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/

 

What would your perfect selection box look like?

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 Strett Bakery Gift BoxPump 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.

Chocolarder GFM

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 bar that delivers the quintessential Christmas flavours for me.

selection box 2018

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.

Kathryn Laverack 13.12.18