Review: Akesson’s Madagascar – 100% Criollo (*****)

Today we go red. There is no room for compromises. Today is 100% chocolate!

Akesson is The name in the fine chocolate world when it comes to Madagascan cacao. Bertil’s Ambolikapiky plantation produces some of the finest cacao around and countless bean-to-bar chocolate makers use his cacao to create their masterpieces.

But Akesson also produces their own chocolate. Their cacao and vision combined with the craftmanship of a leading French fine chocolate maker, create some spectacular chocolate. So I had pretty high expectations about the content of the little red box lying in front of me.

Akesson's 100% criollo

The box turns away from the classical dark grey box with red text – so typical for the Akesson line. This time the box is vibrant red. As if you already know this isn’t a normal chocolate. 100% is about as hardcore as it gets. The color also reminds me of the typical red fruits you’ll find in quality Madagascan origin chocolate.

Inside, a cellophane foil and a glorious little square of dark chocolate. Ripping open the foil means releasing an amazing deep chocolate aroma. The bar design itself is still one of the most minimalistic and pure to be found in the origin chocolate world. Sleek and luxurious looking.

Akesson creates this single plantation chocolate from pure Criollo beans – the top quality produced. A mere 2 tons of Criollo cacao is produced on this estate in the Sambirano Valley. Knowing the total yield of the plantation is about 300 tons Trinitario, you’ll understand this is a pretty exclusive cacao.

Bean: Criollo
Origin: Madagascar – Ambolikapiky Plantation
Maker: Produced in France
Price: € 5,00 – 60 g

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Color: Dark, dark dark brown

Aroma: surprising sweet and sour, fruity – roasted nuts pop up – deep chocolate.

Taste: This bar has a nice roasted start concentrating on a nutty flavor, slowly maturing in the full body of a high percentage cacao with gentle but noticeable bitterness. On the tip of the tongue, little sweet, red fruit twinkles develop, while the chocolate remains very powerful in the back of the mount with earthy aromas including coffee and a delicate chestnut flavor. The chocolate certainly bites at the tongue, but never as aggressive as other 100% bars I’ve tried. If you breathe in some air while tasting, the fruit flavors open up in an abundant way. Red currants, raspberry and sour cherry come to mind. It is in fact by far the most palatable 100% bar I had so far and I love how it still reveals the fruity aromas of the Madagascan terroir. The aftertaste brings back the glorious roasted coffee and hazelnut tones and lingers in the mouth for a very long time. Chocolate in abundance all around. The longer the aftertaste floats around in your mouth, the more balanced it becomes, until you have this very satisfying chocolate aroma remaining. And it just keeps going. Texture and melt of the chocolate are superb, following the French tradition in chocolate making. By adding just the right amount of cacao butter, you get a super velvety melt. People who want to try a high percentage bar which still retains the wonderful flavors of fine cacao are in for a treat! This chocolate offers all the maturity of a pure 100% chocolate, while keeping the experience enjoyable. To me it is worth the full five stars!

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Review: Chocolate Naive – Madagascar 85% (***1/2)

After an annoying two-week cold including a blocked nose, things finally cleared up so I can enjoy craft chocolate to the fullest again. About time, because I have a massive amount of bars waiting to be reviewed.

Today we return to my favorite origin. Madagascar. Naive provided me with this gorgeous looking 85% bar, made from Criollo cacao from the Ambolikapiky plantation in Madagascar… By now I understand the better part of all the quality cacao from this region originates from this plantation owned by Akesson’s. It is great fun to discover the different approaches of the different chocolate makers when they use this cacao. The results are so different it is hard to believe they all use the same cacao. It really shows how a chocolate maker has a great influence on the final taste.

Naive, based in Lithuania, by far a renowned country for chocolate, already succeeded in dazzling me with their products. The Dark chocolate with forest honey (also using Madagascan cacao) never ceases to impress me. It is that good.

So it is with great expectations that I turn my attention to the bar on my table.

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The 30 gram bar looks modern and minimalistic. A dark band gives away we are dealing with an extra dark chocolate, the 85 percentage dominates the wrapper. I especially appreciate the extra info spread around to give you an instant idea of what lies ahead. A Madagascan, medium roasted criollo bar. Sounds divine to any chocoholic. Medium roasted means a lot of the inherent flavors of the cacao are preserved and should be detectable in the final product.

Open the package and you will find a thick silver foil hugging the bar itself. Out comes a piece of chocolate of perfect size. Not to big, just the right thickness and my oh my, does it smell amazing. But first take a look at all those perfect little rectangular pieces, deep and shiny. This little bar of chocolate takes my mind immediately to the Pacari bars.

Bean: Criollo
Origin: Ambolikapiky plantation  – Madagascar
Production: Naive Chocolate – Parapijoniskes – Lithuania
Price paid: sample – 30g

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Color:A wonderful light brown, touching the color of a dark milk chocolate with the typical Madagascan red hue.

Aroma: warm, powerful and surprising sweet, tobacco,toasted bread and a hint of red fruit.

Taste: The chocolate starts medium quick and lets the Madagascan fruits pop from the very start. They actually took my by surprise. Lots of red currant and raspberry followed by pretty intense earthy flavors reminding me of raw cocoa. Every swirl of the tongue releases a new wave of fruits, followed by a woody interlude before jumping over to the earthy flavors and a remarkable fresh farmer’s cheese tartness. The texture is fresh and light on the palate. Not buttery at all, meaning Naive wasn’t tempted to calm down the powerful taste by adding too much cacao butter. It melts like a charm and releases a final warm vanilla tone before it is gone. The aftertaste carries on the earthy notes, is slightly smoky and reveals a nice cacao aroma and the reminiscence of the berry flavors. I’m impressed by the leap in texture Naive achieved compared to the bars I tasted before.

This chocolate has a pretty high percentage of cacao and certainly doesn’t go for an easy and mellow taste. You get the full power of cacao, rich and intense – combined with the typical Madagascan fruity acidity. It has the potential to scare of people who are used to the sweet industrial chocolate and try this without knowing what to expect, but you should definitely give it a try to experience wild and untamed Madagascan-origin chocolate!

Review: Duffy’s Indio Rojo – Honduras 72% (*****)

When I found the chocolate of Willie’s Cacao my wife wanted to try for such a long time now, she decided to surprise me with a little present of herself. So I got this Duffy’s Indio Rojo bar… Isn’t she the best wife ever?

The British Duffy Sheardown has a past in racing, but he changed his life dramatically once he got a great passion for quality chocolate. Nowadays, Duffy creates a vast line of artisan bean to bars that will make any chocolate enthusiast go wild. Think of Criollo, Camino Verde, Ocumare, Peru, Dominican Republic, Peru,…

Today we have an Academy of Chocolate gold-awarded bar on the table. Honduras isn’t an origin you see on many bars. So this makes for an extra appeal, to discover a new region and range of flavors. Indio Rojo means red Indian. Let’s see if this Indian can make us dream of far and exotic places.

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 I was immediately struck by the vibrant color of the wrapper. You simply can’t ignore this bar. The blue color and Mayan-style decoration take you straight to South-America, the birthplace of cacao and chocolate. The wrapper proudly shows the origin and percentage of the chocolate. I just love the design.

The 80 grams bar is pretty big, as I see more and more 50g tablets. Hidden in a silver foil, it comes out with a very tempting aroma.

The bar itself is pretty simple in design. A perfectly molded piece of chocolate, carefully divided in rectangular pieces. Neat and sleek.

Bean: Criollo

Origin: Honduras

Production: Red Star Chocolate, UK

Price paid: €- gift received from my wife, bought at Hilde Devolder Chocolatier in Ghent

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Color: a lighter shade of brown with a glorious red hint. So the name returns in the color of the bar. Nice!

Aroma: a touch of leather, raw cacao, faint orange in the back combined with dark wood.

Taste: hard snap on breaking of a piece, always a good sign. The chocolate is medium quick opening with sweet caramelized nuts and brown sugar and very chocolaty, before turning into a nice tangy, orange flower aroma that echoes around in your mouth and becomes stronger on the palate. Amidst, a dash of dried apricot pops up. Suddenly the fruits subdues and more herbal notes come through, reminding me of hay and spices with a pinch of cinnamon. The chocolate bites you a bit on the tongue near the end as if it was a much higher cacao percentage, before releasing a delicate aftertaste that revives the orange blossom flavors. The aftertaste has a great length and keeps evolving as does the chocolate itself. After the fruity tones again come some herbal notes swirling around a heavenly chocolaty flavor and a touch of coffee. The texture of the chocolate is good, if ever so slightly grainy. But it melts superbly in the mouth.

This bar was awarded with gold by the Academy of Chocolate in 2011 and I can clearly see why. It’s not often that you will experience a chocolate that evolves as much as this one. I once heard a connoisseur explain that Duffy builds three stage rocket chocolate. And in fact, this bar displays three distinct flavor profiles while savouring it. But on top of that, Duffy’s manages to create an aftertaste that keeps changing too! Doubling the fun! 5 stars in my book!

Review: Amedei Blanco de Criollo – 70% (*****)

Now here is a first for me. After reviewing so many exciting bars, this time around I present you a blend. But if that blend is made by a company called “Amedei” and it features Criollo, I’m very confident I’ve got the attention of any true chocolate lover!

Cecilia Tessieri travelled all the way to Peru, in search of the most delicate and noble Criollo cacao beans to create an extraordinary chocolate bar. Amedei, based at Pontedera near Pisa in Italy, is renowned for its quality chocolate and high standards of production. This particular bar is part of a 20.000 piece batch, created in late 2012. As a limited edition, it carries its own distinct serial number, 12-903 in this case.

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The sleeve of the chocolate bar just breathes the luxurious Amedei tradition. A wonderful design featuring the amazing color array of fresh cacao pods and Amedei’s distinct logo. Inside, tasting notes are provided and while you are at it, you get a nice overview of other creations by the company. From their traditional bars up to the single origins.

A yellow blister keeps the bar safe from harm. Opening it, you are greeted by a glorious aroma tickling all your senses. The bar itself doesn’t have an eye-popping design, but rather consist of a solid bar made out of rectangular pieces carrying the Amedei Logo.

Bean: Criollo blend

Origin: Perú

Production: Amedei – Pontedera, Italy

Price: € 11,49 – 50 g at 1001 Sense – Munich, Germany

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Color: a light, slightly reddish-brown.
Aroma: the bar offers a distinct smoky and spiced scent. Deep and powerful – tobacco, sweet cinnamon, dried wood and cacao create a warm and inviting aroma.
Taste: The chocolate has a good snap and a medium quick start. The taste opens up sweet for an instant, before gliding over to overwhelming pure chocolate tones. Dried nuts and a nice and gentle coffee bitter come through. The bar has a perfect melt and a superb texture – as expected from Italian chocolate. Furthermore, raisin and yellow plum are detected as the chocolate melts in your mouth. These notes blend in perfectly with the great chocolate taste and create a little refreshing moment. Next the wood tones from the aroma mingle in and make for a warm and balanced taste profile. The overall taste reminds me of the aromas you experience during a walk in the woods during a warm autumn day – earthy and sweet. Before the piece has melted completely, the taste offers more roasted hazelnuts.

The aftertaste remains in same line and seems a bit more etherical with volatile toasted and nutty aromas rolling around for a prolonged time.

Cecilia Tessieri has succeeded in creating a wonderful and complex chocolate – floating on warm, earthy tones, gently surprising you with delicate taste changes. A sign Amedei knows its trade to the very last detail and will only produce the highest quality. Blanco de Criollo –  a bar you need to try whenever you get the chance!

Review: Chocolate Naive – Milk Chocolate Java/Papua New Guinea 53% (***)

Milk Chocolate. I adored the stuff when I was little and even now I still have a soft spot for it. Unfortunately I’ve lost my sweet tooth and many of the milk chocolate around seems so overpowering sweet and clingy in nature, it fell out of my grace but for a couple of times a year.

When I discovered fine chocolate, I wonder of the artisan chocolate makers could make the tide turn and make me fall in love all over again.

Today I unwrapped Chocolate Naive’s 53% Milk chocolate bar with anticipation. Lithuania’s finest Bean-To-Bar chocolatier might change my point of view.

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I just love their sleeves, folded like a precious book. On the front cover, the chocolates’ main identification. This bar features 53% cacao from Java/Papua New Guinea, lightly roasted and conched for 60 hours. On the back the usual ingredients info and a very entertaining little story about a chocolate maker trying to milk a cow. Great touch.

Open the sleeve, and inside you find a lyrical text about Chocolate Naive and it’s values and dreams.

The actual bar is sealed inside a transparent blister. Oh how unfortunate, the bar has been smashed inside its box during transport. A dozen of pieces awaited me.

Bean: Criollo + Forastero

Origin: Java + Papua New Guinea

Production: Chocolate Naive – Lithuania

Price: Unknown – sample

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Color: as to be expected, a light shade of brown, yet darker than most milk bars.

Aroma: Earthy cacao, slightly roasted, not really creamy.

Taste: This is a surprisingly slow starting bar, opening with roasted hazelnuts, honey and has a touch of a liquor aroma to it. The texture is quiet grainy – you can almost make out sugar crystals – and the melt is especially long. The diary itself doesn’t come through clearly, yet a nice nutty tone remains present and the bar shows great cacao aromas, even slightly fruity for an instant, before finishing off with light caramel. Even though the cacao percentage is low, it isn’t sweet but nicely balanced. The aftertaste remains nutty and reveals more of a milk profile, but doesn’t linger as long as most dark chocolates.

Did this bar set a new standard when it comes to milk chocolate for me? Not exactly. While it is nice, it falls in between classes. For a milk chocolate it offers a lot of flavor, but I miss a luscious cream feel and aroma. It aims for taste, but falls short compared to a great dark bar. Maybe it is just a personal thing. Oh wait, chocolate is as personal as it gets! And that’s why I love it!

 

Review: Akesson’s Madagascar 75% Criollo Cocoa (****)

Two little words on a box of chocolate can make my heart skip a beat… Madagascar and Akesson’s. For one, the Madagascar region provides several chocolate makers with the beans to create wonderful, fruitful chocolate. And secondly, Akesson’s took me by surprise with their Bali bar, which brought me one of the most exotic tasting bars I encountered so far. Amazing aroma’s.

So, will this bar bring me the same enjoyment and a fresh look on Madagascan origin chocolate? Let’s see…

Akesson’s is a bit of a strange chocolate producer. Actually they aren’t, yet they are. Confusing éh?

The Akesson Family owns several plantations producing pepper and cacao. Their high quality cacao is actually used by several bean-to-bar producers to create their little brown wonders. However, Bertill Akesson was introduced to the art of creating chocolate while working together with his clients. These days, Akesson’s actually produces its own chocolate in a French factory, using their own cacao beans naturally. While many chocolatiers buy beans to create chocolate, they actually work the other way around. And the results are stunning!

This bar is created from the very limited 2 tons of criollo cacao the Ambolikapiky plantation produces, next to the main Trinitario production. This cacao, grown in the Sambirano region, is the best of the best Akkenson produces in Madagascar.

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The bar is wrapped in the unmistakably Akesson way. It stands out by the square shape, the dark tones in combination with the typical large red “A”. The silver award sticker of the Academy of Chocolate makes clear this is more than just another bar.

Inside, the bar is sealed in a see-trough plastic foil. unfortunately the bar itself was shattered in quiet a number of pieces. A pity, as the design is of such a great minimalistic yet classy quality. But luckily this will not affect taste in any way. Texture wise, this is one of the sexiest chocolates I know. It just screams “smooth” all the way and shines superbly. A typical French style chocolate.

Bean: Criollo

Origin: Ambolikapiky plantation – Sambirano valley – Madagascar

Production: Akesson

Price paid: € 5,00/60 g (Hilde Devolder Chocolatier)

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Colour: deep and dark, promise of a full-bodied bar.

Aroma: powerful in the nose, with an acidic touch and a hint of earthyness and tobacco in the back.

Taste: a moderate slow and sweet start when taken in the mouth, bringing typical Madagascan fruits in abundance. Entwined with some vanilla tones and very balanced chocolate bitter-sweetness, citrus and red berries come to mind. It takes a while before the piece starts melting away, but once it does the texture is so velvety. To me, this bar demonstrates a perfect balance between cacao and cacao butter.  Once the chocolate has almost melted away, the fresh citrus tones make way for more masculine, darker tones touching wood and coffee. The aftertaste has a nice length and keeps the flavour vivid. The fruityness is replaced by some more masculine tannins. An extremely elegant chocolate not going for harsh taste changes, but a very satisfying and powerful taste. The way a quality bar should taste!

While the Madagascar bar doesn’t bring any surprising notes, it excels in bringing the typical Madagascan tones in a wonderful symphony of taste. I totally understand why Bertill Akesson turns to French masters in order to create a glorious chocolate. The sure know how to deliver. Don’t even think twice when you encounter a dark square box with a red capital A!

Sneak peek!

The year 2013 nears its end. It brought me the wonderful discovery of fine chocolate and lots of great discoveries and tastes.

Thanks for reading my chocolate reviews, I’m baffled by the amount of viewers who have visited my little blog, showing nothing but my view on this delicious dark gold.

So what has been popular so far? J.D. Gross tops the list. Yep, the origin bars sold at the Lidl chain sure intrigue a lot of people.

I just hope they prove to be a step up to the really good stuff.

Next in line, to my surprise, is Hilde Devolder chocolatier, my favorite chocolate shop in Ghent. I’m sure Geert Vercruyssen, another Belgian chocolatier with eye for quality chocolate will catch up soon. Somehow more of my Belgian countrymen are looking into fine chocolate than meet the eye. Keep it up!

And next are the really fine chocolate makers, pretty equally divided. Seems you people appreciate what I’m trying to do here by putting down my personal experiences when tasting their products. I can only try to make you curious, so you’d try for yourself, right? You won’t be disappointed.

So, with the turn of the year in view, I can give you a little sneak preview of some things to come!

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And that’s only the latest catch.

So stay tuned for more news from the chocolate world.

Cheers,

Kris