A duo of days deliciously whiled away at The Chocolate Show last month afforded me time to try many marvellous new bars, truffles and treats – both new-to-market and new-to-me. And then to try, try, and try again – just to ensure everything I’d earmarked as excellent was in fact thus.
Amongst the fine finalists in the Great British Spiced Chocolate Challenge, I found special affection for JK Fine Chocolates‘ multi-layered, wonderfully-ooey-gooey Spiced Cassia & Sumac Triple Truffles and Little Black Cat Gourmet’s Persian-inspired, prettily-packaged ‘Cacao Joon’ chocs. Saturday evening brought the chance to chomp world-class specimens that had triumphed in the International Chocolate Awards, including Chocolatier M’s silver-winning ‘Umami’, which wowed me with a complex combo of soy sauce caramel and roasted sesame.
But browsing the stands and meeting the makers yielded more incredibly edible discoveries. All the way from the good ole US of A – Utah, to be precise – came Coleman & Davis with a mouthwatering Madagascan that proved to be lively, lovely and altogether arresting. Over the coming year, the box-fresh company will reveal a new origin every couple of months; ones, one suspects, to eagerly await.
Pre-event, I’d been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to finally come face to face with Isobel Carse, founder of Manchester-based Dormouse Chocolates. Along with her high-quality bean-to-bar offerings, I got a buzz from the broken bean-studded 70% Santo Domingo dark chocolate this maker makes using beans from her local Heart & Graft roastery.
Before the shakes set in, I topped up my caffeine levels still further with a coffee-d choc from Doble & Bignall; a 72% Puerto Cabello & Johe dark bar whose fine flavour comes from infusing ground Ethical Addictions Kilimanjaro Machare and Brazilian Rainforest beans into cocoa butter, yielding a smoother-than-silk result.
Last year, Dom Ramsey attended the event as an expert and blogger; this time round, he was showing off the fruits of his labour as he debuted Damson Chocolate with a capsule collection of the micro-batch bean-to-bars he creates in his Chapel Market factory and shop. I adored the Angel Blend – Damson’s signature stuff, named for the neighbourhood from whence it came – but it was the salted Trinidad buffalo milk chocolate that proved the star of this show.
Another unusual milk from a completely different species was in use within Chocolate Tree’s ever-excellent range. Coconut milk chocolate might sound strange, but this proved to be earthy, clean and most nibble-able; sweetened with coconut, not cane, sugar. Banish ‘Bounty Bar’ from your mind. This ‘taste of paradise’ is far superior to that sweet treat. Equally intriguing and no less delicious was Chocolate Tree’s Unroasted Madagascar bar. Made from Akesson’s Trinitario beans from the Sambirano Valley, this 70% specimen demonstrates that ‘raw’ can be ‘to die for’.
A fellow fan of the ‘Tree is Mr. Matthieu de Gottal – a chocolatier whose own origins lie in Belgium and who uses fine origin chocolates from all over the world in his oft-spirit-sozzled ganaches; sourced from companies including Akessons, Vietnam’s Marou, and, increasingly, Chocolate Tree. From the various triffic things he threw at me, two Akessons-including numbers stood out: the curiously-festive feeling 75% Brazilian chocolate and Compass Box whisky ‘Orangerie’, and a booze-free beaut called ‘Lait de Bali’ – all cocoa, fresh cream and a hint of coffee.
Along with plying me with top choc, Matthieu introduced me to Mikkel Friis-Holm – a multi-award-winning Danish maker for whom it seems impossible to put a foot – nay, even a toe – wrong when it comes to brilliant bean-to-bar chocolate.
Right next door to that stand stood Peter Svenningsen, whose filled chocolates often employ Friis-Holm’s wares along with ingredients like own-grown green rhubarb and spruce. The range also contains the sensational ‘Spicy Pecan’ which features not only the named nut but also aniseed, liquorice, smoked sea salt and garden angelica. The added ingredient in Peruvian maker Shattel’s 70% Tinga Maria also referenced the company’s roots; the dark chocolate’s surface scattered with puffed quinoa.
Tel Aviv-ian Ika’s flavours were as unusual; sweet chocolates made savoury with Middle Eastern spice blends like dukkah and za’atar – the latter ganache snaring a Silver at the International Chocolate Awards. Across the hall, Vanini put pink peppercorns with candied lemon in one of its two new dark bars, whilst the other paired pear and cinnamon.
You’ll note that the unusual, full-flavoured Bagua cocoa that Vanini uses as the beans for its bars delivers a rich, round flavour that’s perfect to quash a cocoa craving. In the same vein, I discovered Idilio Origin’s Porcelana Criollo Piuro; a Swiss specimen which, to my mind, tastes like hot chocolate in solid form. Pure, simple, simply delicious.
And tastiest of all? The chance to meet and eat with fellow cocoa nuts for whom a day without chocolate is a day only half lived, and who care deeply about the people, places, produce and practices involved with the industry. Revealing a wealth of wonderful creations from far and wide, this year’s Chocolate Show brought both quantity and quality to London.
- To read more about Damson Chocolate, click here
- To read more about Dormouse Chocolate, click here
- To read more about Matthieu de Gottal, click here
- To read more about Vanini, click here
- To read more about JK Fine Chocolates, click here