Now We Shall Be Entirely Free paired with historical and thrilling craft chocolate

For the March gathering of the Louth Literary Coven (before the lockdown!) we received a recommendation from writer and international chocolate judge Cat Black, who suggested we read Andrew Miller’s Now We Shall Be Entirely Free. This historical thriller, set at the height of the Napoleonic Wars presented me with the challenge of finding craft chocolate to enlighten us about the historical context and, at the same time, make an assault on our senses. Who better to ask for ideas than Cat Black herself. “Definitely something with salt” was among the brilliant suggestions. It soon became apparent why…

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(No Spoilers)

I think it is fair to say that the Napoleonic Wars is a historical period that none of us were particularly familiar with. Those of us who studied Spanish remembered the haunting scenes of the uprisings in Goya’s Dos De Mayo and the ensuing executions depicted in his Tres De Mayo. That, however, was over 35 years. No matter, as Miller brings history to life through its wider context, creating a sensory experience and familiarity that helps us feel both the cruelty and the human kindness of the time.

The origins of the chosen chocolate took us on a journey to the cocoa-growing Spanish colonies of Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic.  In 1808, the imposition of Joseph Bonaparte by Napoleon on the Spanish throne sent shock waves through the colonies.  While Lacroix was being pursued through the Hebrides by Calley and Medina, the plantation owners of Spanish America were planning their own revolutions. As with the islanders in the novel, with the exception of a little more cruelty and bloodshed no doubt, life was less disrupted for the slaves or former slaves labouring away in the cacao plantations.  In São Tomé, another colonial battleground, then held by Portugal, it would be another fifteen years or so before the plantation workers would be forced to grow cacao as well as sugarcane to feed the habits of their European colonisers.

“Everything tasted of salt” and the senses are used as a literary device throughout: Lacroix is half deaf, Emily is going blind, Ranald has hooks for hands and the laudanum, whisky and brandy dull their perception of real life. Senses are dulled but then stimulated with music, romance, walking with no boots, needles in eyes, salt, smoke and the cold that hurts your hands even though they are no longer there!

Through my chocolate choices, I wanted us to taste the elemental character of the chocolate, while our senses were being thrilled with the additions of salt, smoke, alcohol and nibs.

Duffy’s: Camino Verde Ecuador 43% with Cocoa Nibs & Oak Smoked Salt

This bar was a must, given the habitual presence of sea salt and smoke throughout the novel.

We enjoyed the caramel notes of the aroma but were split over the rest of the experience. Some of us loved the sweet and salty contrast, the subtle but discernible smokiness of the salt crystals, the gradual strengthening of the salt along the tasting journey pushing the sweet caramel flavours into the background and the sensorial coup de grâce of the remaining nibs. For some, a lovely sweet, salty, crunchy chocolate experience, with a lingering aftertaste, but for others, the dominance of the salt and nibs was just too much of an attack on the senses.

Solkiki: Marañón Canyon Peru, Ararat Brandy, Salted Caramel

We moved on to the potential deep caramel and liquorice notes of the Peruvian dark milk with the addition of the ‘purest’ type of salt: pink salt crystals, rich in essential nutrients, mined from the Himalayan mountains of Pakistan. Nibs again, but this time soaked in Ararat Brandy.

We picked up a heady mix of aromas: chocolate, a little fruit, honey, vanilla and sweet alcohol. The sweet brandy of the nibs hit us first, swiftly followed by the contrasting creamy, caramelly chocolate. The salt evaded us this time, acting simply to increase the sweetness of the chocolate: the brandy-soaked nibs providing the opposition to the sweetness rather than the salt.

One of our group thought that this bar was the best match for the book. “It had a bit of everything”, she said, “salty, boozy and the texture of the nibs was a bit uncomfortable to eat and John (Lacroix) does spend a lot of the book in discomfort!”…. my choice justified!

Feitoria do Cacao: São Tomé 72%

The novel is played out mainly in Glasgow and the Hebrides but Lacroix’s memories of his time as a red coat also take us to Portugal: an opportunity to taste another bar from Portuguese makers Feitoria do Cacao. Their salted bar is made with cacao from São Tomé and uses the delicate taste of Flor de Sal harvested by hand from tidal beds of Aveiro.

The aroma was initially a little reluctant to deliver its subtle flavours, but the chocolatey notes gradually revealed a little citrus and dried fruits. A fairly quick melt initially delivered a slight bitterness which was quickly subdued by the salt. The initial taste of the salt allowed sweeter, fresher red fruit notes to reveal themselves from between the deep bold chocolate notes, then a return to the salt at the end.

The fruit notes were quite different from the deep prune notes picked up in the aroma,  the effect of the salt perhaps: the presence of salt increases our perception of sweetness and helps release aroma molecules.

A more duotone profile, but an accomplished interpretation of São Tomé cacao and a superb demonstration of how salt can influence our perception and play with the intrinsic flavours of the cacao.

 Bare Bones: Dominican Salt 68%

Onward to Glasgow!

When searching for Scottish makers, I came across a new maker from Glasgow called Bare Bones. Even the name was perfect, taking me straight back to Ranald feeling the cold in his bones, Calley’s bizarre recollection of a girl working at the mill having her arm ripped off at the shoulder, and more generally the feeling of being exposed to the elements.

All thoughts of carnage were cast away as we took in the beautiful aroma of the Bare Bones bar: chocolate, hazelnut, caramel and treacle. We all enjoyed the easy, even melt after the conflicting textures of the first two bars. The mouthfeel was full-bodied and deeply satisfying. The initial salt hit gave way to a delivery of real fruitiness, quite different from the nutty aroma. We were tasting sweet fruits: strawberry, even a hint of pineapple; “plummy” and “treacly” were mentioned too. Then the aftertaste reverted back to the aroma notes with the gorgeousness of a caramel and chocolate spread finish.  A truly scrumptious, mouth-watering chocolate!

Like everything that evening, this bar tasted of salt but the experience was more of a tender caress than a sensorial onslaught.

The Bare Bones bar was generally considered the best match for the book. It was from Glasgow for starters! It was dark and complex, the salt was there but not overpowering and left us feeling uplifted. It was the music and dancing of the novel rather than the conflict and discomfort, but the drama offered by both the book and the chocolate was appreciated by all.

This blog post is a summary of my post on the Louth Literary Coven’s Mainly Books and Chocolate blog. The complete post gives all our thoughts on the book’s themes and messages, as well as our full chocolate tasting descriptions and votes for our favourite bars.  You can link to the full blog post here.

On Chapel Sands meets craft chocolate: An exploration of nature versus nurture

For Louth Literary Coven’s November gathering, we chose an illuminating combination of literature and craft chocolate that delved deep into the secrets of a Lincolnshire family and the ancestry of fine cacao.

The obvious choice for craft chocolate paired with memories of Chapel St Leonards on the Lincolnshire coast was Duffy’s Chocolate, based just a little further north in Cleethorpes.  Tempting as it was to do a full line up of Duffy’s Chocolate, the book’s pursuit of truth took us right across the globe, so I felt the chocolate choice should follow suit.

img_4168On Chapel Sands opens with the traumatic abduction of a small child on a Lincolnshire beach, an event that is forgotten surprisingly quickly as you are drawn into the pictures, recollections and mysteries of Beth’s childhood. As the book progresses, the discoveries that seemingly shed light on the behaviour of Beth’s parents only pose more questions about their actions and relationships.

As we all live very close to Chapel St Leonards, with most of us having grown up in Lincolnshire, we were fascinated by the references to local history and familiar places. We also loved the use of artists and their work to help decode and interpret the everyday lives of the Lincolnshire villagers.

My chocolate choices were inspired by the book’s theme of nature versus nurture. This gave us the opportunity to look at how a bar’s character is influenced by both the inherited, genetic profile of the cacao, and the post-harvest and making processes.

The terms Criollo, Forastero or Trinitario seen on craft chocolate bars relate, in very general terms, to the variety of cacao beans used to make them and give clues to their ancestry and potential taste profile. I chose the following bars initially for their variety, but their origin and maker also have significance as you will see:

(N.B. Spoilers present in the discussion of chocolate pairings)

Soma Chocolatemaker, Guasare, Venezuela 70% (Hilda)

The first craft chocolate pairing combined a bar made with the ‘mother’ of cacao (Criollo beans from Guasare) and Beth’s birth mother Hilda.

The strong, enticing aroma, beautifully smooth texture and the initial bold cocoa and coffee notes evolved into a much gentler and more sophisticated experience. We deliberated over the identity of the jam and fruit notes. The talk of jam reminded us of the heart-warming tart-making scene in Hilda’s family bakery during the first part of Beth’s story; her only memory of those early years was the smell of warm strawberry jam.

The chocolate was complex and beautifully balanced, but these characteristics challenged our knowledge of Hilda and the decisions she had taken; we realised we didn’t have sufficient evidence to judge her as a person or as a mother.

Pralus, Bresil Forastero 75% (George)

Our next match was a Forestero bar, the second parent variety with Beth’s father George. The strong but flat chocolate profile was a stark contrast to the nuanced flavours and complexity of the Criollo beans of the previous bar. A contrast that made the coming together of George and Hilda equally poignant. Such a strange combination! This bar greeted us with a robust aroma of roasted nuts and molasses. A smooth, slow and balanced melt revealed deep roasted flavours, the hints of acidity being overpowered by the treacly and dark sugar notes.

We pondered over what we knew about George: was he strong and bitter or just frustrated and simply resigned to his fate? If he had been born in a different time with the option of divorce and a chance to cultivate his more creative abilities would George have been a different person or would his apparent lack of emotion and suppressive nature still dominate his character?

Duffy’s Dominican Republic Taino 65% (Veda)

We turned then to the Trinitario varieties, the descendants or hybrids created by the coupling of the Criollo and Forastero.  This hybridisation of cacao has continued ever since that first union, making the genetic pool rich and complex.  Veda, Beth’s adoptive mother, brings a new personality into the mix and Beth’s parentage is not, as we discover, straightforward.  I therefore chose Trinitarios for both Veda and Beth, selecting bars from the same maker and region to create the environmental link between them.

Our ‘Veda’ is a Dominican Republic bar presenting us with a smoky aroma, with hints of sweet fruit. This felt really sweet after the previous bar: honey sweet, muscovado sweet, pineapple sweet. Too sweet for Veda. It had character but less pronounced than both the Criollo and Forastero bars and without a hint of bitterness. This comparatively more reserved profile was a more successful match for Veda.

Duffy’s Dominica 70% (Beth)

The final craft chocolate pairing brought together our protagonist Beth with Duffy’s new Dominica bar made with beans of uncertain parentage which I presumed to be Trinitario.

We debated whether we could detect any traces of the Criollo and Forastero ancestry, or if it had more in common with the Trinitario from the not too far away island of Hispaniola. The aroma was certainly more in line with Duffy’s Dominican Republic bar: mild but distinctive with red fruit notes, and the sweetness was there too.

Our silent appreciation, along with the complex taste experience suggested Criollo origins.  Not a whisper of the bold, overbearing Forastero bar though. We think this would have pleased Beth considering her feelings towards her father.

Overall, we felt the style and flavour delivery of the Dominica bar had more in common with the Dominican Republic bar. Just as Veda’s presence had helped shape Beth’s personality, the maker Duffy has teased out and developed the distinct, intrinsic flavours of the Dominican Republic and Dominican beans giving them shared personality traits over and above the genetic profile of the cacao.

We had tasted some fascinating craft chocolate from Soma, Pralus and Duffy’s Chocolate, showcasing some superb breeding and craftsmanship. They encouraged us to examine and share our thoughts on the conduct and character of Beth’s family members and the mysteries that remain unsolved.  Another deliciously informative evening at Louth Literary Coven!

This blog post is a summary of my post on the Mainly Books and Chocolate blog. The complete post gives all our thoughts on the book’s themes and messages, as well as our full chocolate tasting descriptions and votes for our favourite bars.  You can link to the full blog post here.

Sources:

Cumming, Laura (2019). On chapel sands: My mother and other missing persons. London: Chatto & Windus.

The book and themes:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/26/on-chapel-sands-laura-cumming-review
On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming review – twists right to the end

https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/review-on-chapel-sands-by-laura-cumming-a4177196.html

Duffy’s Chocolate. Available at http://www.duffyschocolate.co.uk/shop/chocolate-bars/duffys-dominican-republic-taino-65-60g (Accessed 8/11/19)

Soma Chocolate, Available at https://www.somachocolate.com/collections/microbatch-2019/products/guasare-venezuela-70?variant=13528243896372 (Accessed 8/11/19)

Presilla, M.E (2009), The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes [A Cookbook]

Frizo, C (2018) ‘Is Criollo Really King? The Myth of Cacao’s three varieties’,  Perfect Daily Grind, 27 August. Available at https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/08/is-criollo-chocolate-really-king-the-myth-of-the-3-cacao-varieties/ (Accessed 12/12/2019)

‘Chocolate Strains’, C-Spot.com. Available at https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/ (Accessed 12/12/2019)

Cocoa Runners, ‘Cocoa Varieties, Available at https://cocoarunners.com/chocopedia-by-cocoa-runners/the-science-history-of-chocolate/the-history-of-craft-chocolate/ (Accessed 11/12/19)

Division of Agriculture, Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica, ‘Cocoa and Coffee Project’ Available at https://divisionofagriculture.gov.dm/programmes/cocoa-and-coffee-project (Accessed 30/12/19)

A late summer book and chocolate pairing: The politics of Normal People and craft chocolate

 

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.

Normal People with chocolate

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:

LauraTobago 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.

BelvieBelvie 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.

OmnomOmnom 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.

OcumareDuffy’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.

Further reading

For further reading on Normal People, the chocolate makers and the trade relationships in craft chocolate, these are some suggested links:

Review of Normal People by Annalisa Quinn https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/04/sally-rooneys-normal-people-review/586801/

Tobago Estate Chocolate https://www.tobagococoa.com/

Belvie, Belgium’s First Short-Chain Chocolate Made In Vietnam: “Fair Trade Is Marketing” http://www.belviechocolate.com/2017/02/11/belvie-belgiums-first-short-chain-chocolate-made-vietnam-fair-trade-marketing/

Omnom Chocolate: https://www.omnomchocolate.com/pages/our-ingredients

Kokoa Kamili: http://www.kokoakamili.com/about

Duffy’s Chocolate: http://www.duffyschocolate.co.uk/

Direct Cacao Initiative: https://www.directcacao.org/

The Chocolate Journalist on Fair Trade: https://thechocolatejournalist.com/fair-trade-chocolate-debunking-the-myth/

Goodnow Farms on Fair Trade: https://goodnowfarms.com/blog/fair-trade-vs-direct-trade/

 

A Lincolnshire Chocolate Road Trip

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.

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Andrew Baker’s From Bean To Bar: An encyclopaedia of UK chocolate makers packed with passion, personality and chocolate inspiration.

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.

Guide to Bean to Bar Britain
Meet the makers in every corner of the UK

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?

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A trip to Cleethorpes is not complete without picking up a bar of Duffy’s

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
Louth is on the chocolate map!

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.

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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.   

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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.”

IMG_3551Paul’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.

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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!

bean to bonbon

From Bean to Bar, A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain

by Andrew Baker

AA Publishing

£15.99

 

 

 

Talking Terroir in Fine Chocolate

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’

plantation med resIf 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.Marana

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.

open pods and beans low resI 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.Friis Holm

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.sun vs smoke.png

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