For one that has so many ties to my ‘home’ chocolate seems an apt medium to live vicariously. I don’t have to board a jet plan and physically visit Vietnam to understand, to some degree, the country. I can simply do that by unwrapping a bar of chocolate and use that as my launchpad into the unknown. For the last few weeks I’ve had an email from Sam at Marou sitting in my inbox. MS Outlook is a strange beast. With my many email accounts, folders and the rest I neglected to reply – Microsoft should really invent software that screams at you if you don’t reply to emails that deliver fine chocolate to your door – I’m sure Google would do it.
Far too few chocolate makers are immensely passionate about the environment, be it biophysical; economic; or political, that all affect the cocoa bean and the industry it supports. Spending a while on the Marou website it seems that Sam and team have a deep understanding and commitment to the wider Vietnamese cocoa-growing environment – as a consumer this would certainly make me wish to part with my money. Within the text of that website Sam also raises a question that I’m keenly interested in, and Alyssa Jade McDonald is similarly passionate about, and that’s the background to cocoa being labelled as either FairTrade or organic. I believe the costs of certification aren’t fully understood by the public, and despite, on a very simplistic basis, is beneficial to growers, there is certainly devil in the detail.
It’s great when chocolate makers such as Marou shun the ‘black box’ approach to chocolate making. Only if you know the exact source of the beans, the challenges that they face, and have insight into, or can control, the chocolate making process, then can you really make great quality chocolate that satisfies the body as well as the soul. On my limited understanding of the Marou organisation, I firmly assert that it does.
I’ve been sent a few Marou bars, despite by tardiness in replying. One I’ve forwarded on to my good friend Geert in Belgium, and out of the rest I’ve picked this Tiền Giang bar made from beans from the Cho Gao Co-operative which manages 1,500ha cocoa trees in the Cho Gao, Go Cong Tay and Tan Phu Dong districts – only 185ha of which are UTZ-certified, which means there’s strict controls on how the trees are treated and that production diaries are kept and other worthwhile criteria.
Despite Cargill using its weight to purchase much of the local beans, Marou have gotten their hands on some and have produced this 80% bar. Often I’ll chose which chocolate to review based on how attractive the packaging is. The problem here is that all of Marou’s bars look utterly fantastic – and that’s no hyperbole. The paper is of great quality – it’s thick and well wrapped, whilst the style is elegant and indulgent.
So far I’ve only tried two chocolate bars made with Vietnamese cocoa, the Ben Tre from Demarquette and the Artisan du Chocolat bar – both of which I’ve found fascinating. And this bar is no different. With Trinitario beans, sugar and nothing else, the spicy flavour is deeply wonderful. There are hints of under-ripe banana and sandalwood, but no real intense acidity. That seems to have been wonderfully controlled and allows for a greater variety of flavours to come through. At the lower range of the flavour there’s a delightful, rich creaminess that belies the 80% cocoa solids level.
Some may expect that as this bar is labelled as 80% that you would expect it to be as bitter as many mass-market bars such as, dare I say, Lindt. But this chocolate bar is on another planet compared. Of course the texture isn’t as refined as people might expect putting against the ‘big boys’, but this is much closer to real chocolate and still has a superb texture given that it’s made without any soya lecithin or other emulsifier.
Although the chocolate isn’t as rambunctious as perhaps I’d hoped, it’s as elegant as I deserve. Having just taken another bite and pushed the chocolate to the front of my mouth that flavour is most certainly like a warm blanket being pulled over me. I hope that we’ll be able to get this chocolate into this country as soon as possible. I might have to have words with the guys as more people should have the opportunity to try it.