Jealousy isn’t something I normally find myself suffering. That’s for people other people, or so I thought. However, reading up about the team behind the Madre Chocolate company, the green-eyed monster showed his face.
David Elliott one of the co-founders is a much travelled chocolate expert who has focused on natural and societal injustices in the growing regions of Ecuador and Bolivia, and has spent a while in Mexico. Whilst Nat Bletter, the other co-founder, has a doctorate in Ethnobotany (the relationship people have with plants) – which makes my degree in Economics seem positively uninteresting. Nat is their “flavourmiester” which I believe means that he comes up with the flavour ideas? What’s more, they’re based in Hawai’i! That’s something another reason to be jealous as I look out upon the rain, wind and darkness.
Recently many stories I’ve read of the new influx of chocolate makers have centred around how people with an non-chocolate past have decided to step into the unknown and become a maker – from Duffy Sheardown in Motor racing, in William Harcourt-Cooze in property to Art Pollard in Physics. However, as you can see, the Madre guys have had the perfect background to going into making ethical chocolate. But can they make chocolate?
I was lucky enough to be sent five bars: The Chipotle Allspice , Popped Amaranth, Passion Fruit, Pink Peppercorn and smoked salt and a straight Dominican 70% and began with the chipotle with allspice. Of course chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeno pepper, with the word driving from the word “chilpoktli” which originates from the Nahuatl Aztec language. On the reverse of the packaging, along with the ingredients, it mentions that the bar also contains xocoxochitl which is another Aztec word, this time for Allspice. Of course the region that the Aztecs inhabited the area just to the north west of the narrowest part of Mexico: from around San Juan Bautista Tutepec, through Mexico City, down to Cihuatlan and a finger up to Oxtlipa. Whilst the origin of the cacao for this bar is the Dominican Republic the only connection between the two countries I can see is that Spain conquered both countries, although one would readily sacrifice “connection” for great quality cacao. I know the guys have spent a good amount of time with the cacao growers of Chiapas, Mexico, so hopefully we can see a bar using both Aztec-inspired flavours within chocolate made with Mexican cacao. They do offer a Chiapas Single Origin which in both roasted and unroasted forms which sound very interesting (I’ve subsequently found out that they’re hoping to get more cacao from Xoconusco.
The bar itself has very rich, warm, comforting and is very much reminiscent of the more rustic hot chocolate I’ve tried in the past. Interestingly the original form of chocolate being consumed as a matter of course was in liquid form (as many of you know). And although it wasn’t until the Aztecs who adulterated it with flavours in the 15th century (as far as I’m aware), they did so with chillies and used it as a sacrificial offering to Xochiquetzal – the goddess of fertility. Perhaps this is where the guys got the Madre name for their chocolate company, given that Madre means mother in Spanish? Although, when I asked Nat said that they also intended to raise awareness that this part of the world is the origin of chocolate.
I digress. There is an all-encompassing sweet and sour experience and a steady heat at the back of the throat that most chilli chocolate fans will adore – but if you’re expecting something harsh and caustic then you’ll be, thankfully, disappointed. It’s a great deal more sophisticated than that. I’m a huge fan of ginger and cinnamon and this bar brings back memories of when I used to sprinkle ginger powder on vanilla ice cream – that, sharp, but slightly burning texture is the central theme – and I love it for it. But behind all of that excitement lingers a mild, and not at all ungainly Dominican Republic 70%. It’d be interesting to see how it comes across when I try it unadulterated later. But, combined with these rambunctious flavours, it’s a great success.
After letting my palette cleanse and rest I tried the Popped Amaranth which may encompass seventy or so distinct plants themselves as Amaranth just a genus of plant – which is used in this bar I have no idea. So I checked and apparently its Amaranth cruentus But for the health-conscious it is said to contain all eight essential amino acids and no gluten. For those of you, such as myself, who love to know the provenance of chocolate, the cacao used comes from the Conacado co-operative in the Dominican Republic.
I loved the interesting, bubbly texture to the reverse of the bar. Which, when broken, has the aroma of rice crispies and a flavour similar to sesame seeds – but milder. It has that health food complexion, but wrapped in a creamy chocolate flavour, it almost has buttery character. I suppose many people will be like me and be in two minds about it, but that’s the point of trying something different: often something that tastes radically different from what you expected can grow on you. And I suppose the unusual-sounding name plays a part in making this one their most popular Dominican Republic bar?
The third bar contained pink peppercorn and smoked salt – all of which originated in Hawai’i. But that’s not all, the cacao used to make the chocolate was also grown on the islands. Back in 1982 there was some misunderstanding of what pink peppercorn is which lead the FDA to ban it – this ban was subsequently lifted. The aroma of this bar is very much of sweet liquor, perhaps like a Cool Breeze cocktail? But on the very edge there is that distinctive peppercorn aroma which is heightened by the smoked pepper.
The flavour is just as jazzy and I expect very much reminiscent of the Hawaiian shirts: full of flavour, sweet and intoxicating. The beans are reportedly grown along the Hamakua coast of Honokaa, although the only elevated areas along there are the around the Johala Forest and Pi’ O Umi Reserves and Muana Kea – which I doubt would support cacao trees as I suspect it would be too exposed. I did find the bar refreshing, but did assault the taste buds with the intensity of the salt – however, that subsided fairly quickly and the sweetness of the pink peppercorn came back into play and soothed my senses. Carrying those flavours throughout the melt was a delightful true chocolate experience that did have some pinewood acidity, but it is difficult to isolate the true taste of the chocolate with all the other flavours present.
The next was also of Hawaiian origin and was flavoured with passion fruit but was a different than the previous as this had a more metallic mouth feel which I think comes from the texture of the fruit – there’s a just a touch of resistance and a similar under-current flavour that raw chocolate has. The fruit flavour, however, was fantastic. It offered a great clean taste that cuts through the creamy, caramel-like tones of the chocolate itself in much the same way as the smoked salt did in the previous. This form of acidity stands out well and does bring the natural passion fruit flavours to the fore.
The last was the “standard” Dominican 70% bar which had a smoked wood and creamer aroma with pepper top notes. I could hold this bar against my nose all day as it so intoxicating and comforting. The snap was superb and an absolutely immense melt which seemed to be full of stinging nettles as my various parts of my mouth would be “stung” with flavour whilst the rest of it was soothed by absolutely delicious, creamy chocolate. The natural acidity of cacao is hardly in evidence. Only at the outer edges of the melt does there seem any pine-wood acidity, the middle part is like a warm duvet that envelopes you on a cold morning where you hide from the ravages of the winter weather. It doesn’t seem so much of a dark bar, but doesn’t have the sweetness that would go with a bitter-sweet chocolate. It just seems to be in a whole new classification of its own. And it somehow manages to pull the flavours in three different directions as it melts in your mouth. Those flavours aren’t those classically raved about by chocolate ‘experts’, but trust me, you’ll love it.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed these five bars from Madre. Like a rock concept album of the 1970’s they take you on a journey of discovery. But unlike Pink Floyd’s The Wall, you won’t need to consume any hallucinogenic substances to enjoy it, all the joy is contained naturally within those wrappers and whilst you’re consuming them you won’ t need anything artificial.