It might be cruel to sing the Carly Simon classic to the sextet of chocolate bars that arrived on my doorstep recently; but Vanini’s smartly-attired slabs could certainly not be blamed for indulging in a spot of self-admiration. Get them naked, and they’re even better looking. I know. I’ve been wooed by each and every one.
Before you even check out the chocolate, the supplementing story is pretty seductive. The ancient Bagua cocoa used for the ‘Lost World’ bars comes from the Peruvian Amazon and is perhaps the world’s oldest, dating from 3000 BC. The chocolate it yields boasts a voluptuous profile not normally seen from beans native to that area. Vanini’s entire cocoa content is sourced from a group of 460 local, oft-indigenous farmers; and those beans become bars in Italy, at a factory near Lake Como.
Vanini might be brand new to Britain, but the Agostoni family behind the line has three generations and 70 years of fine chocolate experience under its no-doubt snappy Italian leather belt. The company’s carefully-sourced Bagua cocoa is positioned as ‘primitive’, but the end products could only be described as ‘entirely evolved’; involving modish inclusions like rosemary, crunchy cocoa nibs, and Sicilian salt.
Dark milk is all the range of late; pushed firmly into the public eye with the recent launch of Hotel Chocolat’s #Supermilk. Vanini’s 49% strikes a happy medium between sweet comfort and deep, decadent cocoa intensity. Imagine Dairy Milk, then imagine it actually tasting like chocolate. And lingering long on the palate after it’s melted in the mouth. A hug for the tastebuds, with caramel and cream.
Milk 49% with orange peel
In this bar, the same dark milk provides a handy canvas for a rich orange taste that’s not too far removed from a Terry’s chocolate orange. But a rather superior one, obviously. The ‘Harrods hand-picked, pampered, pound-a-piece’ citrus to the ‘bashed, unloved scraping-the-bottom-of-the pound-a-bowl’ satsuma, if you will. The bar is peppered with small pieces of peel; one for those who always opt for ‘bits’ in their orange juice.
Milk 49% with Trapani salt
The Great British Salted Chocolate Challenge demonstrated that there’s endless scope for innovation in that area, but sometimes a simple pinch of salt is enough to add another element to an otherwise unadulterated chocolate; elevating it from ‘tasty’ to ‘top-notch’. This has the sweet, rounded, fluffy-comfort blanket for the tongue vibe of the simple milk, punctuated by salty staccato bursts.
Dark 62% with rosemary
This is very good, if a bit bitty from the finely chopped herbs. I fell for the flavour at first bite. Bittersweet, rich, round chocolate, and a herbal taste that’s fresh, sparky and never overwhelming. The rosemary is clean and cooling; this is like mint chocolate Version 2.0. More makers must give us rosemary chocolates – although whether they’ll manage something as lively and lovely as this is debatable.
Dark 74% with roasted cocoa nibs
Ooh, interesting. I do like chocolate that makes one contemplate its ever-evolving flavours as you eat. This is a chameleon; like one of Willy Wonka’s three-course bits of bubblegum, it changes with every chew. It starts on an almost meaty, savoury note, turns warmer and woodier as you crunch into the nibs (their texture a treat in itself), then blooms into a big fruity finish.
Big, bold and expressive, but nuanced and soft-edged, too. When I’m not in the mood for flavour-included chocolate and am craving something simpler, this replaces the Rosemary as my most vital Vanini purchase. The flavour journey is as long and winding as the Amazon river itself. Powerful, tannic and bittersweet with seductive, persistence; a smooth-moving femme fatale.
So what next?
Beyond these beautiful bars, Vanini has put in place a program in order to identify cocoa genotypes that are not only hardy sorts with strong immune systems, but also offer a superior eating experience. With such cracking chocolate as an initial effort, the future for the Italian bean-to-bar chocolate makers is bright. The prospect of more Vanini in this vein is both exciting and enticing.
- For more information on Vanini chocolate, click here
- For more on salted chocolate, click here
- For more on Hotel Chocolat’s #Supermilk, click here