New Italian research says a woman’s passion for chocolate starts before she is born. Local chocolate makers fuel this obsession with handmade bars of sheer deliciousness.
As you bite into a bar of your number-one brand and feel that deep, rich, satiny flavour filling your mouth, chocolate – the darker the better – will lift your mood by boosting your serotonin levels, and relieve your stress by pumping you full of antioxidant flavinoids.
Chocolate can be comfort food or celebration food. We eat it in times of happiness and sadness. It can soothe, inspire or reward us for a job well done. Chocolate creates euphoria, making us feel warm all over.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were content to just happily snack on it. Now, however, chocolate is getting gourmet status. It’s morphed from the sweet and cheap to the exotic and not so cheap, thanks to concerns about its origins as well as the addition of spicy ingredients like chilli, wasabi and sea salt.
We never used to be too worried about whether this favourite treat of the Aztecs and Mayans came from South America or West Africa. The ethical chocolate story – and the child slaves of the industry in West Africa – was about as far off our reality radar as the Oompa Loompas enslaved by Willy Wonka in his fictional chocolate factory.
But lately, as people begin to question the morality behind the chocolate made by some major companies, inspired new artisanal chocolate makers are emerging. They create their chocolate from scratch, starting with the beans they source from between 20° north and south of the equator. By controlling the chocolate-making process from the plantation to the bar, bean-to-bar chocolate entrepreneurs say they can create better chocolate and preserve the beans’ distinctive flavours. Many also hope the bean-to-bar pipeline will make for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation.
Like the grapes used in wine, beans from different countries have different flavours, and small-batch chocolate makers have different methods too. Some use ready-ground cocoa paste. Some process the beans themselves, using variations of the ancient techniques of grinding, refining and finally conching the beans. Some roast the beans, some leave them raw. Some add sugar, some don’t. They produce a variety of unique products, all of them quite unlike those of the mainstream companies.
$18 (about R170)
The price of a Good & Evil chocolate bar. What makes it so special? TV foodie Anthony Bourdain and New York chef Eric Lippert went to Peru to find a rare white cacao bean once considered extinct. Back in New York they secured the services of master chocolatier Christopher Curtin and made 7 000 Good & Evil chocolate bars – which sold out in three months.
Honest Chocolate is what Anthony Gird and Michael de Klerk call the addictive stuff they produce in Cape Town from Ecuadorian cocoa paste made from unroasted beans, stone-ground to keep temperatures low. They limit the amount of cocoa butter and use local agave syrup instead of sugar. No wonder they can each eat a slab a day without it showing! Enclosed in arty wrappings of eco-friendly paper, their chocolate bars make great gifts. ‘We experiment with flavours, then think of a cool concept to represent that flavour and finally match it with an artist.’ Their Kalahari salt bar features a hilarious pirate stranded in the desert, while on the dark chocolate bar, a charcoal-sketched Dracula warns ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark.’ www.honestchocolate.co.za
The Lindt Chocolate Studios in Cape Town and Johannesburg are the first of their kind in South Africa, offering specialised training workshops to entry level chefs, non-professionals and chocolate enthusiasts. www.chocolatestudio.co.za
Von Geusau Chocolates were spice pioneers and the first in South Africa to offer pairings of their heavenly chocolates with wine five years ago. Truffles, bouchées and bars are handmade in a little factory on the edge of Greyton and the range includes treats like whisky and cinnamon, lemon and vanilla, and almond and orange. www.vongeusau.co.za
In Paarl, beans sourced from Venezuela, Trinidad, Madagascar, São Tomé and Príncipe and Uganda go into the delectably flavoured DV Chocolate produced by Pieter de Villiers and his wife Cornell. ‘We built our machines for roasting, grinding, refining and conching from old appliances,’ says Pieter, a former electrical engineer. ‘The main step is roasting to develop flavour. A batch takes a week and we make six different single-origin bars, all with only cocoa beans and sugar. Our new range celebrates Africa with combinations such as Uganda cocoa and coffee beans and Madagascan cocoa beans with Cederberg rooibos.’ www.dvchocolate.com
Make your own raw chocolate at Lara Sklaar’s chocolate parties and team-building experiences in Johannesburg – or you can just buy it and eat it. Made with cocoa from Ecuador, Lara’s Fine & Raw chocolate is handcrafted using 100% raw organic ingredients, no sugar, dairy or additives, and artisanal low-heat techniques to keep its raw vitality. Her bars and bonbons as well as her ice creams are spiced with things like coconut, Himalayan salt and chilli. www.fineandraw.co.za
The fairest of them all
Cocoafair at the Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, Cape Town, was South Africa’s first bean-to-bar enterprise. Using beans from Ghana, Uganda, Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador and Madagascar, roasted and ground together with sugar and cocoa butter, they make a variety of mouth-watering products including bars, truffles, pralines and hot cocoa pods – stir and serve style. ‘We produce three tonnes of chocolate a month, so there’s not really time to play with new flavours,’ says head chocolatier Thelo van Wyk. ‘I’ve created a nice baobab and roast almond chocolate and a springbokkie-flavoured one, though.’ They give chocolate-making classes and factory tours. www.cocoafair.com
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