Finally, Louth Literary Coven got to meet in person. Our chocolate book club family were reunited in June, sheltering from the rain under a huge garden umbrella.
Since our last meeting, we had lost ourselves in the story of two siblings, absent parents, an evil stepmother, two stepsisters, a painting and an imposing house; some of us having filtered the drama and tension through the calming voice of Tom Hanks in the audio version of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.
The direct gaze of Maeve’s portrait on the cover of the book is deliberately unsettling. It becomes a character in the narrative, just as the house does. As the story unfolds, the personalities reveal themselves and their failings through their relationship with the house. They despise, desire and control it until finally it is loved again.
But this story is far from a fairy tale. The American Dream that allows two families to own the Dutch House is sullied by narcissism, envy and revenge.
The Dutch house takes its name from the Van Hoebecks, a family with Dutch ancestry who made their fortune in tobacco and whose fall from grace goes on to profit the Conroys and their fortuitous real estate empire. This elevated status however is short-lived for both families. The space and extravagance of the house, with its delftware mantels, luxurious interiors and imposing family portraits, comes to represent their failure rather than their fortune.
We found Patchett’s characters fascinating: loyal and caring but infuriating and undeserving of the love of those around them. It was, instead, the house that inspired the chocolate pairings. The house had beauty and standing on its own, but with the right people inside and the dancing in the ballroom resumed, its spirit was rekindled and it radiated a new light.
My pairings combine chocolate from Dutch makers Heinde & Verre and American makers Askinosie. They focus first on the beauty and flavour of a specific cacao followed by the same cacao with an added ingredient. Would the character of the chocolate on its own, be enhanced when combined with the colour and flavour of the additional ingredients? The bars for this pairing were purchased from Chocolate Seekers and Cocoa Runners.
Heinde & Verre Aged Noble Bali 71% & Vegan Noble Bali 55%
We begin with two bars crafted in a Dutch house, by makers Heinde & Verre. I chose the Aged Noble Bali, which has been aged for up to two years, the layered flavours being achieved by blending chocolate from different ageing stages. The packaging states ‘elegance comes with age’. All a good match for the Dutch House, newly designed and constructed then aged and tempered with antiques and ancestry.
The 71% had a fresh, green, floral aroma. Slow to melt, the floral, lychee aromas escaped as they filled the mouth with their substance. It was gentle, with a touch of warming alcohol, and softened even further at the end with notes of honey and dessert wine.
The Noble Bali Mylk proports to ‘shed new light’ on the Balinese cacao, creating a mylk chocolate made from a blend of ingredients unique to Heinde & Verre. The floral character was maintained in the aroma, with warmer caramel notes and coconut. This time the chocolate coated the mouth. A Nutella sweetness cloaked in coconut released soft banana notes. The familiar honey notes and dessert wine finish returned us to our memories of the stand-alone 71%.
This was a superb take on a milk chocolate. The character of the cacao still present, still shining through, but for us, the mylk elements controlled and dominated the overall experience. We couldn’t help but see Andrea’s relationship with the Dutch House in this pairing.
Askinoisie Ecuador 70%, Dark Chocolate + Red Raspberry
My American family came in the form of Askinosie. The Askinosie family, in contrast to the Conroy family, is built on mutual respect. In creating Askinosie Chocolate, Shawn Askinosie swapped an illustrious career as a criminal defence lawyer to run a chocolate business based on social justice. Like the members of the Conroy family, Shawn Askinosie qualifies both as a talented entrepreneur and an obsessive altruist, but in contrast, his drive to succeed and need to help others bring returns for all: his family, his team, the farmers in the origin countries and their families too.
The Ecuadorian cacao for the 70% bar is sourced directly from farmers in San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador. The aroma delivered deep earthy chocolate notes with red fruit jam. This time a silky mouthfeel slowly released the jammy red fruit promised in the aroma then darker notes of cocoa, coffee and tobacco. The red fruit made a reappearance in the aftertaste calling forth the image of Maeve’s red coat.
In the next bar, created in partnership with celebrated jam makers American Spoon, Askinoisie takes these red hues and intensifies them by adding ripe red raspberries to the earthy Ecuadorian taste experience. So, how would this play out?
Bright red earth in the aroma: deep, sweet and bright. That same silky melt, no gritty raspberry seeds but sweetness, tartness and tantalising bursts of bright flavour, all bathed in deep, dark earthy tones of chocolate. The edgy cocoa notes had been tempered into an altogether more rounded chocolate experience, the tobacco into hints of spice. These flavours danced with the sweet fruit jam, the raspberry leading but not dominating. It was grand, spirited and entrancing.
Who couldn’t love this bar and how it takes you to a welcoming, exciting and extravagant place? Was this the Dutch House as it should be, with the portrait of Maeve returned to its empty spot?
I would love to hear what you think?
Sources and further reading:
Askinosie, S. & Askinosie, L., 2017. Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul. New York: TarcherPerigee.
Patchett, A., 2020. The Dutch House. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.