticed the belgian pound plus at TJs has a slightly more grainy mouthfeel in creamy dishes (like ice cream). I think that seems to always be the case to some extent with good dark chocolates. For some reason it seems to be slightly more so with the pound plus. However, the great price and, in my opinion, very good flavor outweigh this to me.

        And in things like brownies, you'll never notice that graininess at all.

        Great stuff that chocolate...

      2. For smaller things, I usually go with Scharffenberg. As rootlesscosmo points out, this isn't financially viable for larger purchases. :)

        1. We go through TJs Pound Plus Dark (72%) in the red package like hotcakes. Well not really but it's our snacking and baking favorite. It won my blind taste test btw it, Valrhona, Ghirdelli, Scharffenberger's 60%, the Ecuador and one other single-origin chocolate stocked by TJs. I don't like SBerger's grapey/sour aftertaste which I can pick out even blind.

          1. FYI, Hounds, Scharffenberger has been bought out by Hersheys. I've noticed a dramatic change in quality/taste.

            13 Replies
            1. re: Non Cognomina

              Couple weeks ago, I had a chance to chat with Scharffenberger's staff at their Berkeley factory about their relationship with Hershey. They gave the impression that there has not been any changes since they were bought out. I have never been a big fan of their chocolates, so I can't offer an unbias opinion if there has been a change in quality.
              My favorite baking chocolates are Valrhona's Caraibe and Manjari. I find their 70% Guanaja too bitter for my taste.

              1. re: Non Cognomina

                I think they've been very clear that they are not changing their recipe. I find it hard to believe there really has been a "dramatic" change in taste.

                And think about it, why buy a luxury, boutique chocolate outfit just to ruin it?

                1. re: Darren72

                  Sharffenberger has name recognition, and they make their own couverture. They have taken a significant chunk of the chocolate industry in the US, and a business decision had to be made regarding the company. Hershey's made a great offer, and while John Scharffenberger has a great palate, he is also a great businessman (and a great guy).

                  Of course they are going to say they are not going to change the "formula" or "process" of the Scharfenberger chocolates, but since cocoa beans, like coffee beans, vary by species/characteristics/quality, and good chocolate couverture "formulas" are affected by every shipment of cocoa beans, the quality and flavor are most certainly going to be affected if "nothing is going to change."

                  P.S. I'm in the industry, and have worked in high end chocolate for about three years, and in the food industry about 12 years, so I'm willing to stand behind my statement that there has been a dramatic change in their quality and taste.

                  1. re: Non Cognomina

                    OOOO! Just an idea...if you are in the Bay Area, and if you have the time and energy ..maybe you could do a chocolate seminar/taste tests for us Chowhounds...I would contribute..and that would be fun....Scharffenberger beware!

                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                      I suggest contacting COPIA in Napa and express an interest in a chocolate tasting seminar. It's been brought up before, and if there is enough interest something might be offered this autumn....

                      1. re: ChowFun_derek

                        Copia, that's a good idea...I'll give them a call...thanks!

                        1. re: ChowFun_derek

                          Here's the info I got from Copia on Chocolate seminar:
                          Hi Derek,

                          We have our annual chocolate tasting in February. Please look for information about this tasting after December 1st.

                          Thank you for your interest in COPIA.


                          Ingrid Johnson
                          Internet Marketing Manager
                          COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts

                      2. re: Darren72

                        This seems irrational, I agree, but it happens. A succession of owners of the formerly family-owned Steinway Corp. trashed the quality of the pianos (while continuing to coast on the prstige of the name) after about 1960. I think the "bean counters" figure out that profit margins can be increased by cutting corners on quality, and new owners who lack loyalty to the product itself--who see the newly acquired company purely as an investment--can't resist the temptation. It's short-sighted of them, but unfortunately managers and owners who take a long view are rare.

                        1. re: Darren72

                          Working in that business... because if you come out with a Hershey Premium and charge $5 a bar for it, people would laugh and laugh. Plus, it gives them a distribution channel they've had a hard time cracking (Gourmet Stores with their high margins...)

                          I am sad to report as a SB fan there has INDEED been a change. The one ounce bars are now flat instead of chubby. (Probably switched over to Hershey production machinery) and It could be the shape that has effected the taste, but the taste is not there.

                          As for the TJ's Chocolate the 70% and Bitter sweet are always in my pantry. They truly are great chocolates! For white however, I like Callebaut .


                          1. re: Dommy

                            I don't know. I haven't noticed a difference. But then again, I'm not "in the business," so perhaps my taste buds aren't well qualified. (And I'm not sure why being in the business, but not working for that specific company would provide you will any inside knowledge. If you have some, let's hear it.)

                            What do you mean by "chubby" and "flat"? The 1 oz bars seem to be the same as they always were. I'll have to double check. In any case, I can't see how changing the shape would affect the taste.

                            I understand why Hershey would want to buy SB. But I don't understand why they would want to buy them, and then ruin them, as you seem to be suggesting. (Yes, I can imagine corportate greed as much as the next guy, but until I've actually tasted a difference, I'm not going down that road.)

                            In any case, I'm still very happy with SB, esp the nibby bar, so I'll be happy if there are fewer consumers chasing them. :)

                            1. re: Darren72

                              Hershey's is counting on you, the consumer, not noticing as they change and "ruin" Scharffenberger Chocolate.

                              The shape of the chocolate does affect the taste. Cocoa butter melts at a much lower temperature than cocoa solids. A thin wafer of chocolate will melt much more uniformly on your tongue than a big chunk. Your taste buds experience a more intense flavor of chocolate when the chocolate is melted in your mouth rather than solid in your mouth, so the exact same chocolate in a 1" coin wafer with a thickness of 1/8" will offer a different flavor experience than in a 1/2" square cube.

                              As for being "in the business" but not working for a specific company--there are very few companies in the US that make couverture--Hershey's, Scharffenberger, Guittard, and Ghirardheli to name a few. Cocoa beans are limited in supply and its no secret who is buying what beans/what cocoa beans are arriving into the US. It is also obvious to those of us "in the biz" when product is changed, in the same way that my brother always knows when models of cars change details and I am oblivious.

                              1. re: Darren72

                                In reply to Non Cognomina,

                                "Hershey's is counting on you, the consumer, not noticing as they change and "ruin" Scharffenberger Chocolate."

                                So, I guess they've got me. I like SB as much now as when I first tasted it.

                                Also, I understand what you are saying about the shape. But the question remains, how did the dimensions of SB 1 oz bars change after Hershey's bought them? Thanks.

                                Finally, you and Dommy are bring up this "in the biz" stuff. So what can you tell me about what they are doing differently, specifically?

                          2. re: Non Cognomina

                            I've been enjoying Scharffenberger chocolate since shortly after they started making it, and have always noticed the fruit-like flavors I get after chewing it for a while. Recently I ate a 3 oz bar of their 82%, which has been my favorite since it was introduced, and I thought it lacked those fruit-flavor notes that had been most evident in that version. I put it down to "my taster is just different today", but now I'm wondering.

                          3. agreed on the extra bittersweet pound plus (red package). it's my go-to for cooking and baking. for eating, there's the 85gm single-bean chocovic bars tj's sells for $1.99. my favorite is the ocumare -- criollo beans from venezuela (orange label).