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.
So hands up, on receipt of a copy of Andrew Baker’s new book From Bean to Bar, I immediately checked the index to find the references to Lincolnshire. I was confident that Duffy Sheardown, ‘the Genius of Cleethorpes’, would feature but was interested to see who else was on the chocolate map. And I needed to reassure myself that the well-travelled Andrew Baker didn’t know more Lincolnshire chocolate makers than I did! That done, I sat back, relaxed and began to take in the rest of Andrew’s delicious journey.
Given Andrew’s status as a respected journalist and dedicated chocolate fan, I am sure there will be many expert reviews of this book. My aim is to encourage you to learn from the book and to seek out better chocolate wherever you find yourself in the UK. There is always something new to discover – as I found out when making my own Lincolnshire chocolate road trip.
From Bean To Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain
People in the chocolate world often refer to their personal chocolate journeys: how they have discovered the different makers, tastes, origins and joys of this fine foodstuff, but there can be very few people who have packed so much in to such a short time. I admit being extremely envious of Andrew’s year long pilgrimage.
From Bean To Bar introduces us to some of the best artisan makers, tells the story of Britain’s own chocolate journey from industrial pioneer to centre of bean-to-bar excellence and reminds us what good chocolate is, how to find it and how to appreciate it. I love his straight talking approach. He doesn’t hold back from describing our nation’s general love of ‘rubbish’ chocolate and I really felt for the owner of the chocolate shop on Lincoln’s Steep Hill who had to admit to Andrew that he hadn’t heard of Duffy Sheardown.
I think we have now given up speculating on the number of bean-to-bar makers in the UK but I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew’s shortlist. I have tasted my way through most of them on my own chocolate journey but I still came across three that I hadn’t yet tried: Cocoa Elora in Manchester, Heist and NomNom in Wales. That, however, will soon be remedied.
Although titled From Bean to Bar, Andrew’s book is an excellent reminder that the chocolate revolution is not solely about artisan makers making chocolate from the bean but, that chocolate heroes come in all shapes and sizes. We discover the personalities and passions behind the small scale chocolate enterprises like Melanie Neil of CocoaMo whose mission includes growing and foraging for her ingredients (www.cocoamochocolates.co.uk)), the large artisan makers like Hotel Chocolat (www.hotelchocolat.com) and the retailers, judges and educators such as Cocoa Runners (cocoarunners.com) and Hazel Lee (hazeljlee.com/) whose dedication and relentless commitment to making fine chocolate accessible to the UK most certainly deserves a mention.
So who will you meet in Lincolnshire?
The East: Following in Andrew’s footsteps
Seeking out chocolate makers in Lincolnshire, as Andrew Baker points out, requires a ‘lengthy pilgrimage’, but because we have one of the UK’s first and best bean-to-bar makers here, it is a journey many industry professionals are more than willing to make. The words Louth, Lincolnshire are met with the usual blank expression in the chocolate world but adding “just down the road from Cleethorpes where Duffy is based” usually does the trick. If you subscribe to Duffy’s newsletter you will find out exactly who has been making the pilgrimage and picking the brains of one of the industries most experienced makers. Of course, you don’t have to be an expert to visit, with a trip to the shop or a workshop, if Duffy is there you get to see exactly what goes into his chocolate. (Duffyschocolate.co.uk).
From Bean to Bar tells the story of Duffy’s journey from motor racing engineer to award winning chocolate maker. What I discovered was that Andrew and I share the same favourite Duffy’s bar, the Venezuela Ocumare 72%. It’s a real ‘pick me up’ bar, surprisingly sweet for a dark bar and packed full of banana, raspberry jam and almond notes.
Our other Lincolnshire bean to bar maker, like Andrew, I have not yet managed to meet, but I have tasted her chocolate. Emily Robertson of Goldfinch chocolate, is a fledgling maker compared to Duffy. Based on the edge of the Wolds in Market Rasen, Emily is experimenting with beans from the exciting new origins of India and Belize. Both her India and Belize bars were recognised in this year’s Academy of Chocolate Awards. (https://goldfinchchocolate.bigcartel.com/)
Louth’s mark on the chocolate map was initially made by chocolatier Lindsay Gardner of Spire Chocolates (Co-organiser of our Louth Chocolate Tasters club pictured on page 241!). After starting her business here in Louth, Lindsay now has a larger space alongside Duffy’s Chocolate on the Wilton Road Industrial Estate, near Cleethorpes. Andrew picks out her ‘beloved pralines’, and ‘endearing chocolate animals. I would add the Spiced Cherry and Really Raspberry truffles. No Christmas in our house is complete without a box of Spire Chocolate truffles.
In Search of More Eastern Promise:
Looking at who Andrew who has found on his travels inspired me to go even further off the beaten track and seek out some chocolatiers I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet.
Starting out from Louth, I headed north, through Market Rasen with a drive-by of the well known chocolate hang out, the Chocolate Drop. Owned by a very knowledgeable couple who make a huge range of filled chocolates and bars and who, quite correctly, evangelise about the benefits of using cocoa butter as a moisturiser. My destination took me on a drive through the Lincolnshire wolds where I met with the inevitable slow progress behind tractors; I wasn’t complaining: someone has to grow the crops here. I was however less tolerant of the roar of suicidal motorcyclists distracting me from the enjoyment of the stunning views. I eventually arrived in Kirton in Lindsey. Once the home of Catherine Parr and now the home of surveyor turned chocolatier Paul North.
No. 12: A Chocolate Shop of Memories and New Beginnings
I was lured to the No.12 Chocolatier in Kirton Lindsey by a slick website and the promise of truffles made with the renowned Pin Gin produced in Louth. What I found was a chocolate lover’s haven. A modern presentation combined with all the charm of a traditional chocolate shop.
Paul’s story has been written about in a number of local publications with the focus being on his change of career due to his diagnosis of Primary Progressive MS. A great story of course, but for me his chocolates tell an even better one. Paul is quite humble about his work; he sees himself as a new comer to the industry, still with lots to learn. However, in just over a year, he has built up a regular and successful trade: a substantial achievement for a chocolatier, particularly one in a small Lincolnshire market town, even one as pretty as Kirton in Lindsey.
Paul uses Belgium chocolate and his recipes may not be revolutionary but they are personal and quite delicious.
Paul told me, “I love experimenting with different flavours. My favourites are those that stimulate memories of childhood and their favourite foods. These are the ones that make people come back time after time.”
Paul’s Pin Gin truffles illustrate his ability to respond to customer tastes and trends but I felt I learnt more about Paul’s passion for making chocolates by tasting his salted caramels and pure lemon truffles. Paul was incredibly proud of his salted caramel, one of his first creations and you could taste the work that had gone into achieving the perfect balance of sweet and salt. Then the simplicity of the pure lemon puree and white chocolate ganache to me was like taking a mouthful of my mum’s homemade lemon meringue pie: the zesty kick of lemon contrasting with a light velvety texture of the meringue; superb! (www.no12chocolatier.co.uk)
Heading east again, we passed through Brigg, the home of Sciolti Chocolates who are on my list for another time and then over to Waltham and another bean to bar revelation.
The Chocolat Story: From Bean to Bonbon
Again attracted by her fabulous marketing, I decided to seek out Trace Clay founder of The Chocolat Story. I had seen the beautiful white boxes containing little chocolate art works, each telling its own story with flavours linked to characters from children’s stories. Then, recently I noticed that Trace had described her chocolate as bean to bar. That would definitely put her on the chocolate map. As far as I am aware, the only other chocolate makers that make their own bean to bar chocolate for their bonbons are Chocolate Tree in Edinburgh.
I found Trace in her workshop in Waltham, just down the road from Duffy. What a discovery. Trace is making flavoured bars and bonbons with chocolate made from scratch with a blend of Madagascan and Peruvian beans. Two of my favourite origins, it just gets better and better.
Trace first let me try some of the dark chocolate she had made from the bean. The fruit of the Madagascan beans sang out but were softened by earthier and more floral notes in the Peruvian beans. A blend that tamed the red berry flavour to add depth and character. Very impressive for a chocolate that was going to be made into flavoured chocolates and bars.
Trace explained why she was doing this: “This is a very different approach to what other artisan bean-to-bar makers are doing. They are coaxing the intrinsic flavours from the beans to express their unique character whereas my focus is the combination of flavours with the chocolate delivering just part of that. I tried to work with ready made chocolate but it just didn’t work for me. I needed to control the whole process and know exactly what was going into my chocolates”.
Trace even grows her own mint to go in her ‘Mojito’ chocolates. I was beginning get that familiar sense of nerdiness that you find in so many good chocolate makers.
“It’s all about science for me” Trace explained, “when I started, I needed to know about the science of chocolate, of flavour and even the machinery used to make it. I am a complete chocolate nerd, I admit”
So there you have it. Another chocolate nerd but that is perfectly okay with me. It was lovely to meet her and taste some of her favourite flavour combinations: Paddington dark milk orange, Mr Tumnus mint dark chocolate, Brothers Grimm gingerbread, and filled chocolates with pandan, passion fruit and tonka beans (illegal in the US apparently). All splashed, sprayed and brushed to fabulous effect. (www.thechocolatstory.com)
Not only had I discovered a new bean-to-bar maker but also found the perfect chocolate match to Andrew’s colourful book!
There was a time when I would have been excited to find a Cadbury selection box at the bottom of my Christmas sack, especially if there was a Cadbury Flake in there. Chocolate still has a special place in my Christmas celebrations but the chocolate I now crave looks and tastes very different.
The festive selections that have caught my attention this Christmas include craft bars full of warm spices, baked gingerbread and the sweet and bitter aromas of frankincense and myrrh.
Pump Street Bakery have created a deliciously tempting Christmas selection of chocolate from Grenada, Ecuador and Mexico paired with nutmeg, Eccles cakes, panettone and gingerbread from their bakery A selection of single origin chocolate carefully matched with festive flavours and crunchy baked inclusions would be a very welcome addition to this year’s Christmas stocking. Link to Pump Street Bakery product page.
The Pump Street panettone bar also features in the Cocoa Runners Sugar and Spice Christmas Collection along with the joyous Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh bar by Chocolarder . The red fruit notes of this dark Peruvian bar are infused with the subtle aromas of orange and pine from the frankincense and myrrh. I tried this bar for the first time two years ago and had no idea what to expect as these fragrant resins are not something I have come across in any seasonal menu before. I was very impressed. The flavours were beautifully delicate and balanced well with the gentle fruits of the chocolate, and you could not fail to get into the Christmas spirit when you opened the bar to find the gorgeous gold leaf decoration.
Also included in this selection are Omnom’s unique Black and Burnt Barley bar, a favourite at Louth Chocolate Tasters flavoured bar session this year, and a new dark bar from Island’s Cacao which promises crunchy cocoa nibs, notes of banana and homely flavours of chocolate pudding. Another box of creatively festive taste sensations.Link to Cocoa Runners product page.
However, if I could choose my own personal selection box, my bars would be more about comforting memories than new tastes and flavour combinations, making them a little more traditional: the sweet mincemeat in Mum’s mince pies, the arrival of tangerines and satsumas in the fruit bowl (before we had them all year round!), Christmas pudding and, of course, the obligatory over indulgence in my favourite chocolate.
So what would I choose to replace the selection box of my childhood? Sadly, the humble Flake no longer gives the same gratification as I remember, but when I first tried Soma’s Milk Old School bar, I knew I had found my new favourite. The aroma took me right back to the pure pleasure and feeling of wellbeing I experienced as a child when munching my way through the Cadbury bars, but this was a whole new pleasure; chocolate memories intensified in the rich crumbly texture, sweet sugar crystals and intense chocolately flavour notes of the fine criollo Venezuelan cacao. This is an extraordinarily good bar and an absolute must in my seasonal selection.
The intrinsic flavours of the criollo cacao in the next bar just shout out Christmas for me – sweet currants, raisins and tangy orange. The richness and intensity of Duffy’s Honduras Indio Rojo bar has just the right level of indulgence for a Christmas treat too.
The next bar is not such an obvious choice. When I first tasted Land’s Malt Dark made with Honduran beans and sweet malt barley, it made quite an impression on me. The rich coffee notes gave way to sweet malt loaf and Christmas pudding flavours. It really did taste like Christmas!
Finally, a bar with inclusions. This season we have seen a trend towards the marrying of craft chocolate with Christmas bakes such as gingerbread and panettone, but it is the orange peel and cranberries paired with the rich, bright fruit of the Madagascan cacao in Menakao’s dark flavoured barthat delivers the quintessential Christmas flavours for me.
That is what my ideal chocolate selection box would look like. I would love to hear which bars you would like to see in your craft Christmas selection box, and your reasons why.
To the choc-o-phile, the arrival of advent provides legitimate license to eat chocolate every single day – usually before 9am.
But to date, Christmas and craft chocolate haven’t often gone hand-in-hand – at their lowest-rent, advent calendars are filled with morsels that are variously waxy, chalky, sugary, cheap and generally downright nasty; even at their fanciest, you’re unlikely to find anything made from bean to bar chocolate nestling in those windows.
That’s something Lilla Toth-Tatai (aka @littlebeetle_chocolates) is aiming to change. Obsessed with craft chocolate and the people behind it, Lilla started filling her own homemade advent calendars with bean-to-bar chocolate back in 2015 – and, this year, is attempting to bring her concept to the masses via a crowdfunding campaign.
Initially produced in a limited run of 200, the resulting Taste Better Chocolate advent calendar would serve as a showcase of 24 of the world’s finest artisans – the…
Terroir is a French agricultural term, generally thought to mean ‘soil’ or ‘land’, but soil is only part of the story. A well-used term in the wine world, it is equally useful when describing fine chocolate. When we talk about terroir we are referring to the wider ecosystem of a location including its geology, biology and the agricultural practices used to produce the grapes or cacao. For cacao, this includes the harvesting and collection, fermentation and drying processes.
Terroir was the focus of a recent Louth Chocolate Tasters session where we began to learn about the role of microbiology and environment in the development of flavour in chocolate. It would take intense analysis to discover the exact origins of flavours in every bar, which is why the word terroir is so useful to us when we understand how the farming environment and practices can have an impact on flavour development. And what better way to learn than through a series of taste comparisons focusing on location, fermentation and drying methods.
Cacao Plantations: ‘Logical Green Anarchy’
If we could all visit a cacao plantation, we would immediately begin to understand the complexities of the term terroir. For me, the word ‘plantation’ summons up visions of large, planted areas with regimental straight lines. It was reading Maricel Presilla’s description in ‘The New Taste of Chocolate’ that really brought it home to me. Maricel describes, “…a jumbled community of trees, vines and other growth shrouded in the sweltering green chiaroscuro of the South American Lowlands…the hum of insects and crackle of dead leaves underfoot…like something you would expect in a Jurassic jungle.” Or, quite simply, “logical green anarchy”. (Prescilla 2009) It is a managed environment but still so intensely natural.
Location Comparison: Piura Peru vs Cusco Peru
For our location comparison, we sampled two bars by Peruvian makers Maraná who have sought out what they consider to be the finest examples of beans from particular regions of Peru. We chose the 50% Piura dark milk from the Alto Piura valley made with ‘Blanco’ beans, and the 50% Cusco from the fertile valleys of Quillabamba using the native ‘Chuncho’ beans.
The Piura bar delivered a gentle aroma of yellow fruit, caramel and cream with a slow event melt and a thick and creamy mouthfeel. There were mentions of cream and butterscotch progressing to honey and then deep molasses on the finish. In comparison, the Cusco bar had a sharper, nuttier aroma with a quicker melt and a smoother mouthfeel. There were butterscotch notes mentioned again, but this time more like banoffee pie. There was a definite sweetness with hints of nuts and dried fruits. This wasn’t about preference – they each have their own distinct regional character but the Cusco bar was on this occasion judged to have more complexity and intensity of flavour.
Fermentation Process: A Pulp Fiction.
I recently attended a course given by Dr Zoi Papalexandratou of Zoto, a recognised expert in fermentation to learn more about the intricacies of the microbiological and chemical processes involved. To cut a very complex story short: once the pod is opened, the sweet, white pulp surrounding the beans comes into contact with yeasts and bacteria which turn the sugars into alcohol. The introduction of oxygen turns the alcohol into acetic acid that penetrates the bean and, along with the increased temperature, kills the embryo inside. The enzymes within the bean then stimulate the breakdown of cells to create the all-important flavour precursors. The speed and the length of fermentation are key factors in the determination of flavours.
Fermentation Comparison 1: Double Turned vs Triple Turned
Makers are now beginning to give more detail about fermentation regimes on their packaging but direct comparisons are still difficult to come by. Friis Holm’s experiments in fermentation have however proved irresistible to fine chocolate enthusiasts, providing an excellent illustration of the link between fermentation practices and final flavour. His Nicaraguan Chuno 70% is produced in both a double turned and triple turned version with the only difference being the number of turns given to the beans during fermentation; the extra turn simply introducing more oxygen into the process. All other variants in the fermentation and drying are held constant.
In the double turned bar we found notes of burnt sugar and spice on the aroma, a pleasingly swift melt and a smooth, creamy but cool mouthfeel. The flavours discovered were spices, apricots, a hint of ‘something a little green and vegetal’ that we struggled to pin down, and a little astringency and walnut notes on the finish.
The triple turned was found to have ‘more aggressive’ flavours but was not as ‘punchy’ as the double turned. In comparison, the melt was slower and warmer with more earthy and wood notes, and hints of black olives rather than the fresh, green notes. The aftertaste was also judged as shorter and less pronounced.
The preference was overwhelmingly for the double turned.
Fermentation Comparison 2: Short vs Standard
The second comparison was between a Rugoso 70% with a standard fermentation time and a shorter fermentation described as ‘bad’ on the firmly held assumption that it if the fermentation time is too short, there is insufficient time for the full development of the flavour precursors.
Unfortunately, due to a postal mishap, the standard Friis Holm bar didn’t arrive, leaving us to compare the short or ‘bad’ fermentation with a Rugoso 75% from Zoto in Belgium which, although not a direct comparison, is made with a standard fermentation and drying protocol. Holm’s shorter fermentation delivered aromas of yellow fruits and currants, with a cool and creamy mouthfeel. Notes of bananas, citrus, currants and sweet, malty biscuits in the flavours were interspersed with a struggle between its creaminess and astringency.
The Zoto bar was found to have an altogether more chocolatey aroma, still with hints of sweet fruit. The flavours developed more slowly, with bananas, strawberries and cocoa. The astringency was there but more balanced. This bar may have revealed its character more slowly but interestingly the overall preference from the group was for the ‘brightness’ of the first bar.
Drying: The Story Continues
When fermentation is complete, the beans are laid out to dry, usually naturally in the sun. They are turned and mixed to encourage aeration, to prevent mould and the development of off note flavours. By the end of the process the beans are dark brown, hard, dry and with all their flavour precursors in place, ready for the makers to express the flavours through bean-to-bar process.
Drying Comparison: Sun vs Smoke
To illustrate the importance of drying we chose bars from Papua Indonesia and the neighbouring Papua New Guinea where, traditionally, beans are dried over fire. In this case, only the second bar – Soma Black Science Papua New Guinea 70% – uses beans dried by wood fires, so we were fully expecting to taste the smokiness.
First, we tried the unsmoked bar: Original Beans Papua Kerafat 68% which, for some, delivered a slow, balanced melt and an indulgently, creamy mouthfeel with subtle caramel, apple and ‘tomato plant’ green notes. Very different from the customary smoky Papua New Guinea experience. But the second bar, which was chosen for its promise of ‘fragrant wood smoke’ (Cocoa Runners description), didn’t deliver on this occasion. Instead we found earthy notes, citrus sweet berries and liquorice with only the slightest suggestion of charcoal; the bonfire haze of wood smoke had evidently long since departed.
Despite the lack of smoke in the final bar, tackling the term terroir made for another fascinating LOUTH Chocolate Tasters session.
References: Prescilla, M. (2009) The New Taste of Chocolate, New York, Ten Speed Press, Pg. 95