Winner :: #2 Kaylin!
Recently a press release arrived in my inbox announcing the launch of a local chocolate company, Hello Cocoa, in Northwest Arkansas. “Awesome, it is about time” I said out loud to no one in particular as I read it. You see, I had often wondered why our area wasn’t producing artisan chocolates. We are a hotbed of local entrepreneurs in many industries out here, including tech, social, retail, and food movements.
So, I wondered… why not chocolate?
Immediately I wrote back, asking if the chocolate company would be willing to answer some of my pressing questions. Lauren Blanco, one of the six founding members of the company, was gracious enough to answer.
Before we continue, does anyone want a Winter Wonderland limited edition chocolate bar for free?
|Handmade Market in Fayetteville and Fresh Market in Rogers are two local places selling Hello Cocoa|
Let’s get started with the Q&A, shall we?
Q :: I love that six couples got together and created this company. Do you plan to add anything specifically about the owners to the website
LB: We plan to add an ‘about us’ page in the near future as we expand our website. We each feel very connected to the intricacies of the business, and the six of us each play unique and vital roles to the company.
The three couples include: Charles and Abby Davidson, Preston and Abby Stewart, and Mark and Lauren Blanco.
Each of us has a wide variety of backgrounds, and we were all brought together in the city of Fayetteville. We find it a privilege to be partnered with such close friends who each have a unique talent and vision for our business.
Q :: What was the inspiration that made you decide to take the leap and start producing these high quality bars?
LB :: The inspiration began with a guy named Cosmos in Uganda. Two of Hello Cocoa’s founding partners went to visit his family and view their cacao farm while they were working in Uganda for ForgottenSong, a local nonprofit organization. Cosmos had a need to sell his cacao, and we realized the need for us as non-profit workers to be self-sustainable.
When the Stewarts were presented with the opportunity, they jumped at the chance and went all in. Together, they brought their combined love for excellent food and flavor. Plus, Preston’s degree in chemistry easily lends itself to the production aspects of the company. As a whole, our team has a passion for making an excellent product and for doing good business around the world. That’s where it all started.
Q :: I am a big fan of dark chocolate and notice that your bars are dark chocolate with high cocoa content. I am guessing you are big fans of dark chocolate, too. Why did you go with dark vs. milk chocolate?
LB :: In the same way that wine is grown for the quality of the grape, cacao is grown based on landscape, region and multiple other factors. Same goes for artisan coffee roasters. Everyone’s looking for a high quality, flavorful product that feels and tastes like real food. The cacao plant yields numerous flavors and varieties, and by creating dark chocolate, we give chocolate lovers the ability to actually experience those inherent flavors! When you start adding milk to a product, the flavors get diluted. Our original goal has been to highlight these unique regional notes that are found in various countries throughout the world and present them as an adventure of sorts.
High cocoa content and the lack of flavor enhancers such as salt or vanilla let the true character of the bean shine through. Not only is it healthier, but you can really taste the difference between the different bean sources, which is the true beauty of single-origin chocolate. For instance, the Ugandan beans we use have a deep and robust chocolate flavor that is familiar and common of Forestero cacao. In contrast, the more delicate Criollo cacao we use from Venezuela have a more fruity, floral flavor profile. If you sample the two side by side, it’s almost like night and day.
We may add milk chocolate to our lineup as we grow, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Q :: The seasonal bars are intriguing. I am assuming the Hello Fall is pretty much sold out by now and that the Winter Wonderland is available. How did you decide on those particular seasonal blends?
LB :: There are only a few Hello Fall bars left in stock! You can probably find a few left in local stores, and the remaining few are available online. The Winter Wonderland is now available online and at various retail locations.
We wanted to offer something unique, fun and delicious for people to try. In the craft chocolate world, inventing new flavor combinations is part of the joy of the hands on experience – we get to create! By combining ingredients to create flavor profiles that match some of the traditional flavors of the season, we hope people will be able to take a bite of a bar, close their eyes, and taste the season as well as exquisite chocolate.
Q :: It is thrilling to see Northwest Arkansas get into the artisan chocolate world. I’ve wondered why we haven’t had anyone tap into this yet. I am curious to know about your #local inspirations.
LB :: Prior to the formation of Hello Cocoa, one of the founding partners began the quest for creating artisan chocolate. That’s when we met Cosmos and his farm and the inspiration was set. The initial partnership dissolved, but the desire to produce this bean-to-bar chocolate did not subside. The Northwest Arkansas area was too ready for this concept of handcrafted, bean-to-bar production for the idea to simply go away. When the vision was cast two couples latched onto the idea and we were all ready to offer our community a taste of craft chocolate.
We are surrounded in Northwest Arkansas by entrepreneurial giants. It is such a progressive area, and we are grateful for the opportunities that such forward thinking brings. We also join thousands of small business owners in the area who work to meticulously deliver the work of their passion and imagination. Many of the businesses we look to for inspiration are also the places we’ve decided to approach as retail partners for our product–Arsagas and Onyx Coffee Lab are two examples of local coffee roasters who pride themselves in small batch production. The list of artisan, small-batch inspiration expands quickly when we look at local microbreweries, wineries, and restaurants offering their take on well-thought and finely executed flavors.
Q :: What do you personally think are the best food pairings with your bars?
LB :: Chocolate is a beautiful food that pairs with many other great foods and drinks in this world. An excellent way to enjoy the chocolate is to pair it with wines, fruits, nuts and cheeses. The less dark, 57% Uganda chocolate goes great with Pinot Noir, Syrah, or even a sweeter white wine like Riesling, a cup of coffee, other sweets like macaroons or shaved on a bit of ice cream. The darker, 74% Venezuela chocolate is better suited to drier red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux or Zinfandel. Dried fruits such as figs, cherries or raisins and bold cheeses like blue, aged cheddar and Parmesan are great accompaniments as well. Port is another excellent pairing with chocolate. A more savory method of using chocolate in cooking is in a traditional mole sauce with ancho chilies – only a little bit is needed, but it adds a depth that can’t be achieved with any other ingredient. A great way to experience the best of chocolate, cheese, fruit and a wine is to have a tasting party with some friends where each person brings an item (bottle of wine, wedge of cheese, fruit spread, etc.) and try different combinations to see what you like best. After all, taste really is just a matter of individual tastes.
As for the seasonal bars, I’d suggest eating them by themselves since they already have a quite unique flavor profile of their own, pairing it with contrasting or complimentary items would detract from the bar itself.
If you are curious to know the complete background story on Hello Cocoa, check out the recent winter issue of edible Ozarkansas starting on page 33.
Happy chocolate eating.
Eat well, my friends. Eat well.