It’s funny the things you find where and dressed up as what.
This chocolate here is my second New Mexico finding, this time from Taos. Specifically, the Kit Carson museum there. If you’re not familiar with Kit Carson, he is a figure of the West: trapper, trail guide, one-time military officer. A mountain man. The museum in Taos is at the home where he lived with his third wife, Josefa; the gift shop is small, but does contain a few goodies. Of most interest to me were blocks (yes, hard as wood) of tea and “Mountain Man Chocolate,” designed to give visitors a taste of the kind of fare Kit would’ve had. Labeled as immune to melting and priced at $3 (the tea was $4), it seemed the perfect chocolate to pick up. Raw and true novelty, I thought.
When I came to photographing it and unwrapping it (I’m a fan of living history), I again reveled in the brown paper packaging. As I expected, the chocolate circle is divided into eight wedges, each with a marking, like Mexican hot chocolate.
But the sugar crystal-studded texture was more similar than I’d been thinking. I had a disc of Ibarra hot chocolate on hand, so I brought it over to compare ingredients. Guess what? They’re exactly the same: sugar, cacao nibs, lecithin, and cinnamon flavor. Well . . . they are similar products, right? Then the final observation came in. What do those letters on the Mountain Man Chocolate spell? Ibarra. Even the two little circles on the extra pieces are identical.
Wait, you say, that says it’s made by Austin Bragg for Bent St. Vrain & Co., and Ibarra is made by Chocolatera De Jalisco. Well, I can’t tell you who Austin Bragg is/was, but a quick search reveals that Bent St. Vrain & Co. was a trade company in the West — Bent St. is right by the museum. If there’s a modern connection, I can’t find it (there is no other info on the label); all this appears to be is a little historical play. I’m guessing the museum is the one to repackage it.
That out in the open, the product itself isn’t terrible. You can nibble on it as is, but all of those sugar crystals can be a bit much this way. The intended use is generally the best one. To make hot chocolate, you just break off the pieces you want, put them into hot milk, and mix with a whisk. That grainy texture means that it settles if you don’t drink it right away, yet there isn’t anything quite like some Mexican hot chocolate. The cinnamon flavor and even the rougher texture. It also, I think, has a benefit from containing cocoa nibs versus cocoa powder. If only this was what I knew I was buying.
It isn’t a bad idea to repackage like this, and I don’t feel gypped. Just disappointed. The label should include a line that lets me know I’m getting something I can find in a regular grocery store.