The Louth Literary Coven book club members met for their late summer craft chocolate and book pairing recently. To stimulate discussion and hopefully add to the overall enjoyment of the afternoon, I chose four bars to bring attention to the underlying themes of the novel.
On the basis that Rooney’s Normal People encourages us to consider how her main characters, Marianne and Connell, are endeavouring to work towards a more equal relationship, where money and social capital are shared, I decided to do the same with my craft chocolate choices.
Our book discussion focused predominantly on the appeal and development of the characters and the intensity and frustration of their will-they-won’t-they relationship. It was a great story and so well written. It was effortless, intense and a pleasure to read.
After our initial discussion we tasted the craft chocolate with bars selected to represent different models of fairer trade, and illustrate how craft chocolate makers are not just focusing on delivering a fine-flavour taste experience, but also on creating more equal trading relationships. These are the bars we tasted along with a brief overview of the group’s thoughts:
Tobago Estate Chocolate W.I. Laura Dark Milk 45% (by Francis Pralus)
Our first book club craft chocolate pairing was the award winning ‘Laura’ from the island of Tobago. A delicious bar with thick oozy caramel notes running into higher, sweeter honey notes and a Cadbury Eclair finish. A deliciously comforting bar made by Tobago based Duane Dove whose mission is to make chocolate with the best raw materials, completely free from exploited labour. Rather than selling beans to a European maker, Duane has the chocolate made for him by French experts, Pralus. A transparent and we presume, equal partnership between grower and maker.
Belvie Ben Tre Vietnam 70%
Next in our book club chocolate pairings was Belvie’s Ben Tre Vietnam. Originating from a Caribbean hillside plantation, where the cacao farmers work among the rice fields and water buffalo of Vietnam. A complex bar with flavours swinging gently between sweet and sour notes, made from beans purchased directly from the farmer and made from bean to bar in Vietnam. A better price for the farmers and the profits remaining in the country of origin.
Omnom Tanzania 70%
Continuing the book club pairings, we moved on to the chocolate of the Kokoa Kamili Cooperative farmers in the Kilombero Valley, on the edge of Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountain National Park. This time made by Icelandic makers Omnom. A heavenly taste experience delivering peaks of fruitiness: lemon sherbet, yellow fruits, plums and sweet figs balanced with a luscious, chocolate brownie baseline. Purchasing beans from this community of growers brings real economic development to rural Tanzanian farmers.
Duffy’s Venezuela Ocumare 72%
The final of our book club chocolate pairings was Duffy’s Venezuela Ocumare. This bar took us right back to the beginning of the story of Europe’s love affair with chocolate, and the growing of cacao being a contentious, political and often violent issue. The chocolate was full of character: sweet, sumptuous and enigmatic. Varying market structures and political pressures in the country of origin can create problems for direct trade. This is certainly the case with Venezuela.
The maker Duffy Sheardown is involved in the ‘Direct Cacao’ initiative. An association based on ‘respect, value and mutual benefit between cacao growers, chocolate makers and consumers, aiming to protect and preserve fine cacao’. But buying cacao is difficult in Venezuela as Duffy explained to me, “We cannot buy direct from Venezuela and have to use a wholesaler that we trust and that has a good reputation. We hope to go Direct Trade there at some point.”
Just like the book, the tasting had been an effortless, intense experience and the chocolate a pleasure to eat. The research on the makers and their trading relationships however, made us look beyond the great taste experience and consider the politics of power and dependency and also encouraged the group to look again at our reading of Normal People and the possibility that this too was about power, not just love but a “Marxism of the heart”. (Annalisa Quinn, www.theatlantic.com, April 19)
Through our book club chocolate pairings, we saw how Rooney had embedded politics ‘closely and rigorously’ (Annalisa Quinn) into her love story and how craft chocolate isn’t just about taste but how makers are also striving to move towards more equal trading relationships.
The result: a fabulous late summer gathering!
For our thoughts on the book’s themes and messages, as well as our full chocolate tasting descriptions and votes for our favourite bars, read the Louth Literary Coven’s full post on the Mainly Books and Chocolate blog here.