We pride ourselves on having a great selection of chocolate from near and far at a variety of price points. Some tout the "raw" chocolate, some elaborate flavour combinations; some are local, some from exotic locations; some organic, some not - but all great quality stuff. So how do you choose?
Once you've decided on a milk or a dark or if you're looking for particular flavours or other qualities, you're really left with the packaging. The packaging always attempts to convey something of the product within - the no-nonsense cardboard of Galérie au Chocolat or the exquisite chiyogami paper wrappers of Laura Slack's bars - but ultimately it comes down to judging a book by its cover; both the design and the information included.
To tell you the truth, we hesitated about carrying these Yaal and ChocoSoleil products from a company (AOG Foods) founded by two Ecuadoran-Canadian brothers and their friend because we didn't like the packaging. We still don't understand the distinction between the product lines. The design is too busy and its graphics too dated-looking. But when we opened these "books" and got to know about the team's mission and the product inside we were sold - and we hope you will be too.
Ecuador has a long history of cacao cultivation and is a top exporter. Its varied geography offers many distinct regional terroir variations of the bean and its flavours and characteristics. AOG supports several small grower cooperatives and pays 20-50% above current market rates in order to support small communities using traditional farming methods and promote agricultural sustainability. They are Canada, US and EU certified organic, exceed fair trade and environmental standards and use purpose-built state of the art processing facilities and traceability procedures.
And then there's the chocolate.
Whether it's blended or single estate origin, you get a smooth, complex, rich flavour and mouthfeel - even the 80% Esmerelda doesn't have the kind of chalkiness you can get with cocoa percentages that high. And the inclusion on the perfectly portioned discs of exotic fruits or the thin layer of maca, quinoa, sesame, amaranth, turmeric, chia and cocoa nibs on the Super 7 bar - never overwhelms the chocolate. And it's all produced bean-to-bar, which means that AOG handles every step in the process: from sourcing to sorting, roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding, conching, tempering, molding, packaging and getting the bar to us.
You can't really go wrong with any of the chocolate you can get at the Mercantile - whether it's Laura Slack or Chuao or Marou or Vosges or Galérie or Theo or Chocosol or Denman Island. And some will look better in your gift basket than others or appeal to different styles. But if you really want to wow the chocolate aficionados in your life once the wrapping is opened up, give these a try - you won't be disappointed.
Bunnies, chicks and eggs. They are EVERYWHERE right now with Easter around the corner. And, of course, they are ancient symbols of fertility and renewal that coincide with the equinox and the arrival - finally - of spring.
As always, we have an amazing selection of the chocolate iterations of these seasonal icons and we'll talk about those next week. But this week, we wanted to go all-natural.
We have been very proud for the last few years to be your neighbourhood source for what we consider to be the very best pastured eggs available. Murray Thunberg operates his farm near Cambridge Ontario and he raises his hens (and pigs, though we don't carry the pork!) the old fashioned way. In each box of Murray's Farm eggs you'll find a variety of shell colours (and different tones of yolk when you crack them open too). They are rich and flavourful and they are pretty enough to serve as pre-painted eggs but there's no artificial colour here; merely the reflection of the different heritage hen breeds occupying Murray's barn: Jersey Giants, Golden Buff Orpingtons; Silver Pencilled Rocks, Blue Copper Maran and others.
So we'll set you up for chocolate eggs and there are other places on Roncy where you can get decorating supplies and even elaborate Easter Egg stencils but if you want to have just naturally beautiful eggs in your fridge over Easter, head to our fridge at the back of the store and pick up a carton as soon as you can. Our regular customers usually clean us out but at this time of year the demand for Murray's gorgeous eggs is especially high and it's not hard to see why.
As usual, the Christmas season was a busy time at the Mercantile. And with a little effort we could probably quote you some impressive statistics about the number of felt ornaments or chocolate Santas or Christmas tea blends sold. But with Earth Day coming up this weekend, one statistic really stood out for us: in the month of December alone, we went through 3000 plastic bags! And that's just one store in one neighbourhood in one city here on our one and only planet.
Remember a few years ago there was a tax on plastic bags? To be honest, nobody seemed to mind paying it because it wasn't very much and we got very few complaints about it. Plus, people really started to change their behaviour around how they prepared to go shopping so fewer and fewer people even had to pay the tax. But then the tax was reversed and it was amazing how quickly people stopped remembering to bring their own bags. So in honour of Earth Day this year, for the rest of the month if you bring your own shopping bags for your purchases - and mention that you read this in our newsletter or on our website or social media feeds - we'll give you a nickel - 5¢ cold hard cash! We also have some beautiful new mesh bags that might entice you to make the switch. If the program is a success we may just continue it and challenge our fellow local businesses to follow suit!
That's one thing we're doing to celebrate Earth Day. Here's the other:
Starting June 1st, we're teaming up with Clearwater Farms as a neighbourhood hub for their weekly food basket program. Clearwater is a flagship initiative of the Ontario Water Centre, an educational organization with charitable status. Clearwater’s food production supports the centre's educational mission to further place-based experiential learning through school and camp-based youth-focused programs, and through partnerships with community groups. Their vegetables are just beautiful - delicious, nutritious and grown using organic and regenerative practices that showcase the creative potential of sustainable agriculture. Sign up by May 1st and take advantage of their Early Bird 10% discount. You'll deal directly with them on the order and then come on in to the Mercantile to pick it up each week. For more info or to sign up for the program, visit ClearWaterFarms.ca