Sunday market. Claudio Corallo chocolate.
A couple of days ago I stumbled upon another food blog, one of those ones that only serve to emphasize my status as a bumbling amateur, and stayed up late to read through the archives. I came across a mention of a chocolatier who had recently opened up shop in Ballard. It comes from Africa, the islands of São Tome e Príncipe, made by an Italian coffee producer who had spent nearly twenty years in Zaire, first as a coffee trader and then a producer. I couldn't wait to try some, and it was one of those happy coincidences that this was our weekend for the Ballard market (we switch off between the Ballard and U-District farmer's markets now that my local one has closed for the winter). We could swing by after our Sunday shopping. Or before.
Before hitting the market we headed off for coffee, and once C. had been caffeinated I dragged her farther up Market Street in search of chocolate, having only the vaguest idea of where Claudio Corallo might be hiding. One block more! I cried, until at last I had to admit defeat, and we turned back towards the market, crossing the street so as to cover all our bases. It was then I saw it, a tiny storefront wedged in between a clinic and an optometrist's office. Or something. It was closed, but would be open at noon. We peered inside. It looked like a office waiting room, with only a small glass-fronted counter with a few bars of chocolate lying around indicating that this was a store. A few articles were posted by the door, which we skimmed through before walking the few blocks back to the market.
After a hot dog (me) and a slice of pizza (C.) we made our rounds of the market stalls (and the many shops on either side of the street). I was going to be good, and stay within a $50 budget, giving up the half-gallon of apple cider in favor of a banana-and-nutella-stuffed crêpe, limiting myself to one box each of pappardelle and trofie, instead of the ravioli or plin, going without flowers, which wither and die all too quickly. I bought chanterelles and apples and pearly-skinned Rose Finn potatoes and deep purple carrots and a giant head of Napa cabbage that weighed a good five pounds. A tiny bottle of cream would be destined for another jar of caramel sauce, a bundle of kale would go nicely into...well, I'm sure I will find something to do with it all. I bought onions and bok choy and avoided the siren song of the man selling chocolate-covered butter toffee. Very good stuff it is, too, but not this week.
Then we finally make it back to the tiny Claudio Corallo shop, where we sample several different types of chocolate - 75% cacao, 80% with sugar crystals, 100% unsweetened, and 73.5% with cocoa nibs. We try whole cacao beans, which have the same smooth intensity and are curiously addictive. As we taste the man presiding over the shop tells us all about Claudio and his chocolate and his farm in Principe but I confess I am too carried away by the chocolate to process what he is telling me. It is like drinking really good wine, intensely complex with all sorts of notes and flavors I lack the vocabulary to describe. It is the best chocolate I have ever had. I buy some unsweetened bars - it is a powerful jolt of chocolate, smooth and complicated but not bitter - and a bar of the 73.5% with cocoa nibs. We are offered a taste of the chocolate truffles, made with an 80% ganache inside and a smooth coating of 75% chocolate outside, and like the bars, it is something beyond mere candy, deep and mysterious. Hours later I can still taste it, and I want more.