Louth Literary Coven’s February book choice was a recommendation from a friend who sold it to us as a life-changing must-read. This potentially put it on a par with Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I don’t know how many of us could claim to have changed their life’s paths after that particular book club; the effect certainly came to me, in the form of a slow-burn, but I did eventually leave my job, pursue my dreams and find more meaningful work.
Even before our discussions, Tuesdays with Morrie had already created a force for good at Louth Literary Coven: on learning that this was our next read, an old school friend now living in New York decided to join us. Memories of school days and a glimpse of the afternoon sun shining on the Empire State Building while discussing this No. 1 New York Times bestseller helped make it a memorable evening.
Pairing craft chocolate to a book teaching the benefits of finding your life’s purpose and connecting with people in your community was a gift. The only real difficultly was to choose which makers to go for. The obvious choice was Askinosie Chocolate given that the founders Shawn and Lawren Askinosie have written a book entitled Meaningful Work: a sharing of skills and experiences learnt on a journey to finding a personal or corporate vocation. But there was another perfect candidate, Goodnow Farms – name says it all – based in Sudbury Massachussets, not that far from Morrie’s home and the venue for the Tuesday teachings.
I’ve never met Tom and Monica from Goodnow Farms, but their website told me that Tom had been a TV producer and Monica a real estate agent. Careers that they gave up to spend time in Latin America searching for the most flavourful beans and critically doing their best to engage with and give back to the communities and farms that grow them. So, I emailed them asking if the messages in our book related to their own life choices. To which I received the response, “Yes, absolutely. That’s one of the big reasons we chose to do this.” I love that about the chocolate community: when you ask, you usually get a very personal, warm and enthusiastic response.
The book isn’t just about finding a meaningful life; it’s also about the role of teachers in our lives. Similarly, in chocolate, it is not just the makers who are creating businesses and livelihoods with heart and soul but educators too. Morrie tell us how “we all need teachers in our lives, making change doesn’t just happen. You need someone to probe you in that direction. It won’t happen automatically.”
That is just what chocolate educators are doing, and chocolate education has also become meaningful work. I can certainly vouch for that along with the rest of the army of educators. Dr Jessica Henderson for example, the Chocolate Monkey, with a PhD in Neuroscience who left a research position to spend time with family and educate people about craft chocolate; Nicola Knight, founder of Celebrate Cacao, former primary school teacher who now organises consumer events promoting and advocating for ethically made craft chocolate.
Goodnow Farms Chocolate: Ecuador, Esmeraldas 70% and Peru, Ucayali 70%
The Esmeraldas bar is the result of a relationship between Goodnow Farms, the Salazar family and their 100-acre farm on the North West coast of Ecuador and Dan O’Doherty of Cacao Services, seductively named the cacao whisperer!
We were all seduced by the simplicity and subtlety of this bar. A distinct aroma with a steady melt delivering a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. For me, the flavour sang out in bright and sweet red fruit jam notes then receded into a hazelnut finish; others were tasting stewed fruits and sweet raisins. But all agreed it that the delivery was effortless, making it a supremely enjoyable opening bar.
The Ucayali bar involves Goodnow Farms, several hundred small farmers living along the Ucayali river and the team at the Ucayali River Company who have built a fermentation and drying facility to give these farmers access to the fine-flavour market.
Fruity high notes hit our aroma receptors this time. Gold colours swirled through the melt: caramel, apricots, the fleeting citric high notes promised in the aroma, the sweet honey undertones encircling them all. We picked up a little astringency at the end and a very light finish. It was much gentler than we were expecting. It had “lots going on”!
Goodnow Farms Chocolate: Colombia, Boyaca 73% and Nicaragua, El Carmen 77%
The Colombia bar is a new project for Tom and Monica. Working with the farmers, fermenters and dryers of San Pablo de Borbur, they are supporting a drive to bring families out of poverty, provide a viable alternative to growing coca and harness the potential of their fine-flavour cacao.
A treacle-on-the-nose start. The melt was cool, creamy and mouth-watering. The interplay between sweet caramel notes and the deep roasted and treacle notes was irresistible. For some, the emphasis was on the darker notes, but for me the sweet peaks dominated. The aftertaste lingered longer this time, central chocolate crescendoing into a roasted finish.
The final coming together of common interests brings us to the Nicaragua bar. This time the team comprises, among others, Tom and Monica, Bayardo Benavidez Blandon and his family who farm cacao around the town of El Carmen and Giff Laube and Jose Enrique Herrera, the owners of Cacao Bisiesto.
The aroma was earthy and vegetal. We were now recognising the Goodnow Farms melt and mouthfeel, but the flavours weren’t appreciated immediately this time. Earthy, minerally with the underlying vegetal notes detected in the aroma. There were soft peaks of caramel, but we weren’t getting the sweet raisins suggested on the packaging. Not the favourite of the night but an intriguing taste experience.
We tasted this bar at the end of the evening, on a Friday night after a busy week. The following Sunday I went for a walk in the Lincolnshire Wolds. It was a crisp, cold day and the path led me into a wooded area. I was overwhelmed by the smell of the woods, the trees, the earth under my feet, the moss and vegetation and I could immediately taste the El Carmen bar from our book club tasting. I tasted it again when I got home. This time it had a caramel start, the wood and vegetal notes were more fleeting, interjected with sweet caramel and raisins! This was obviously the right time and mood to get the best from this chocolate.
Shawn Askinosie takes the lessons from Tuesday’s with Morrie and predicts that people will come to demand a new type of workplace, one that has a vocation and community.
The Goodnow Farms chocolate tasted good. It tasted good not just because of the quality of the cacao but because it was created by a community of people involved in meaningful work.
Sources and further reading:
Askinoise, S., Askinosie, L., 2017 Meaningful Work: A Quest To Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, And Feed Your Soul, by Shawn Askinosie, Tarcher Perigree, a division of Penguin Random House
Albom, M., 2017. Tuesday With Morrie. Second ed. London: Sphere.