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!
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…
Just in time for World Chocolate Day on 7th July, I finally took the plunge and launched my new venture – Cocoa Encounters. And what better place to do it than the Chocolate Studio of Duffy Sheardown, as tasting Duffy’s single origin chocolate was really the start of my own chocolate journey.
It was an opportunity to introduce friends and colleagues, all with a passion for fine food, to the chocolate tasting experience. We were joined by members of the local press. I didn’t want to just tell them about what I was doing but to taste for themselves the difference between standard and craft chocolate. I think they did…we will wait to see the coverage to find out!
The aim of Cocoa Encounters is to help people who love chocolate or fine food to discover craft chocolate and its flavour potential. To find out how to buy better chocolate, to look beyond the fast and convenient and to discover the pleasures of fine flavour and slow eating. I have found getting together with friends or colleagues for a tasting experience is a great way to do this, so that is what Cocoa Encounters is all about.
My intention is also to use this blog to talk about my new chocolate journey: the chocolate I discover, the people I meet, chocolate events and news from world of craft chocolate.
You can follow me here or on social media on facebook @cocoaencounters or twitter @KathrynLincs