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)

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