Artsy Chocolates

Meet my edible fossil.

It looks like one doesn’t it? What with all those strange embedded pebble-like pieces stuck in it, right?

In reality, it’s a custom chocolate bar decked out like some eerie moonscape with my own chosen ingredients. In this case, a white chocolate bar strewn with an eclectic mix of orange pepper, Rice Crispies, dried orange, gold flakes and a few rather bulbous wasabi peanuts.

German chocolate start-up, Chocri, has just expanded to the U.S. market to let chocoholics design their own white, milk and dark chocolate bars with more than 100 different toppings. Yes, we’re talking everything from bacon to cheese-curry cashews to paradise grains to plum bits to organic mint leaves. Apparently, more than 10 billion combinations are possible. I’ll let you do the math.

The bars are made of organic, Fair Trade chocolate from Belgium, and many of the ingredient options are organic.

Chocri reps invited me to try three complimentary bars recently. The step-by-step design process on the Web site is straight-forward. You choose your base bar, then go to town on the toppings, choosing up to five for each 6-by-3-inch bar. You can even give your bar a name, too.

It takes about two weeks to receive your chocolate bars, which are shipped from Germany. They’re not necessarily inexpensive — my three bars were valued at a total cost of $35. One percent of every purchase is donated to DIV Kinder, an organization that supports children on the Ivory Coast, the largest exporter of cocoa beans in the world. To date, Chocri donations have helped build a well, buy refrigerators and build an orphanage there.

As with custom-burger restaurants, if you hate the end product, you have no one but yourself to blame for choosing the toppings that you did. But it sure is fun to get inventive.

I’ll use my patented scale of 1 to 10 lip-smackers to critique my own creations, with 1 being the “Bleh, save your money” far end of the spectrum; 5 being the “I’m not sure I’d buy it, but if it was just there, I might nibble some” middle-of-the-road response; and 10 being the “My gawd, I could die now and never be happier, because this is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth” supreme ranking.

My Chocri “Asian Fusion in White Chocolate”: I have to admit I love the glittery gold dust on this bar. The orange pepper and dried orange are wonderful, giving this mild, creamy bar a hit of citrus and a back note of subtle heat. There are only four big wasabi peanuts on the bar, which is maybe a good thing. They look way cool on the bar, but once you bite into one, it obliterates all other flavors on the bar. Rating: 7 lip-smackers.

My Chocri “Ginger-Pear Persuasion with Dark Chocolate”: You know I have a thing for ginger, so onto this dark chocolate bar, I choose candied ginger bits, pine nuts, Bourbon vanilla, and chunky pear bits. How did I do? Well, the pairing of dark chocolate with ginger is just heaven. I could have just stopped there and been one happy camper. But the pear added another nice dimension. The pine nuts added crunch and a buttery quality. I think I did pretty well with this creation, if I do say so, myself. I like the way that every bite reveals a new riff, keeping your interest and taste buds excited. Rating: 9 lip-smackers.

My Chocri “Open Sesame with Milk Chocolate”: I figured that hazelnuts go well with milk chocolate. Then, I spied organic chamomile and had to have that. After all, it’s one of my favorite teas. Then, I decided to go with both white and black sesame seeds. The verdict? The sesame seeds give a beautiful look to the bar and add a nice, long crunch as you chew. But it’s the chamomile flowers that really make this bar. They’re so lovely to look at — almost as if the blooms had been preserved in the bar as in the pages of a scrapbook. Their floral nature gives the milk chocolate a really memorable twist. Rating: 9 lip-smackers.

It may be too late to order Chocri for Valentine’s Day, but San Francisco’s TCHO chocolate company has created special boxes of its signature bean-to-bar chocolates with a hip, romantic look for the holiday.

TCHO’s new Artist Series boxes, available now, were created by Dutch artist Max Kisman. A keepsake black, magnetic clasp box comes adorned with one of his modern prints. Inside, find squares of each of TCHO’s four signature chocolates, “Nutty,” “Chocolatey,” “Fruity,” and “Citrus.”

A 12-bar box is $15; a 48-bar  one is $48. They’re available at TCHO’s Beta Factory Store on Pier 17 in San Francisco or on TCHO’s Web site.

TCHO’s intense chocolates have merited a “10” in my book ever since the company, co-founded by a former NASA space shuttle technician and a former co-founder of Wired Magazine, began making them a couple years ago.

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