Heads up, dessert enthusiasts: California-based Choctal Ice Cream is now available at every AJ's Fine Foods store in the Valley. The California-based ice-creamery, who describe themselves as a "company with a global conscience," sell 8 different varieties of single-source chocolate and vanilla ice creams. These seemingly simple frozen treats are anything but -- each possesses a unique character that'll make you reevaluate everything you thought you knew about chocolate and vanilla.
Choctal is a notable company for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with their (admittedly delicious) products. Their commitment to transparency is admirable. Not all of their cocoa is fair trade. Not all of their ingredients are organic. But Choctal is transparent about these facts, and their reasons for choosing these ingredients are compelling and humane. That's where the "global conscience" they talk about comes in to play. These certifications can be expensive to obtain, which can be especially prohibitive to small-scale growers. Choctal prefers to leave the labels out of it, and focus instead on buying from vendors who are committed to environmental and social sustainability. They also give 1% of their annual sales back to the communities that produce their ingredients.
The company also takes a fresh approach to traditional flavors. They focus on the influence of terroir on the flavor of vanilla beans and cocoa. Each of Choctal's flavors is a single-origin offering designed to highlight the unique characteristics of ingredients from a particular region.
We wanted to get a good sample of what chocolate and vanilla from around the globe can taste like (okay, we're lying, we wanted to eat a lot of ice cream). So we tried five of the company's eight current offerings. Each was delicious, and we were impressed by the clear differences between each pint.
We sampled the vanilla ice creams first, trying both the Mexican (sourced from villages surrounding Papantla) and the Papua New Guinea varieties. To start, there were visible differences between these pints; the Papua New Guinea was lighter in color, but had more visible flecks of vanilla bean, the Mexico had a more yellowish hue to it and fewer specks.
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Both were distinctive, and very different from one another. The Papua New Guinea had a soft, powdery, marshmallow-like sweetness, complemented by a subtle nuttiness - almost like almond milk. The ice cream itself was a bit "fluffier" in texture than the Mexico, which was a bit more custard-like. The Mexico had a fruitier sweetness, with an almost floral quality. It was reminiscent of amaretto.
Next came the chocolate. Each was unique in regards to mouthfeel and flavor, though the only difference in the ingredients was the chocolate used. Similar to the vanilla ice cream, these offerings were also visually distinctive. The offering from Ghana was the lightest in color, followed by the Costa Rica, then the super dark Kalimantan.
The Ghana, with its soft, seemingly whipped texture, reminded us of bittersweet chocolate. It was the most fruit-forward of the chocolate options, and had an almost red wine like quality. The Costa Rica was much nuttier, almost bourbon-like, with loads of brown sugar style sweetness and a caramelly finish. And the Kalimantan, a dense, nearly fudgy ice cream, was entirely unexpected. It had a smokiness to it that was almost peaty, with a ton of baking spice and anise flavors as well. After experiencing how incredibly diverse chocolate and vanilla ice cream can be, we can't wait to explore Choctal's offerings a bit more in our home kitchen.