Preview: Marou – Dắk Lắk 70% (*****)

During the last edition of the Origin Chocolate event I had the enormous privilege of tasting the brand new bar created by Marou. It was so new they didn’t even have artwork for a new wrapper yet.

Samuel Maruta offered me a bar of this new origin as a sample for my blog. I simply can’t thank Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou enough for this opportunity!

Marou is a pretty special chocolate company. There are plenty of creative and adventurous chocolate makers around. Actually it is a lot of fun to follow the facebook and twitter acounts of many of them to discover the crazy situations these chocolatiers get themselves into while using old equipment or experimental techniques. But Samuel and Vincent take it just that extra step beyond. They decided to create the chocolate in the country where the cacao they use is grown. Vietnam!

So, we have two clever French guys having the best time they can have in an exotic country like Vietnam, pulling all sorts of stunts to get their hands on fine cacao and create chocolate with it. It does include riding and elephant and cruising around the countryside in a classic old school Citroen vehicle. But don’t be fooled, when it comes to the quality of chocolate they create, they are dead serious! Just like their fellow small-scale fine chocolate makers .

Marou Dak Lak  Marou Dak Lak

Even while this wasn’t a finished product yet, Marou always brings its bars in style. A shiny gold foil protects the bar, marked by a simple looking label. A hand written one that is! Stating the origin Dắk Lắk – situated in the central highlands of Vietnam, bordering Cambodia. Vincent and Samuel went great lengths to find that one farmer that could deliver them a high quality, aromatic cacao. The origin is pretty different from the others they used so far and during the Origin Event in Amsterdam they were looking for reactions from the audience on the flavor.

The chocolate itself is stunning like every other Marou bar. They always seem to squeeze the specific flavors from a region from the cacao beans, making every bar distinctly different from the next. The aroma coming from the freshly opened chocolate is overwhelming. The chocolate shines beautifully. The traditional Marou bar design means you get a thick, hefty 100 g bar, scored diagonally. It will break the way it sees fit, not in prefect a rectangular piece – as if to state Marou doesn’t follow any of the classic rules in chocolate making. And we should be thankful for it.

Marou Dak Lak  Marou Dak Lak

Bean: Trinitario
origin: Vietnam – Dắk Lắk Province
Maker: Marou, Faisseurs de Chocolat – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Price: Sample bar – 100 g

Marou Dak Lak
Color: A nice deep brown with red hue.

Aroma: Strong. Sweet and slightly spicy, tropical warm with a touch of tobacco in the back.

Taste: Semi quick starting with roasted bread followed by a strong brown sugar aroma. Gently turning over to liquorice with small twinkles of acidity and bitterness popping up to keep the aroma interesting and ever-changing. Did I just detect anise for a second? A deep and very satisfying chocolate flavor comes forth next. Near the end of the melt gentle wood aromas give body to the entire experience without overpowering the palate. The aftertaste follows the main aroma of the Dắk Lắk bar, slowly turning to volatile cacao, wood and faint spice aromas. The aftertaste keeps rolling and rolling in your mouth for an exceptional long time. The melt of the chocolate is great for such a thick bar, even as it is a bit dryer in appearance than French style chocolate. Unlike the other Marou chocolates I’ve tried so far, this bar doesn’t feature the nice, abundant spice tones and isn’t fruity at all, yet it delivers such an amazing warm and gratifying chocolate flavor, I would call it the ultimate comfort food on a dark, rainy day! It will be taking your mind miles and miles away to a warm and exotic Vietnam. 5 stars!

So in a nutshell, Samuel and Vincent, it would be a crime not to take this bar to the shops! That’s a bar of pure gold you gave me!

Advertisements

Origin Chocolate Event 2014 – Amsterdam Holland

On saturday 25th of October, this years edition of the Origin Chocolate Event was held at the Tropical Institute in the heart of Amsterdam.

It is The Event about chocolate close to me, gathering countless chocolate makers with a deep passion for their product and us, the audience wanting to learn more about the chocolate we love so much. The program of the day is packed with presentations and tasting sessions, combined with a market place in the central hall, where you can taste more chocolate and chocolate related products.

One can attend all the presentations he desires, but unfortunately you can only attend two tastings. My wife and I selected Marou and Amma, as we both are fond of their products and want to know more about the people behind the bars.

 

Marou + Madécasse presentation

Samuel Maruta (Marou) and Brett Beach (Madécasse) both presented their company, terroirs and specific chocolates. Off course chocolates were passed around the room, showing clearly the difference between Vietnamese and Madagascan chocolate. A nice start of the day.

KKBTB141025-2  KKBTB141025-30

Samuel Maruta + Brett Beach (far right)

Marou tasting

Immediately after the presentation, we moved to on of the tasting rooms where Samuel Maruta took us a bit deeper into the world of Marou. Samuel sure took me by surprise by recognising me in the crowd and promptly requested me to explain how one should properly savour chocolate, as in his own words: he’s more about making and eating chocolate. Brilliant man.

We sampled the well-known spicy-fruity Ben Tré bar followed by the Treasure Island, a new one for me. The difference between the two bars is stunning. I would have to retaste it, but there was a clear and creamy liquorice tone to the bar, which was stunning.

KKBTB141025-4  KKBTB141025-3

Next, Samuel popped a première out of his sleeve and he offered us their youngest, brand new creation, the 70% Dak Lak bar. I would like to thank Samuel for offering me a bar of this chocolate, so I can review it into detail in the near future. All I can disclose now, is that this bar is a lot milder than some of their other creations, but offers an explosion of spicy flavors! I’m truly excited!

The market place

While going from room to room, you have to pass by the central hall, where dozens of stands offer all sorts of amazing products. Impossible to name them all, they went from Claudio Corallo over Akesson’s, Republica Del Cacao, Marou, Solstice, Naive, Grenada Chocolate Company, Original Beans, Chocolate Makers to Solstice. And then I forget about a dozen more! Combine this with cacao cooking stands, cacao beer, chocolate and wine pairing and so on, you will understand this little market is an event on its own!

 KKBTB141025-5  KKBTB141025-7  KKBTB141025-9 KKBTB141025-10  KKBTB141025-6  KKBTB141025-8

Amma… well, no… Idilio and Tibor Szanto tasting

What started out as a little hick-up ( Diego Badaro not being able to make it to Amsterdam on time), was quickly changed into a spontaneous double tasting act by Niklaus Blumer from Idilio and Tibor Szanto. Both these chocolate makers offer a wide variety of high quality origin bars and happen to use some beans of the same region, offering a very exciting tasting session.

Niklaus offered us an Ocumare and Porcelana bar, both originating in Venezuela. Idilio creates such smooth and harmonious chocolate bars, packed with earthy and roasted flavors.

KKBTB141025-11  KKBTB141025-12

Niklaus Blumer – Tibor Szanto

Tibor passed the very same Porcelana around and immediatly you discovered the difference in their ideas. Tibor Szanto uses stone grinding and shorter conche, creating a slightly coarser end product with a wonderful flavor complexity that keeps evolving. Where Idillio goes for harmony, Tibor goes for layers of taste. His Rio Caribe offered similar flavor ranges, adding a bit more fruits and finally his Carenero Superior bar took my breath away with its clear marzipan and cherry flavors.

Finally, Niklaus finally let us taste something I searched for since a long time, a very satisfying milk chocolate. Their Orinoco is made from cacao beans collected in the wild (so no plantation cacao) and offers amazing amounts of caramel and a heavenly aftertaste.

A great session indeed!

 

Dominique Persoone

Being Belgian I’m both biased about Belgian Chocolate and intrigued by people like Dominique Persoone, who are so dedicated to their product. The Belgian chef Dominique has a very popular filled chocolate factory and has even turned the heads of the Rolling Stones with his Cacao Shooter, but here he presented a view on the expeditions he undertakes to cacao producing regions. You think it is all about Criollo, Trinitatrio and Forastero when it comes to cacao? Think again. There are over one thousand different cacao related plants, all producing pods and beans. Dominique set up his own plantation, the Chocolate Line Plantation in Mexico, where he cultivates several species and now starts to experiment with them to create his own made chocolate. Yes! Finally Belgians start to see the light and at least try to make it to the bean to bar scene.

KKBTB141025-13

KKBTB141025-14

The result is still experimental, but it is far different from what I tried so far. Still a tad to sweet perhaps, but with an exquisite texture and aroma, it makes me look forward to any real production bars. Even Clay Gordon already sees the potential. Personally my palate had been a little overwhelmed to appreciate the subtleties – so I’ll have to try again later when he sells the chocolate.

 

Birth of Chocolate – Daniel and Linda Lorenzetti

Finally we attended our last presentation, by a couple who has become resident explorers for the Tropical Institute. They already did a project on coffee and now turned towards cacao. Their aim is to give the audience and idea of where chocolate comes from, focussing on the people who cultivate, treat and sell cacao. They travel all over the world, documenting both fine and bulk cacao producers.

KKBTB141025-31

However, the presentation was far to commercial for me. Instead of focussing on the story of one or two people in the project, we got a series of photo’s a bit of explanation all aimed at the audience to be aware about their product. Ending predictable by showing the sponsors. A missed chance in my view on a day like this.

 

Time flies by when you are having fun, so before we knew it, our hotel and dinner reservations for that night called and we had to leave the event.

If you like fine chocolate and if you ever have the chance, you owe it to yourself to visit this great event. It give you the opportunity to meet the makers and hear their stories first hand, while tasting a great collection of fine chocolates. Some would call this heaven!

Event: My first tasting session – an introduction to the world of bean to bar chocolate

Question: How does one win over the heart of unknowing people for the cause of fine chocolate. Ideally you lure them into a room, close the door and surprise them with the pure class of the chocolates you make them taste.

Now, as the luring and forcing may seem a bit drastic, I decided to ask people politely if they would care for a real-life experience in the world of fine chocolate. About 15 people couldn’t resist my sweet voice and seductive words…

So how did things work out? After all, these people knew nothing about origin chocolate.

This was the line up for the evening. Seven first class bars, covering a wide range of tastes and regions. A perfect way to let people experience the amazing difference in taste from bar to bar, from region to region, from Trinitatrio over Forastero to Criollo and back.

DSC_0607

 Original Beans – Piura Porcelana – 75%: This light, yet extremely tasteful bar opened quiet a bit of eyes around the table. As a first touch of fine chocolate, it immediately won the heart of most around the table. The roasted start and sweet yellow fruits were clearly discovered and for the first time my guests noticed the formidable length of the aftertaste of a quality bar.

DSC_0620

 

Pacari – Raw – 70%: Totally different from the first bar, yet its floral/green aroma’s didn’t convince everyone. Still I was happy people were able to appreciate the entire different nature of this chocolate compared to the Original Beans’ bar.

DSC_0610

Rózsavölgyi Csokoladé – Madagascar – 72%: Turning to Africa, my guests noticed the sweet sour touches in this balanced, yet powerful bar. It did get noticed by several people for its fruity and fresh taste. Suddenly some couldn’t decide which was the best so far.

DSC_0611

 

 Akesson’s – Bali – 75%: As I expected – no one was left untouched by this bar. it just oozes tropical aromas, like banana and papaya. Several people detected an enjoyable spiciness added towards the end of the melt. The texture and melt were considered the very best so far.

DSC_0618

Marou – Ben Tré – 78%: People noticed the bars started to become a bit more powerful. Almost everyone detected the wonderful spices in this great chocolate, and even though the melt if slower than the Akesson bar, it was still enjoyed fully. One of my personal favorites.

DSC_0616-2

The Grenada Chocolate Company – 82%: At this point you could notice that some sweet-tooths started to get a bit outside their comfort zone. Yet the great woody aromas and subtle fruits were noticed and some detected coffee tones in the back.

DSC_0614

Rózsavölgyi Csokoladé  – Trincheras – 95%: as the final bar I choose a bit of a gentle shocker. 95% cacao makes sure you’ll have a taste explosion in your mouth. The dry start and abundance of tannins surprised some, yet still about half of the audience could appreciate the luscious spiciness and smoked aromas. In fact, many returned to it after the tasting, to sample it one more time.

DSC_0613

By the end of the night it was clear we had two distinct winners.  The Original Beans Piura Porcelana and Akesson’s Bali bar. Expressive and tropical as they are, the bars offer plenty of overwhelming aromas. Closely followed by the Rózsavölgyi Madagascar and Marou Ben Tre bar.

It is great to see how people react when they first come into touch with a total different kind of chocolate than the one they are used to eat. Even better is to see how some held little tasting sessions with their family the next day, with a few bars they bought the night before.

And that my friends, is why I love to do this. To help people getting aware that taste is a wonderful thing. Especially when it comes in the rectangular shape of a gorgeous chocolate bar!

Thanks to everyone for attending and a special thank you to my lovely misses, who – despite feeling sick – stood aside me with logistical help, added her personal insights to the evening and took care of the photography this special evening. She is one of a kind!

 

Review: Marou – Bên Tre 78% (****)

A rainy, dull sunday morning. The kind of day you wish you could be wandering on a sunny beach somewhere on a tropical island.

Anyway, that is not going to happen today, so why not review a bar of chocolate. I know I still have some in the cupboard!

To be honest, I already had the chance to taste this particular bar of brown gold. During the Origin Chocolate Event in Amsterdam, it was paired with rum. I was impressed back than, but after a full day of chocolate tasting my taste buds became a bit overloaded, so I needed to taste it again. On its own this time. Without distractions.

Chocolate made in Vietnam might sound weird. Chocolate, in Vietnam? Most people won’t even know cacao is growing there. Don’t be ashamed, I didn’t know either until some months ago!

The Bên Tre bar is a 78% chocolate, so a fairly high percentage. It is made from cacao beans grown near the Mekong Delta. Marou keeps close contact with the farmers who produce the beans. Their farmers ferment the cacao on the spot and Marou turns them into chocolate in their factory in Ho Chi Minh city. And they seem to be pretty good at it, as their products have been awarded with several medals by the Academy of Chocolate.

So, the bar. It is wrapped in one of the most exotic packages I’ve seen so far. The vibrant green with gold ink instantly brings Asia to mind. The fonts used add to the feeling, as they remind me of Tintin albums for some reason.

Inside, another gold wrapper tightly hugs the bar. An “M” seal makes sure you are the first one to open the bar.

Inside a very generous bar is hidden. Atypical, it is not scored into rectangular pieces, yet diagonally, producing pieces of different size as you start breaking it up. In the middle, a proud M finishes of the design. Neat and sleek. I like it a lot!

BTB140126-1 BTB140126-2 BTB140126-3

Bean: Trinitario according to several sources, though I could not find any info about it on the Marou website.
Origin: Vietnam – Bên Tre Province, Mekong Delta
Production: Marou, Faisseurs de Chocolat – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Price paid: € 6,50/100 g (Hilde Devolder Chocolatier – Ghent Belgium)

BTB140126-4  BTB140126-5

Colour: red-brown and shiny, it looks very appealing.

Aroma: Chocolate, spices, some wood in the back.

Taste: The bar starts pretty sweet, producing an immediate and massive wave of spicy tones, a wonderful symphony of tastes slowly developing from earthyness to ginger, cinnamon and Belgian speculoos. (You can’t blame me for that last one, given I live in Belgium!)

Just underneath all those taste  developments, a refreshing fruity acidity keeps this chocolate interesting on the palate. The melt is slow at start but once it starts it keeps going and is über-velvety. Yellow exotic fruits (papaya and mango) appear and take over from the spices, while releasing rich cacao. Towards the end of the melt, coffee tones sneak in, adding depth to the taste. Biting the piece of chocolate remaining in the mouth immediately revives the spice tones.
The aftertaste is not particular strong but lingers a long time in the mouth. Due to the lack of bitter tones it is subtle, keeping a reminder of the spices swirling over your tongue.

This bar is sweet and warm, almost a tropical experience. While it is a high percentage chocolate, it is very smooth, mellow and balanced. Vietnam sure hides some spectacular cacao and Marou knows how to bring out the best of the tastes. Don’t hesitate a second if you come across this bar, just buy it and enjoy the richness! And me? I’ll grab any variety I come across.