For some reason I can’t remember how I first heard of Charm School Chocolate, but I do remember grabbing my first bar by them at Mom’s Organic Market. Their bright packaging caught my eye and the fact that they were made locally, I absolutely had to try them out. While eyeing the line of bars and deciding which to pick, one of them specifically caught my eye. It was their coconut milk chocolate maple pecan bar. Sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a delicious mouthful 😉
I saw on Instagram recently that CSC was releasing a couple of new bars: coconut milk chocolate with peanut butter toffee and black sesame with sour cherries. I was especially intrigued in hearing about the black sesame bar, so I made an order as soon as I saw the Instagram post 🙂 CSC was very kind to take part in some Q&A so I could learn more about their company, which is local to Maryland being based around Baltimore. (Big thanks to Giovanna Rosen for answering on behalf of Josh!)
Q: Is there a story behind the mission of making specifically vegan chocolate?
CSC A: Yes! Josh worked as a pastry chef for several years and would frequently encounter customers with dairy allergies or who were otherwise unable to eat dairy. He loves a challenge and the idea of making sweets that everyone can enjoy, so he set out to develop an entirely vegan chocolate line. In the process, the range and depth of flavors and textures in plant based chocolate and confections really impressed us, and has kept us as curious as we are excited.
Q: My boyfriend and I are addicted to your coconut milk chocolate maple pecan bar. It’s so hard not to eat all of it in one sitting! What was your inspiration behind this bar as well as your limited edition bars like the black sesame bar with Michigan cherries in it?
CSC A: Truth be told, the Maple Pecan bar is Josh’s homage to his mom’s favorite candy, the pecan turtle.
With regard to the Black Sesame Bar (and the other more unusual bars he’s created); one of Josh’s favorite things to do is twist expectations. The Black Sesame bar is our way of pushing the boundaries of a traditional Gianduja (the well known blend of hazelnuts, sugar, and chocolate). Black sesame is a really underrated flavor with a lot of depth. His idea was to take a different approach to tradition and present more of an inspired composition of flavors & textures.
Q: On the Charm School Chocolate website it says you studied mechanical engineering in college. Do you feel like your background in mechanical engineering has been used or transferred into making chocolate?
CSC A: Absolutely. Engineering is a study of solving problems, and there is a fair amount of problem solving that’s gone into creating the same (if not better) texture, flavor and mouthfeel of our non-diary chocolate as people are used to with conventional chocolates. Additionally, many of the chocolate making equipment that exists is appropriate only for larger scale operations so we’ve had to do a fair amount of adjustment to make some of our equipment work on our craft-chocolate scale.
Q: What made you decide to dive into the culinary world?
CSC A: The culinary world is where Josh feels most at home. As the cliche goes, the kitchen is the center of every home, and he’s always felt a strong urge to provide nourishment to others. Food is such a tangible and satisfying way to make someone happy, and Josh really values that tangible aspect of making something as universally loved as sweets.
Q: The website also says that you’ve been to San Francisco, New York and Italy. Why did you chose to base Charm School Chocolate out of Maryland?
CSC A: Josh grew up in Maryland, and has a strong home base here. It’s provided opportunities to get started on our small business without breaking the bank!
Q: Your dark chocolate bars say 70% Belize on them. Why did you specifically choose Belize for your cacao? How did you learn about Maya Mountain Cacao?
CSC A: Josh chose our Belizean cacao for two main reasons. One, it’s flavor is a really unique combination of fruity notes with a strong chocolate base. Typically those are a ‘one or the other’ scenario, but the Belizean cacao delivers in a big way. Secondly, Maya Mountain Cacao has forged such a strong connection to the people who grow, ferment, and dry the beans that it’s hard to not want to be involved in their business. They invest a lot of effort into not only excellent beans, but really doing well by their community.
Q: Are there are news or upcoming events for Charm School Chocolate that you’d like to share?
CSC A: There are a few trade shows and holiday shopping events coming up this fall and winter. We’ll be in Seattle at the Northwest Chocolate Festival on Nov 11-12th and the Last Stop Hops & Shop in Baltimore at the Peabody Heights Brewery on December 15th from 5-9. You can sip craft beer while you do last-minute holiday shopping.
There are a few more that are ‘to be confirmed’, so please check our social media pages for updates! @charmschoolchoc
It’s so sweet (both literally and figuratively) that my favorite bar by CSC was inspired by Josh’s mother’s favorite candy! I’m going to try to make it to that Last Stop Hops & Shop event because I imagine I will need to restock on some CSC by then 😉
Let’s go on to tasting some chocolate!
Surprisingly I hadn’t had the plain, 70% bar by Charm School Chocolate before, so I figured it was time to do that. The chocolate smelled bright and fruity. The moment I popped my first bite into my mouth, I tasted the same bright fruitiness that developed into citrusy flavors midway. Toward the end of my bite, the citrus flavored mellowed out and lingered in the aftertaste. The texture was very smooth and the chocolate melted easily in my mouth. After I enjoyed my first bite, I looked at the back of the bar and saw that it listed the tasting notes as raisins and chocolate sandwich cookies. Oops! Let me try another bite…
Okay, I can taste both of those now 🙂 They’re right on point with those tasting notes! I don’t know where I was getting that citrus flavor from…
This milk chocolate peanut butter toffee bar smelled heavenly! It smelled like butterscotch, chocolatey and a bit nutty. With the toffee side down on my tongue, I first tasted peanut butter followed by the salty toffee flavor with milk chocolate sweetness flowing around them. This was a very sweet bar and perfect for that warm fall feeling. The toffee gave a nice light crunchy texture to the bar while leaving some saltiness and butterscotch flavor in the aftertaste. I claim to be moving toward the dark side of chocolate after being addicted to milk chocolate, but this might be my little thread of hanging on to milk chocolate. (As an added note, dark milk bars are quickly becoming a favorite of mine.)
You might notice that this bar is a little grayish in color. It’s a white chocolae bar, and the ingredients list includes tapioca syrup and sea salt. Tapioca syrup? I’ve had tapioca pearls in boba/bubble tea, but not anything like it in chocolate. Maybe that’s what’s making this bar gray in color? I could smell the savory, nutty scent of the sesame seeds. With inclusion side down on my tongue, I first tasted a hint of sea salt followed by that savory, nutty flavor of the sesame seeds. I personally love sesame oil and sesame seeds! The cherries were kind of a surprise to bite into them and get a burst of strong sour flavor. It’s hard to explain, but the soft, chewy texture and sour flavor of the cherries somehow seems to work with the crunchy, nutty flavor of the sesame seeds. The lingering aftertaste was nutty, and then I promptly took another bite which left me with an aftertaste that was reminiscent of peanut butter. I’m very intrigued by this bar and I actually want another one. I definitely encourage you, if you’re just as curious and intrigued about this bar, try it and tell me what you think!
(Update: After posting this blog post on Instagram, CSC reached out to inform me that the black sesame bar looks gray in color due to ground up black sesame seeds that were included in the chocolate making process. More black sesame seeds were added on top.)
I enjoyed all of these bars, but I’m definitely going to get more of the black sesame sour cherry bars and the peanut butter toffee bars in the future. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for what else Josh will come up with for quirky combinations!
Charm School Chocolate: Made in Reisterstown, MD