I have always been a curious person. It is why I choose to pursue a career in journalism and, on the flip side, the reason why I know what putting a fork in an electrical outlet feels like (please don’t do it).
Most recently, my curiosity was piqued by Tcho, a Berkeley, CA-based company that was unveiling a never-before-done savory chocolate that tastes just like nachos.
It made me do a double take … nachos? Like, the gooey, cheese-covered tortilla chips but also in chocolate form? Would there just be a hint of cheese in an otherwise sweet chocolate bar? I needed to know.
And so off I went, taking two forms of transportation and poking around behind a gym to find Tcho’s chocolate factory all to quench my need to know if chocolate and cheese could really blend into something delicious.
Tcho’s chocolate nachos
Innovation often requires taking risks and venturing into the unknown. Tcho, revered for its ethical sourcing practices, did this back in 2022 when it removed dairy from all of its chocolate formulations.
The result? It slashed emissions by 75 percent and still competed against dairy chocolates—and won—in the “Filled Milk Chocolate” category at the International Chocolate Awards with its oat milk-based Choco Latte flavor.
Since that win, Tcho Chief Chocolate Maker Brad Kintzer has leaned into risk-taking at full speed, collaborating with local businesses on limited-edition chocolates such as Hoppy Hour—an effervescent, pop rocks-studded, hops-infused dark chocolate bar made to taste like a Fieldwork IPA.
Tcho took another risk with the new Choco Natchos—which it is offering as a super-limited release of just 500 packages. The idea first came to Kintzer during the 2018 Super Bowl season, where the Philadelphia Eagles ended up dominating the New England Patriots.
During the tailgating party, Kintzer’s friends gathered to enjoy a portable nacho snack that he brought. After getting requests to bring the snack back, the chocolate maker began tinkering with what would become the Choco Natchos.
These early iterations of the unique product were made with orange dairy cheese powder—something Kintzer removed and rethought when Tcho committed to becoming a plant-based chocolate company. For the final version, Kintzer decided to use a dairy-free base that’s heavy on the nutritional yeast to impart intense cheesy flavors.
“It came out surprisingly cheesy,” Kintzer tells VegNews. “Even better than the original. It was a pressure relief valve of creativity.”
So what do Choco Natchos taste like? Imagine taking a bowl of nachos and making every layer into a concentrated cheesy bite that’s made a bit crunchy with tortilla pieces with plenty of savory flavor from garlic, red onion, cilantro, oregano, tomato, and chives, along with a lasting spicy kick from the smoked paprika and jalapeño. Plus, there’s even guacamole in there.
At first, the flavor was entirely overwhelming. But after I ate another square, it began to remind me of the finger-licking experience I loved as a kid after polishing off a bag of classic nacho cheese Doritos.
“It’s still a funny little thing we’re doing,” Kintzer says, referring to the playful nature of this cheesy chocolate. “But it showcases our interest in exploring flavor and trying to bend the rules of what can be cheesy and what the flavor dynamics have to be.”
Bending the possibilities of cocoa butter
While I was expecting more of a chocolate flavor in Choco Natchos, Kintzer explained that this nacho snack was made to showcase the possibilities of cocoa butter, which lends the snack a unique mouthfeel akin to having nachos that melt in your mouth. This, Kintzer explains, is because of cocoa butter’s unique ability to stay solid at room temperature and melt at a degree that’s right below human mouth temperature.
“It opens up a whole new world because you can take something, add it to cocoa butter, and be able to shape it into a chocolate bar,” he says. “So that creates this unbelievable, very slow, delivery mechanism of all that flavor.”
It was at this point in our conversation that I realized this chocolate experiment wasn’t really about blending chocolate and nachos. Kintzer is a true artist in the sense that when he has an idea, no matter how wacky, he must get it out into the world in some way.
He told me that thanks to freeze-drying, he’s been able to explore other off-the-wall ideas, including a bar that featured kimchi with Korean vegan beef jerky.
“It’ll come to me in a moment and I have to make it and taste it,” Kintzer says, admitting that not every idea is successful. “But sometimes, they taste amazing. And in the case of the Natchos, it resonated with a lot of people.”
Serendipitously, a few days after I visited the Tcho factory, our local team the San Francisco 49’ers made it to the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs—solidifying Choco Natchos as the tailgating snack of 2024.