Fair warning: eat a snack before you go to Natural History Museum of Utah’s Chocolate: The Exhibition. You may think your willpower will hold strong strolling through the spectacular permanent galleries, then visiting the latest exhibit. But you’d be wrong, you smug fit bastard. From the moment you walk through the doors of the 3rd floor changing exhibit hall -- catching a whiff of rich cocoa aroma from truly diabolical aroma dispensers as you enter -- you’ll be aching for chocolate. Dying for it. Forget restraint and fortitude. As delightfully distracted as you’ll be by the engaging and fascinating installation featuring everything cacao, you know that somewhere out there is a goddamn chocolate bar with your name on it. And you can’t eat it. Because you are in a museum. With the big ‘ol “no food or drinks permitted” sign right up front. #FML
Not to worry, friends. We’ve got your back. Well, at least the supah clevah folks at the NHMU do. We recently had the COLLECTIVE pleasure of taking a sneak peak at the Chocolate exhibit before it opens to the public on Saturday, February 8th [oh, but museum members can get in today]. Genius exhibit designer and phenomenal human being, Tim Ross Lee, of the NHMU toured us around during installation, and it’s pretty freaking tasty. The exhibit is on loan from the Chicago Field Museum with the generous support of local corporate and private sponsors, including the good people at Harmon’s and our favorite philanthropy power couple Bing and Judy Fang. The touring exhibit covers the global history of chocolate from Aztec ritual to contemporary artisanal chocolatiers. It takes you through the process of chocolate making from the spectacularly gag-reflex-inducing cacao bean [really, this shit looks like insect larva on steroids] to the brightly wrapped bar you steal from your kids’ Halloween bag [you know who you are].
The acclaimed national tour is pretty freaking amazing on its own, but the NHMU has put a particularly Utah-centric topspin on this tale of the treat. Exhibit preparators Michael McGlothlen and Will Black showed us artifacts found at the Alkali Ridge archaeological site in southern Utah that tested positive for Theobroma cacao, the chemical biomarker indicating a high probability of cacao consumption linked to ceramics found on the site. Translation: earliest documented chocolate guzzling in the United States. We’re talking over 1,200 years ago. Yeah, monitor that on your holy-shit-o-meter. Archaeologist Dorothy Washburn initially made the cacao connection at Alkali Ridge, and NHMU curator Glenna Nielsen-Grimm conducts the continuing research on pots from the museum’s collection to keep the buzz going.
Utah chocolate makers have been pulling down some serious acclaim of their own the past few years, and get major props in the exhibit finale. Utah’s godfather of chocolate, Matt Caputo of Caputo’s Market, generously lent us his expertise during our tour, accompanied by foodie extraordinaire, Chantelle Bourdeaux of A Prioi Distribution. Museum visitors will get similar attention from chocolate curators in a dedicated tasting room completely devoted to chocolate at the exit of the exhibit [see a link for the tasting schedule below]. Like, thousands of bars of it. You can test out some samples and buy a few rare treats to enjoy at home. Or in the parking lot.
We’re not judging.
Sure, you’ll see some brands that most Americans can get their sweaty paws on, but you’ll also spot some really badass, and really local, wrappers: The Chocolate Conspiracy. Solstice. Amano. Crio Bru. Mezzo. Millcreek Cacao Rosters. Here in the Beehive state, buying locally-made chocolate means we get to choose from some of the best chocolate made in the Entire. Freaking. World. Take that, Hershey, PA. Caputo’s Market and exhibit sponsor, Harmon’s, will be hosting tasting and culinary pairing events for the duration of the tour at the museum and all over town. Hallelujah. Let’s just say it’s a pleasure to get schooled when it comes to cacao.
Sign our asses up.
It’s time to step up your Valentine’s game this year, lover. But why keep the romance to just one day in February? Here are some of our tips for bringing it on strong and sweet all season long.
Valentine’s Day “Chocolate: The Event” Dinner at the Downtown Harmon’s Cooking School on Friday, February 14th. A six-course gourmet feast featuring chocolate prepared both sweet and savory. Think candied pork belly, duck with cherry chocolate sauce, and the desserts list is downright pornographic. There’ll be a cocktail party featuring chocolate mixology to start off the night, and wine pairings included with the dinner. Yes! A freaking STEAL at $100 a plate [bonus...proceeds go to support the NHMU]. Seats are filling up fast. And no, you don’t have to cook anything at the cooking school, unless you really, really want to.
Chocolate Tasting Class with Matt Caputo at the NHMU, Wednesday, February 26th. Did you know that Caputo’s Deli has the largest selection of ultra premium chocolate in the entire U.S. of A.? Yup, right here in the SLC. Mad props to Caputo’s CEO Matt Caputo, who’s one of the most influential folks in the American chocolate industry, hell, even the world. Also being a stand-up guy, he loves to share his passion for chocolate with we un-worthy plebes in his insanely popular Chocolate classes held several times a year at Caputo’s. He’ll be teaching one in a few weeks at the museum. Sqweee! Although the NHMU exhibit doesn’t touch the subject of chocolate’s purported aphrodisiac qualities, we hear Matt shares the skinny on that claim in his classes. Until then, we’ll just have to continue researching on our own. Somebody’s gotta do it.
President's Day Weekend Celebration at the museum. Pop in for events over President’s Day weekend with your guests from out-of-town. They’ll love you forever.
The Ultimate Chocolate Festival is March 22-23, with big sponsor Caputo’s Market. Tickets will be available on the NHMU website later this month. It’s a two-day chocolate extravaganza with more details to be announced soon via the NHMU and Caputo’s. Two days of Chocolate. #holyhellyeah Check out the video from last year’s event. Totes legit international chocolate extravaganza, right here in the SLC.
Classes and Events at Caputo’s Deli -- The next chocolate class offered by Matt at Caputo’s downtown is on April 1st, “Tasting Class: Recent Trends in Heirloom Cacao,” with available wine pairings. But check out their whole class calendar while you’re signing up: whiskey, cheese, pasta, you name it. You won’t be disappointed. The hubster and I recently took a fantastic butchering class together there for date night. Nothing says “romance” like meat cleavers.
Snuggle up with your sweetie at home with a great bottle of wine, and enjoy this delicious and EASY recipe from Utah’s own Queen of Chocolate, SLC-based educator and writer, Vanessa Chang:
Chocolate Crostini, [serves 4, 2 pieces per person] Fine chocolate takes center stage barely warmed atop some good bread. Don't fear the unusual addition of olive and sea salt -- both bring out the flavor of the chocolate as the crafty Catalonians have long known. This recipe is dead simple and dead gorgeous. Anyone can make it. And everyone will love it.
8 thin slices of baguette [cut crostini-style]
8 pieces of fine chocolate pieces to fit on top of bread [try Solstice or Ritual]
Fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt [like Fleur de Sel or Sel Gris]
If the oven is already on from cooking something delicious, turn it off. If not, preheat the oven to 250 degrees, and turn off when you're ready to make the crostini. Place the bread on a baking sheet and top each piece with a piece of chocolate. Place the sheet in the preheated oven and let the chocolate warm until it's glossy but keeping its shape. The time will depend on thick your chocolate pieces are, so watch it every minute or so, but most should be ready within 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and lightly drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt. Serve immediately for maximum joy.