Chocolate without vanilla
I've very slowly come to the realization that I don't really care for vanilla, especially the more floral Tahitian vanilla, which I actively dislike. The realization has been slow, because vanilla is in so many things that we we tend to think of it as a "background" or "neutral" flavor, if we think about it at all. While I know many chowhounds are very vanilla savvy, in the wider culture, "vanilla" has come to be synonymous with "bland," even though it's actually a rather strong and distinctive flavor.
In the last couple of years I've done a lot of chocolate tasting -- not just eating and enjoying, but actually thinking about the flavor components. And I began to realize that it was chocolate that didn't have vanilla that really made me go "wow"!
I went into my local chocolate pusher ... uh, purveyor today and asked the head guy there which of his chocolates didn't have vanilla. I stumped him! I knew about my favorite Vintage Plantations, but close examination revealed that one of my favorite new lines -- Coppeneur -- also doesn't include vanilla in most of their bars, nor does Domori. Close inspection revealed that the Rococo Artisan bars (the dark chocolate ones) also were vanilla-free.
Does anyone know of any other chocolate makers that don't use vanilla?
It makes me generally sad that you want to forgoe the ancient prehispanic combination of Chocolate & Vanilla. The only thing I can offer up is that there is a lot of mediocre Bourbon, Madagascar & Tahitian vanilla out there... and I suspect that is what many Chocolatiers use. I do invite you to make a small investment on the Veracruz Vanilla sold by Gourmet Sleuth... it may change your opinion.
Yes it is floral... Tahitian vanilla doesn't even begin to compare... but I think that is what plays so well with good quality Chocolate (which also is quite floral)... otoh I know people (including my wife) that don't care for floral at all... so if you don't jive with Rosewater desserts etc.,... than yeah I am not going to dissuade you.
Kare_Raisu was recently over and we made Xocolatl with 100% Cacao powder, Veracruz vanilla & just a touch of orange blossom honey.... its something you have to have to baseline any future hot chocolates. Another combination that is a winner is 100% Cacao with a shot of Xtabentun... enough of it... and you will swear you are speaking with the Gods.
I'm not saying I'm going to completely forgo chocolate with vanilla. I'm just interested in exploring the chocolates that don't have it, since the vast majority do.
Floral has its place in panoply of tastes -- I very much like Richard Donnally's rose chocolate and Michael Rechuitti's rose caramels! But if you pair a floral chocolate with a floral vanilla, it can become unbalanced. I mostly like my chocolate to taste ... like chocolate, without the vanilla masking it.
Theo Chocolate in Seattle is fantastic. I did the tour of their chocolate factory last week, which included lots of delicious samples. They are the only ones in the U.S. who roast their own organic cocoa beans.
The single-origin chocolates and the Nib Brittle bar (dark chocolate with cocoa nibs) are the best!
The only chocolate they make that contains vanilla is the "Vanilla Milk Chocolate" bar.
My new favorite chocolate is Newtree's dark chocolate (www.newtree.com). I just looked at the package, and it doesn't use vanilla. However, they do use vanilla in their milk chocolate, which I don't think is as good anyway. I can get this chocolate in my local Costplus World Market for about $4.50/bar. Their website might have info on where to get it in your area.
So, last night at Trader Joe's, while standing in line I checked out the labels of the dark chocolates at the checkstand -- about half of them had vanilla in some form (including Valrhona and Scharffenberger) and half didn't (none of the Belgian chocolate). It seems to be an issue of style, rather than price/quality, since many high-end chocolate makers use it (including Michel Cluizel and Amadei, in addition to the aforementioned).
re: Ruth Lafler
Well its such a time honored tradition... I understand if you are having a single estate chocolate to forgo it... but its also kind of like not aging a single estate wine in Oak barrels... so as not to dilute it with its time honored flavor partner.
However, I do believe there is a lot of mediocre vanilla out there... that sometimes drags down quality cacao beans.