It was a juxtaposition that I found interesting. I and Slow Food are very keen for cacao production to be profitable for those that produce it. In the vast majority of times this means that small, slightly more than subsistence farmers are able to feed their families from the profits. Of course chocolate is a huge, multi-billion Pound a year industry and it is this chocolate-elitism that paradoxically supports those on the borders of poverty.
I’m all for wanting the best chocolate. For too long my life revolved around Yorkie Bars and Milky Ways. In my young teens I found dark chocolate. The height of the experience then was the having whatever Tesco felt like selling – to me then it was great. Now, after trying the likes of Amedei, Amano, Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, Mast Brothers, Chapon, Paul Helvin in bar form, my perceptions have changed for ever.
The Academy of Chocolate is all about extoling the virtues of fine chocolate, its heritage, its sustainability and provenance. Back when I first got into dark chocolate, probably around the early 1990’s none-of this mattered. To the vast majority of people if a bar was 80% it was good and 60% was bad. If it was French or Italian-made you were onto a winner. Belgian chocolates were king. Eating English-made chocolate was akin to going into the supermarket and buying La Plait d’or – crap.
Not today. I know Chantal from Rococo belies her age and first started in the world of chocolate in the mid-eighties and Green & Blacks have been around for a while and were even bought out by Cadbury’s. But in recent years there has been a real explosion in UK-based chocolate creativity and excellence. I know this blog wasn’t around in the Brit-pop era of chocolate – that’s because it’s not even begun.
In the room yesterday we had some of the crème-de-la-crème of the UK chocolate world. Paul Young, William Curley (with brands of their own name) and Chantal from Rococo were talking about, and letting us taste their wares. Duffy from Red Star Chocolate broke down on the way. It is Duffy that I’m most excited about. (N.B. Craig who started Green & Blacks was there too – and added a great deal of colour and information to proceedings)
I love the chocolates that those present make; they’re inspiring, sexy, thought-provoking, jolting, perplexing and just down-right pieces of art. But for me it’s Duffy that mimics my own ethos: if you can do it the hard way or the easy way – do it the hard way. Duffy makes chocolate, on his tod, from bean to bar. And it’s that rawness from experiencing Duffy’s comparatively unscientific production processes (when compared to what I saw on the Thornton’s chocolate tour) that make me appreciate the complexity and fine balance that goes into making a truly fantastic bar of chocolate.
But what I learned from the experience is that chocolate is like my day job (I’m an internet marketing consultant). Chocolate it fundamentally a science and the product of that scientific is purely subjective. All four of us chocolate bloggers (Chocablog, The Chocolate Tour, Chocolate Guide and myself) all had differing opinions on the ganaches and tablets we tried. I liked the goat’s cheese ganache, The Chocolate Guide didn’t I wasn’t a big fan of Paul’s Boxing Day creation, the others did. It’s this sort of variation of views, combined with the memories and emotions elicited from chocolate that makes it such a wonderful entity.
So where does this leave me? Well I ended the day with three bars of Amano and two from Thornton’s. Their coconut and lime bar I tried in the testing stage a few months ago. To see it in production, in packaging, in stores after knowing the massive amount of effort that has been expended to bring the bar to this stage is what makes me so thrilled – that and knowing small-holder farmers in countries throughout the world have benefited from my satisfying my passion is a wonderful thing.
So if you’re ever tempted by the crap that Hershey’s produce and are willing to reward their cost-cutting procedures – think again. Support the “small” people, buy local, buy chocolate grown in a sustainable way…
And for some photos that aren’t really up to scratch: