I didn’t blog last week. I slipped away and played hooky, and it was worth every minute. I took my In-Laws, who are visiting us from Winnipeg, to Salt Spring Island for an extended weekend away.
We have had such terrible weather I was a bit worried, but they brought the sunny weather with them and it remained glorious the whole time.
I adore Salt Spring Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands, about 22 nautical miles from Vancouver: either an hour and ten minutes away by ferry, or a visually breathtaking 35 minutes float plane ride. I did both this weekend.
Among Salt Spring’s many charms is its fantastic and diverse community of artisans and food producers, many of whom can be visited on their farms and in their workshops, as part of the Salt Spring Island Studio Tour.
In one day, you could visit a glass-blower, a pie-maker, a lavender farm, a soap works, two cheese farms (one goat, one Jersey cows), soy or bees’ wax candle makers, fabric artists, wood turners and bread bakers, and you would still not see all 34.
The participating businesses are scattered all over the island and easily recognizable by the distinctive “Sheep Sign, with number”, at the end of each driveway. Salt Spring Sheep/Lambs are famous, as I can attest to when I witnessed this conversation between an RCMP officer and an outraged dog owner at the Salt Spring Saturday Market.
“You can’t bring that dog into the Market”
Outraged Dog Owner points behind RCMP Officer, to another person with animal on leash
“What about that guy?”
RCMP Officer glances behind himself, then back
“No Problem – that’s a sheep”
And indeed, it was. And it had lovely soft fleece.
Once we’d had our fill of the vibrant noise and heat of the market in the heart of Ganges, Salt Spring’s biggest town, we took off for the more relaxing Fulford area, visiting Salt Spring Island Cheese, where we met the goats, I bought some fresh pepper-encrusted cheese and we sampled some amazing goat’s milk gelato, then through the lush orchards, winding our way to Salt Spring Vineyards.
It was there that I sampled their blackberry port. I wasn’t going to – I don’t like port, I kept saying, I don’t like anything alcoholic, except a nice flinty glass of something well-chilled and white while I’m cooking.
But they were sampling it with chocolate. My mother-in-law, who is always ready to promote her family and make friends with anyone, was quick to inform the staff that I write a chocolate blog. “Oh, then you HAVE to try this” the smiling staff insisted.
What could I do? The day was beautiful, the ducks were quacking, the staff so friendly and the warm sun shining, that I agreed to try a tiny mouthful. Lovely, jammy, full of berries, like liquid sunshine. I immediately bought a bottle to bring home, to sample with chocolate.
And, since their product is conveniently available on BC Ferries, and I have long wanted to do a piece featuring them, what better pairing to try with the port than a selection of organic dark chocolate from Denman Island Chocolate Company.
Denman Island is one of the Northern Gulf Islands, a little farther away (2 ferries from where I live), a little smaller, but with that same island ethos I admire: if something is worth doing, it is worth taking the time to do with love and care.
And so, to work.
Although I am sure my sons would have been thrilled to sample the chocolates I brought home with a large glass of milk, it really wasn’t the focus of this posting.
And given the fact that the port weighs in at a hearty 16% alcohol, I knew I would have to go this one alone; take one for the team. So, over the next days, as a relaxation after teaching drama camp, I sampled the Salt Spring Island Vineyards Blackberry Port with eight different Denman Island Chocolate Company chocolates.
Here, in the order I tried them, are my completely subjective opinions:
- Coca Loco (72% cocoa mass): metallic on its own, tempered with the port, vinegar-y, almost chemical, just overwhelming for the port – 1/5
- Toasted Hazelnut: warm, mild, nice texture with the hazelnut bits, brings out the berry in the port and the chocolate – 3/5
- Holy Mole (Chipotle, hint of orange): Holy Mole, indeed – I think this combination is a winner, the spiciness hits the roof of the mouth, then is cooled and rounded out by the fruit in the port , the whole effect is dry and very flavourful – mmm – 4/5
- Razzle Dazzle (Dried Raspberry): another winner, perhaps an obvious combination, but I wondered whether one berry taste would overwhelm the other – instead they enhanced each other and the overall effect is warm, berry-rich and almost chewy like a good red wine – yummy – 4/5
- Simply Dark: lovely and smooth to begin, the port adds a little balsamic/sharpness to the taste of the chocolate – 3/5
- Gingerama (candied ginger): although I love ginger and chocolate, combined with the port it tasted medicinal – bah!, do not like this combination(but will eat the whole chocolate bar at one sitting, by itself, next week!) – 1/5
- Rosemary, Baby (70% cocoa mass with essence of rosemary): I am intrigued to try this one – the aroma from the bar itself is heavenly – redolent of rosemary, which I think of as savoury, dusty, woodsy – it’s odd, but I think it works – very savoury, almost umami in flavor – 4/5
- Zesty Orange (natural orange essence): one of my favorite combinations with chocolate, but the orange flavour is almost lost in the port, not unpleasant, I was just expecting more – 3/5
And at the end of this, I still have most of this slim 375 ml bottle left. I have no doubt that in the weeks to come, I will find many reasons to take it out and have a toast withgood chocolate and good friends – to summer!
And as for the chocolate bars? Between two teenagers and a cast of eight women, they are gone faster than a ride in a float plane.