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Utah's newest artisan chocolate maker is an old favorite.
After years of sourcing and buying cocoa beans for his Crio Bru beverage business, Utah County chocolatier Eric Durtschi has launched Durci, a new line of bars made with beans from Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Peru and Venezuela.
"I have been developing my recipes for the past eight years and have just been waiting for the right time to launch," he told The Tribune recently.
Growing up in Tennessee, where his father was plant manager for Russell Stover, Durtschi naturally developed a passion for chocolate. When he became a licensed chiropractor, his interest in chocolate turned toward nutrition and finding a way to maintain the health benefits of the cocoa bean without adding fat and sugar.
That's when he launched Crio Bru, a beverage made from roasted and ground cocoa beans. The drink has the flavor and aroma of a fine chocolate, but is brewed much like coffee, giving it the consistency and complexity of your favorite cup of java.
Adding chocolate bars to the drink line was a natural transition, he said.
"I had already built strong relationships with many native [cacao] farmers from all over the world," he said. "Along the way, I encountered many bean varieties that had wonderful potential as a chocolate even though they did not work for a brewed drink."
The name Durci is a user-friendly twist on the family moniker, Durtschi said. But it also is a nod to the grandfather who hailed from Switzerland, where "chocolate is part of their national pride."
There are six bars in the initial Durci release, with more expected in the future.
Five of the bars are 70 percent dark chocolate and have minimal ingredients: just cocoa beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter. The sixth bar is milk chocolate and also contains whole-milk powder. Each square of chocolate features the image of an explorer, a tie-in to the company's tagline: "Rediscover chocolate."
Like most artisan chocolates, it's priced higher than drug-store varieties, because among other things Durtschi is adamant about paying a fair price for cacao beans. "I have traveled the world and seen the direct impact my company has on the farmers, and it is a two-way street," he said. "They are giving me a superior product and I am helping them have a higher standard of living."
Utah now has six artisan chocolate makers, said local expert Matt Caputo, whose shop carries all the Utah makers. "And they are not just six average makers," he said. "They are six very well-respected ones."
Having that many quality makers "bodes well" for the state, said Caputo. "We have room for them all."
Caputo was especially excited about the Durci Empyrean Sabor or Heavenly Flavor bar. It is made with the Carenero bean from Venezuela, which is not typically used in premium chocolate because of processing inconsistencies. Exceptional beans from one plantation or region are typically mixed with lower-quality beans from another, reducing the overall quality and consistency.
Durtschi, however, has been working with a plantation for several years to change the way this bean is processed, yielding a bean he said is consistent and has superior quality.
"That interested me right away," said Caputo, who called the Durci version "the best Carenero bar I've ever had."
Durtschi has done something similar with his Tepui Treasure bar, made with beans from Rio Caribe, Venezuela.
"I have been able to isolate two plantations in the region that have superb cacao and have been working with them on their post-harvest practices." The chocolate, he said, has a bright and complex flavor with notes of pepper, cinnamon and earthy undertones.
But Durtschi hasn't forgot about customers who prefer milk chocolate. He called the Defiant Viajero (defiant traveler) a "gateway" to dark chocolate. It is made with 40 percent milk chocolate using Chuao beans from Venezuela. Chuao has long been known to produce the finest cocoa beans in the world, and only a few makers have the privilege of using them.
Durtschi said he knows of no other chocolatier using the bean for milk chocolate. Smooth and sweet, "this bar is definitely a change from what people expect."
Art Pollard, owner of Amano Artisan Chocolate the first U.S. maker of Chuao chocolate has been friends with Durtschi for several years and welcomes the unique interpretation.
"Eric has one of the more discerning chocolate palates," he said. "It is exciting to see him come up with new approaches in chocolate making."
Durci Artisan Chocolate
Utah County chocolatier Eric Durtschi has launched Durci, a new line of chocolate bars made with beans sourced from Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Peru and Venezuela. The six bars:
Joya Rara (Rare Jewel) • A limited-edition bar from Marañon, Peru, made with an heirloom bean that only a handful of chocolatiers use. The bar has hints of cherry and red fruits. $12.
Defiant Viajero (Defiant Traveler) • This bar is made with 40 percent milk chocolate, using the most famous bean in the world from Chuao, Venezuela. $9.
Corona Arriba (The Crown Above) • Named for the highlands of Ecuador where this bean is grown, this bar has flavors of blackberry, spice and green banana. $9.
Taino Secret • While the Dominican Republic is not traditionally known for its chocolate quality, this bean is a hidden gem, Durtschi says, with flavors of tamarind, soft citrus and caramel. $9.
Empyrean Sabor (Heavenly Flavor) • This bean epitomizes Venezuelan cacao and has natural notes of sweet tobacco and cherry with red fruits. $9.
Tepui Treasure • From Rio Caribe, Venezuela, this bar is bright and complex, with notes of pepper, cinnamon and earthy undertones. $9.