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Top 7 Valentine’s Chocolate Picks – UK

Even before the big Christmas rush is over, chocolate makers and chocolatiers are already busy designing new products and exciting flavours for the next big event in the chocolate calendar, Valentine’s Day. Still, this is one of those days that always seems to be quite far ahead, and suddenly you look at your calendar, and it’s: tomorrow!? So in this post I will try to remind you just a little bit ahead of the last minute and show you the products that I found the most interesting among the UK Valentine’s chocolate offer. Forget the boring dessert boxes and give your loved one something better to indulge on. (And yes, your loved one could be yourself too ;))

Dormouse Chocolates – anatomical chocolate heart

Healthcare professionals, biology addicts will surely appreciate this anatomical heart made out of single-origin bean-to-bar chocolate. Available in Peruvian dark and milk, and caramelised Madagascan white chocolate.

dormouse heart
photo credit: Dormouse Chocolates

Zara’s Chocolates:  filled hearts & Valentine’s collection

These pretty half hearts are filled with either hazelnut praline or salted caramel and available in dark and milk chocolate. Perfect size to share (if you do). The Valentine’s filled chocolate collection also includes some interesting new flavours such as a caramel with cep mushroom, a rose and lemon turkish delight truffle, honey and whole almond, espresso martini and they come in a beautiful red velvet heart box.

zarasheart
photo credit: Zara’s Chocolates
zarasbox
photo credit: Zara’s Chocolates

J. Cocoa: Hearts in a heart

Lovely Nicaraguan cacao is used to make these hollow hearts, Nicalizo for the milk and Rugoso for the dark version. Both decorated with edible gold leaf and holding two smaller hearts, one filled with caramelised milk chocolate ganache and the other with fresh raspberry jelly.

jcocoa
photo credit: J. Cocoa

Solkiki: vegan white (pink) chocolate bundle

No more trouble if you’re loved one is vegan and you struggle to find non-dairy chocolate delights for them other than dark chocolate. Solkiki specialises in vegan, ethically and directly traded bean-to-bar chocolates and they have some amazing milk and white versions. Their Valentine’s offer includes two special edition vegan white chocolate bars: Strawberry Meringue Cream and Raspberry.

solkiki bars
photo credit: Solkiki

Dulcedo: Valentine’s filled chocolate collection

A local pick is my new favourite dessert kitchen in Cambridge, Dulcedo. They have amazing pastries and cakes on display every day along with a wide selection of fresh macarons, filled chocolates, nougats, honeycomb and a variety of dragees (my favourite is the chocolate covered coffee bean with cinnamon). Their Valentine’s filled collection includes hearts, lips, lipsticks with flavours such as blueberry, salted caramel, gin&lemon, strawberry crunch and orange.

dulcedo

B is for Brownie: fudge heart brownies

More into cakes? Up your beloved’s usual brownie experience with this single origin chocolate brownie topped with generous scoops of muscovado fudge, now heart-shaped, and always freshly baked to order.

bisforbrownie
photo credit: B is for Brownie

Gift Voucher from Little Beetle Chocolates

If you still can’t make up your mind or you’re truly late (it’s already the 14 Feb and you’ve got nothing), you could get a gift voucher (I can send you an e-voucher too), so your beloved can choose some chocolates for themselves from my webshop. Or even better, why not book both of you on my upcoming Craft Chocolate Club tasting event on Saturday, 17th February 2018!

LBC Gift Voucher

Special Offer: use VAL18 at checkout for a ‘buy one get one free’ offer to this specific event.*

choc bars

I hope I gave you some good gift ideas. And of course Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean that it’s the only day we ought to show our love for each other (including partners, family and friends), so let’s keep sharing the chocolate love! I’ll make sure you Taste. Better. Chocolate. if you follow my journey. There are some very exiting things ahead. Stay tuned!

cocoanibs
Sharing the chocolate love

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I didn’t receive any money or products in exchange for featuring these brands. The products listed might be subject to availability.

*offer valid until there are available places left, valid only for Craft Chocolate Club on Saturday, 17th February 2018.

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Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé – Tasting review

If you’ve been waiting for this review for a while, I apologise for taking this long. I hope that you’ll enjoy reading it and you’ll be able to try these (or others) bars from Rózsavölgyi (remember how to pronounce? 🙂 listen here). Let me know in the comments below if you’ve tasted already.

Small gorilla chocolate

Starting the tasting with this small dark chocolate bar of 75% Tanzania I received from Kati during my visit to their factory in Budapest last year. If you haven’t read it, here‘s my detailed post about that visit.

chocart gorilla
(photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

As opposed to most of their packaging that is designed by Kati herself, the wrappers for this small bar and its pair, the full-size Mababu bar were designed by illustrator Jake Blanchard. The vibrant colours depicting the colourful jungle with gorillas and cacao pods still fit quite well within Rózsavölgyi’s standard range. The bar pays tribute to the mountain gorillas of Kongo, Rwanda and Uganda by supporting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

From the wrapper: “Mababu is a tiny village on the slopes of the Livingstone mountain with lush vegetation by the Malawi lake in Tanzania. This trinitario cocoa is bought directly from a group of only 60 families pioneering quality organic cocoa farming.” The 30g square bar is made with their simpler mould design showing part of their logo. Inside the box-type packaging the bar is wrapped with the same precision as all the other Rózsavölgyi bars.

Upon removing the little red logo sticker and opening the inner wrapper, the aromas of this Tanzanian chocolate are predominantly woody and somewhat spicy. The thin bar breaks with a sharp snap releasing more aroma at the breaking line. It melts quickly and easily and it has a very creamy mouthfeel. No strong or harsh tasting notes, just rich and deep chocolate with a faint acidity peaking at the roof of the mouth and finishing off in sweet and warm spicy notes like nutmeg.

Chuao

This Venezuelan origin is very special to me as it was the very first single origin craft chocolate that marked me back in 2013. I was amazed by its mellow taste, that made me think I was eating a milk chocolate albeit the 74% cocoa content and no dairy present. This was a bar made by Benoit Nihant, Belgian chocolate maker who will be soon featured in a post as well.

Chuao
Chuao cacao growers enjoying the result of their hard work. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

So you can understand that I had high expectations when choosing to try Rózsavölgyi’s version. Even more so that this specific bar won the award for the best Venezuelan Grand Cru dark chocolate in 2016 in Paris. Championing over well-known makers such as Alain Ducasse, Pralus, Bonnat, A. Morin, Willie’s Cacao, Domori among others.

The packaging is in line with Rózsavölgyi’s other origin bars: the light blue craft paper with colourful motifs of flowers and birds is meticulously folded around the square bar. All the information about the bar is found on the additional sleeve closing the packaging, everything is written in Hungarian and in English. From the front we can learn more about Chuao itself, this tiny coastal village in Northern Venezuela only accessible by boat. The back of the wrapper lists the ingredients and we can also see the certificate of traceability issued by La Empresa Campesina de Chuao, local cooperative that has sole authority to farm, harvest and sell Chuao cacao.

Chuao
(photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

Under the blue paper, there’s the usual white paper wrapper with the red logo sticker. Opening that you are faced with a beautifully designed chocolate bar. Hungarian folkloric and floral motifs make this look like an antique fireplace tile rather than a bar of chocolate. I need to take some strength to even break it up to taste. The aroma isn’t very strong, but at the breaking point there’s a slight roasted smell. Due to the mould design there are no set breaking lines making it harder to break a specific amount off. The snap is sharp and loud. Easy and creamy, smooth melt. The overall taste of this 73% dark chocolate is mellow, mild with no peaks or accents. It has a slight acidity, but mostly it is characterised by a rich chocolate taste with a roasted nutty background and hints of liquorice.

Over the course of the year I tasted this bar several times to see whether I can get a better description, but I still can’t come up with anything more specific. It is a beautiful chocolate that really shines through with its finesse, gentle tasting notes and you can definitely taste the amount of care that was put in to making it.

Olives & Bread, 77% dark chocolate

Have no fear. This is one of my absolute favourite chocolate bars, so it’s not listed here because it sounds weird and it will raise some eyebrows. It probably will, but only until you actually have a chance to try it. An unusual pairing idea at first, but if you understand that chocolate on its own has several hundreds of flavour components, theoretically it can be paired with almost any other food. Of course, after careful experimenting to bring out the best from each ingredient.

olive bread Rozsavolgyi
Dark chocolate with olives and bread. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

The packaging is box-style, like the Small gorilla bar, but full-size (70g bar) and the design is monochrome with black drawings on white background. The imagery is very busy with birds and indigenous figures peeking out from among a lush rainforest’s different leaves, cacao pods and berries. The bar itself is again wrapped in white paper sealed with the red logo sticker. The mould design is different, this time it’s a segmented bar. Still using the folkloric motifs and ceramic tile-like look, but thanks to the various symmetrical segments it’s easier to break up the bar.

The aroma of the bar is dominated by deep earthy and roasted notes. Looking at the back of the bar some of the inclusions are visible but they are all covered in chocolate. When I break off a segment it gives a good snap, but the presence of the breadcrumbs creates a more crumbly breaking line. First, letting the chocolate melt slowly on my tongue I taste salt and the crunchy breadcrumbs feel harsh against the creamy chocolate creating a fantastic contrast. This sensation is brought further as I start chewing on a tiny piece of dried olive that brings a satisfying salty-fruity addition to the whole picture. Savoury, salty peaks are accompanied by roasted nutty flavour notes characteristic of Venezuelan chocolates that is used for this bar with no bitterness or acidity. Perfect balance of very contrasting flavours and textures characterise this bar, there’s no more questioning about how this idea came into Rózsavölgyi’s mind to put olives and bread into chocolate.

Rozsavolgyi
Almost too beautiful to break it up. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

Almond & Pistachio gianduja

Although I put these together, the two bars represent two entirely different worlds. Gianduja is an Italian delicacy originally made with Piemont hazelnuts and chocolate mixed together into a silky smooth paste. Substituting hazelnuts with other types of nuts creates a wide array of flavour possibilities. Here Rózsavölgyi decided to do their own gianduja versions using roasted almonds in one case and roasted pistachios in the other.

The two bars have matching wrappers, the almond is cream coloured while the pistachio is bright green, both with the exact same drawings of birds with long feathers and floral motifs in vivid colours. Both bars have the same recipe, their Venezuelan bean-to-bar chocolate is mixed with 20% almond praline paste and pure pistachio paste respectively. With no added dairy, these bars are perfect for vegans too who would like to indulge with a creamy chocolate. If you like chocolate-hazelnut spreads, these two bars will be a total game changer for you with their superior quality chocolate, pure nut pastes and low sugar content.

White matcha and herbs

Rozsavolgyi matcha bar
(photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)

Last but not least, a bar that is definitely pushing some boundaries. White chocolate that is green. I mean, naturally green. The trick is to add fine matcha tea powder to the white chocolate that blends in perfectly giving the chocolate a bright green colour and contrasting the sweetness with its own green tea taste. In this case, the recipe is even more complex by the addition of citrus oils and green herbs, creating a refreshingly balanced sweet yet light and bright white (green) chocolate. Using matcha in white chocolate is getting more and more popular among chocolatiers, on one hand because of its natural ability to create stunning green coloured chocolates and on the other hand because of matcha tea’s own growing popularity (ever had a matcha latte?). This bar is a very good example that white chocolate is not boring especially if it’s paired with the right ingredients.

Rozsavolgyi matcha
Green is the new white. (photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé)
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6 Highlights of the London Chocolate Show 2017

cacao pods

Better later than never, here’s my personal recap of the UK’s biggest chocolate event of the year, the London Chocolate Show. This is part of the Salon du Chocolat world series, and this year was the fifth occasion that the British capital welcomed chocoholics, chocolate makers, chocolatiers and cacao producers from around the world.

cacao pods
Happy Beetle with two fresh cacao pods from the Dominican Republic

I hardly exaggerate if I say that I was waiting for the 15th October more than Christmas. There’s of course plenty of other chocolate events that I’d love to go to, like the NorthWest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, but since I live in the UK, London is not to be missed. Even more so that I won not one but two (!) pairs of tickets to the show on Instagram! Huge thanks again to Zara’s Chocolates and Solkiki Chocolatemaker for giving away some of their free tickets. How incredibly lucky I was, don’t you think? This made it possible for me to bring along not just my husband and son (spoilt child, I know! – although too young for chocolate still, so I had to eat his share too…;)) but my mum and my best chocolate friend too! How cool is that?!

I decided to visit the show on Sunday, which is the third and last day of the event. There’s usually less of a crowd than on Saturday, although many products sell out by then. That’s how I totally missed out on Paul A. Young’s beef dripping caramels among others. But, you’ll see, there’s many benefits to go at the end as well.

Highlights of my LCS-2017 experience

  1. Fresh cacao
    Hands-down the most exciting thing at the show for me was to try a fresh cacao bean! I’ve seen fresh cacao pods before, in fact I got two fresh pods two years ago at the same event, but when I opened one of them, the pulp was already starting to dry onto the beans and it was tasting weird. This time however, at the exhibition area of the Dominican Republic, a lady was offering the fresh beans directly from an opened pod. It was wet and sticky, with a slightly acidic smell. I was so excited to try it! I thought that the white flesh will separate from the bean easily, but this wasn’t the case. So all I could do was just to suck on the pulp and discover that it tastes like a bit underripe banana. It was a green, tropical taste, so familiar. I bit the bean in half to see the inside. Beautiful deep purple colour was revealed under the white pulp.
    The texture of the bean was similar to a soaked walnut, it was bitter, but not like bitter dark chocolate. The taste had absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. Mind-blowing! How on Earth did someone find out how delicious this little bean can be?! Wish we could time-travel to see.
    The show welcomed many origin countries and cacao producing farms this year, so tasting fresh beans was possible at a few other stands as well. I think this is a wonderful idea, as this really brings chocolate closer to people.

    freshcacao
    This is chocolate before it’s born

    Last but not least, many of these exhibitors brought along fresh and dried cacao pods, or even real cacao tree plants (!). Do you think they travelled home with those? Of course not. They were throwing away all those beauties used as props in their decorations (it’s not possible to make chocolate from them, you see). Thankfully, I knew this, and about half an hour before the end of the event I asked one of the stands whether I could take a cacao pod with me. They said yes, and even seemed happy that there’s one less thing for them to think about. In about ten minutes, their stand was all emptied as others jumped on the offer too. It’s a win:win situation. I mean look at these beauties (my mum wanted one as well of course!).
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  2. Taste Tripper Tour
    A mini version of Jennifer Earle’s Chocolate Ecstasy Tours was a perfect opportunity for me to do a quick round of some of the highlights of the show based around the title “Weird & Wonderful”. The other mini-tours included origins or chocolate pairings (such as “Gin & Chocolate”), but I love adventurous flavour combinations, so went on the W&W tour. We followed Jennifer and her umbrella (just like a real tour guide!) zig-zagging around the stalls and other visitors to find the most exciting flavours available at the show. As it was Sunday, some of the truly weird stuff had gone already (such as “Curry Shrimp White Chocolate” by FuWan Chocolates or Paul A. Young’s “Beef Dripping Caramel”), but we still had a great time trying other flavours.

    tastetripper
    All the “weird & wonderful” chocolates and some of their makers (left: Villakuyaya, middle top to bottom: Paul A. Young, Zara Snell, Russel 5th Dimension, right: Aneesh Popat)

    6 tasting stops included: FuWan Chocolates (Dark Chocolate with Red Quinoa and Puffed Rice), Zara Snell from Winchester Fine Chocolates (Seven Seed Praline bar and her famous Moroccan Rose filled chocolate), Villakuyaya from Ecuador (Dark Chocolate with Masala Chai and Coconut & Vanilla), Aneesh Popat – The Chocolatier (Dark chocolate with chilli, popping candy and passion fruit, Dark chocolate with cardamom), 5Dimension Chocolates (filled chocolates: whole grain mustard, brie), Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates (Marmite truffle, Guittard’s single origin ganache).
    We tasted a lot in about half an hour and had the chance to talk to many of the actual chocolate makers or chocolatiers and received a tote bag with some soft drinks and snacks and a few discount coupons to use at the show. All this for £5 was a good investment I think.
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  3. Tree-to-bar chocolates
    Tree-to-bar means that the chocolate is actually made by the same people who own the cacao plantation, so it’s basically made at the source. Until recently, cacao producing countries and even farmers were selling all their crops to chocolate makers living in the US, Canada, Europe, etc. and they didn’t really get to taste their own chocolate. Luckily more and more farmers and cocoa producers had the opportunity to start producing their own chocolate and now looking to sell it worldwide and not just on their local market. The new kids on the block like FuWan Chocolates represent places like Taiwan (I seriously had no idea that Taiwan is a cacao producing country, but hey welcome!), SVG Cocoa – Vincentian Chocolate from St Vincent and the Grenadines (hint: it’s in the Caribbean above the island of Grenada).

    treetobar
    As close to the origin as you can get – chocolates made at the plantation

    Why is it such a big deal? Because more people can realise how wonderfully diverse cacao can be and also getting a closer contact with farmers can help to raise awareness about cacao farming conditions, issues and challenges all along the supply chain.
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  4. Talking to makers and chocolatiers
    Wandering around the chocolate show’s stalls, being attracted by colourful creations and the sweet smell of chocolate samples is of course a lovely feeling. But talking to the makers, getting inspired by their passion, determination, creativity, understanding a bit more what they are doing, what are their objectives, challenges, future plans, and sometimes even getting a warm, friendly hug from them is an invaluable thing for me. This isn’t just networking, this is sharing a passion for chocolate in this amazing chocolate community. I just love to be part of this. And I would like to take the occasion here to thank each and every person for their time to chat to me in the middle of this buzzing chocolate fair.

    makers
    Lovely chat to makers, distributors, industry experts, fellow chocolate lovers! (pictured left top Ali Chocolate Tree, bottom Albert 5th Dimension, middle top Ingemann Fine Cocoa Nicaragua, bottom Bob Solkiki, right Bo San Beau Cacao, not pictured: many more!)

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  5. Tasting Session with ICA
    The reason it would be great to attend all the days of the show is to be able to listen to more demos, talks and take part in tastings. This year, instead of watching live demos on stage in the chocolate theatre, I decided to attend one of the tasting sessions organised by the International Chocolate Awards. They set up a booth where we could sit down around a table and taste some award-winning chocolates while talking about different aspects of the chocolate industry. It’s always a bit of a hit-and-miss because one never knows who will turn up to these tastings. There were some people like me, fine chocolate aficionados, and also some people who just generally like chocolate, but might still be unaware of the difference between mass-produced and fine flavour chocolates. The presenter has to accomodate everyone, which went reasonably well in this particular case.
    In the first part, we tasted several award-winning micro-batch chocolates by Hummingbird, Duffy’s, Solkiki, and FriisHolm and compared flavour notes, terroir, different chocolate making styles. Micro-batch is defined by the size and type of equipment the makers use, not necessarily by the amount of chocolate they make in a single batch.
    In the second part, Sophie Jewett from York Cocoa House was talking about their new project of building a totally transparent chocolate factory and learning space for chocolate lovers and chocolate professionals alike : the York Cocoa Works. They are building on York’s chocolate heritage but bringing to the table the modern challenges of cacao farming, supply chain, chocolate manufacturing, customer education. Part of this is their new bean-to-bar chocolate line, from which we tasted a few origins. Added bonus of these sample was that they were made there and then at the show from cocoa beans coming from Casa Luker‘s (Colombia) and Akesson’s (Madagascar) stand among others. They had ovens to roast the beans and they also brought several small grinders and let the visitors crack and shell the beans, add them to the grinder, and add further ingredients like sugar to the mix. Their master chocolatier was doing a demo on hand tempering on a marble slab, moulding the bars that were later used as samples on the stand and at our tasting session as well.

    chocart
    Artworks recreated in chocolate, you can tell why Mona Lisa is smiling 🙂

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  6. Chocolate Art exhibition
    Overwhelmed by the number of stands to visit, chocolates to taste, talks and tastings to attend, I always find it hard to set aside some time to look at the additional exhibitional areas of the show. This time was no different, but I tried to have a quick look and I really liked what I saw. Making chocolate is an art in itself, but this was brought to a whole new level at the show. Chocolate was used here as paint, and we could see the chocolate smile of Mona Lisa, and the works of Munch, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Michelangelo or even Banksy recreated in chocolate. Wouldn’t it be fun to have chocolate paintings at home? If you get bored of them, you can just eat them or melt them down in a hot chocolate or brownie 🙂 (haha, just kidding!)

+ and of course my amazing chocolate haul from the show including some of the newest makers

chocolate haul
Loads of new chocolate for me to try! Love the tote bag from Beau Cacao. Not pictured: filled chocolates from 5th Dimension and Paul A. Young, just to be fully honest with you)

Did you attend the London Chocolate Show 2017? What were your highlights? Tell me in the comments below.

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Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé – The tongue-twister dancing on your taste buds

rozsavolgyi trincheras

Pretty packaging, a square of chocolate that looks too beautiful to break and eat. It looks like an old ceramic tile with floral and folkloric motifs. You recognise this brand at first sight. Everyone raves about it on blogs, in reviews and on Instagram. Maybe you even know that it is made in Hungary. You know that all your fine chocolate loving friends know and like it, yet it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re never sure how to pronounce its name. As a fellow Hungarian I find it particularly sweet when people with other native languages try to pronounce the brand that literally means “From Rose Valley”, referring to a quarter in Budapest where the business was launched by its founders Katalin Csiszár and her husband Zsolt Szabad. I made a short video for my Instagram page where you can hear me pronounce it, so maybe next time you’ll be more confident talking about this truly wonderful chocolate.

rozsavolgyi trincheras
[photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

When I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip back in April, the thought of visiting Rózsavölgyi was like a dream. I emailed them and I felt like I just wrote a letter to Santa Claus. Their reply was my golden ticket to Hungary’s most famous bean-to-bar chocolate factory! I did a thorough research about the company before my visit and then arrived all excited to their new factory location in the outskirts of southern Budapest. This is their third location which will hopefully serve them well for another few years.

BIRTH OF AN ICONIC BRAND

When asked about the birth of their family business, Katalin Csiszár is struggling to find an answer for why she decided to work with chocolate. She learned to make chocolate while she was at home with her sons taking a break from her job as a graphic designer. They then launched their business in 2004 from their garage-kitchen in a quarter of Budapest called Rózsavölgy (Rose Valley), that became their hard-to-pronounce brand name as well. They had two options to invest some money: renovate their house or build their chocolate kitchen. I think I can say for all of us that thankfully they decided to do the latter. When I asked her now, she just laughed. The house has been partially renovated over the years, but they always seem to need a new machine or more beans and the business comes first. Well, we could say: this is their second home now.

rozsavolgyi csiszar katalin
Kati visiting a cacao plantation [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

Kati was very kind, approachable and answered all my questions patiently as she was guiding me through the different areas in their factory. The entrance was already heavy with the smell of freshly roasted cocoa beans. Our first stop was in their roasting and winnowing room. Zsolt, Kati’s husband is the man behind the first processing steps of chocolate making once the jute sacks of cocoa beans arrive. When I asked who decides about a specific bean’s roasting profile Kati added that everything is decided jointly. Being a growing but still quite small family-owned business, all team members have a say and they all work in each and every step of the process. At the time of my visit they were testing a new winnowing machine. At first this sounded like a great opportunity but of course, sometimes they feel like a guinea pig for the industry as all the trial and error happens here too. Still, at least they can give honest feedback so the machinery can be adapted to the chocolate maker’s true needs.

A few steps away from the noisy machine and the hot oven where some beans were being roasted we chatted in a small room full of cacao bean sacks from different origins. Madagascar, Venezuela, Tanzania, Peru and their most recent addition from Sao Tomé. It was such an interesting experience to talk about the realities of direct trade, life and living conditions of farmers at origin as Kati had the opportunity to visit many of the farms they are sourcing cacao from. Sadly, I learned some rather troubling information about how some large cocoa processing companies pretend to help farmers with different nicely sounding programmes yet still pay the lowest possible price for the cacao beans. More shocking still is that some companies buy unfermented beans (again, cheaper!) because the flavour development during fermentation is completely unimportant for them. They systematically over roast (burn) the beans killing basically the whole flavour profile and creating a uniform baked chocolate flavour (or as a most recent finding, these beans might also be used to create the new invention “Ruby chocolate”). This happens predominantly in Ghana and Ivory Coast, the two largest cocoa producing countries in the world.

cocoa beans
[photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

FROM CHOCOLATIER TO CHOCOLATE MAKER

For the first three years, they made bars and filled chocolates from couverture. Upon realising that the couvertures available didn’t have the taste they were looking for in a chocolate, they decided to make their own. This was a difficult switch involving lots of investment and hard work. Thankfully, luck was on their side. Having heard about the Franceschi family in Venezuela, Katalin gave them a call to enquire about getting some cocoa beans. Guess what? The family was in Budapest! What an amazing coincidence. They met and Zsolt travelled to Venezuela, visited some farms and brought back bean samples to try. Today, they are still making chocolate from many Venezuelan regions: Chuao, Rio Caribe, Carenero, Sur del Lago, Trincheras, Canoabo, Puerto Cabello. Their other important source is Akesson’s plantation in Madagascar. Other origins in their repertoire include Sao Tomé, Peru, Tanzania and Nicaragua. They still carry a wide selection of filled chocolates and ganache squares and other delicacies as well.

bonbon
Filled chocolate selection made with the highest quality ingredients. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

The following room was where all the magic happens. Several different machines are used in a row to get from roasted, winnowed cocoa nibs to the final chocolate. Kati explained in a few minutes the importance of the different machines (roll refiner, ball mill, conche etc). From creating the desired particle size (smaller particle size equals smoother chocolate) to reducing bitterness and astringency, they all have their special role in the process. Of course, knowing that many small makers only use a small table-top grinder to make their chocolate, I had to ask what she thinks is the difference between those chocolates and hers. She said that funnily she can always tell by tasting whether the chocolate was made in a ball mill or the above-mentioned grinder, but she doesn’t exactly know how or why. As a main difference she said that the traditional machines allow the maker to have more influence on the outcome as more elements can be tweaked along the way than with a single machine.

single origins
Single origin bean-to-bar chocolates. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

As we walked past the machines through to the production area, I saw a shelf full of clear plastic boxes with shards, blocks of chocolate and immediately thought about the ageing process that many chocolate makers use to enhance the flavour of their chocolate. Kati explained that they don’t age their chocolate. In her opinion if the chocolate is processed well – it is refined and conched for the right amount of time with the right machines – the flavour is good whether you let it sit on a shelf or not. According to her, ageing is only needed if there is a missing step in the processing (or not the right machinery is used) so certain undesired off-flavours, some astringency remains in the chocolate that, with time, mellows out and becomes less strong in the overall flavour profile.

The production and packing area is probably the largest room in the facility and it is now filled not just with the sweet smell of chocolate flowing from the continuous tempering machines, but also with laughter as the team sits around a big table packaging the iconic Rózsavölgyi bars. It looks more like a fun hobby-session rather than work, although if you’ve ever unpacked one of these bars you know well how painstakingly precisely the paper is folded around the chocolate bar. Naturally, we start talking a little bit about her team and how they organise and plan workflow.

matcha
White chocolate with matcha green tea. Would you believe it is chocolate? [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

EAT WITH YOUR EYES

As a graphic designer Kati created all of their visuals from logo through bar mould to packaging. She thinks this is very important to get right as the customers see the packaging first. Birds, flowers and leaves, cocoa pods are used mainly either in a monochrome (black and white, white and gold) setting or in full-on colours against a coloured background (e.g green for their pistachio gianduia, light blue for the Chuao). Just as the flavour of the chocolates, the packaging and design also mirror their vision and their taste. The recycled craft paper used as packaging is carefully folded around the bars that look like a fireplace tile with folkloric and floral motifs. It is almost counter-productive as they look so beautiful that you feel bad breaking and eating them. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons they don’t spend a penny on marketing their products: as artistic and delicious as they all are, they sell themselves.

bergamot
Candied bergamot in dark chocolate – disguised as ‘Sailor Moustache’ [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

The Rózsavölgyi team is composed of people coming from really various backgrounds, bringing into the business many valuable assets from their previous jobs and experiences. Zsolt is an engineer, Kati’s brother is a cartoon director, and the rest of the team include a maths teacher, a yoga teacher, a painter and a tourism manager. Kati explained to me that passion, determination and high-quality standards are much more important for her to find in a potential new team member than being trained as a pastry chef or chocolatier. She likes clean and tidy work, and it is hard to teach someone your style if they have already learned it in a different way. So she prefers to start from square one and also acknowledges skills not related to chocolate. Should you be employed by them, you’d first start at the packing station, slowly working your way up and learning all the other steps including pouring bars, dipping truffles or creating moulded chocolates and selling in their shop. Yet, no one is alone in what they are doing, as at the moment everyone was packing bars not just the most recently employed trainee. They share all the tasks so nobody gets bored and unmotivated from doing the same thing over and over again. Similarly, they all take turns working in the shop, meeting and talking to customers.

team
Rózsavölgyi team having fun at the packing table. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

When asked about their relationship with customers, Kati said that luckily most of their customers who come into their little shop in the centre of Budapest know their products and generally like dark chocolate and interesting flavour combinations. But of course, she is well aware that the mass demand is still on the sweeter side. She doesn’t mind. Even her two teenage sons have access to mass market and cheap chocolates and she thinks they have to climb the quality ladder too. In order to know what is better quality they have to taste the lower quality products as well. Yet, growing up in a fine chocolate factory definitely has a mark on their developing taste. They now know what additives, colourants and artificial flavourings are, and they started to avoid products that contain these.

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The chocolate shop’s window displays Kati’s chocolate sculptures and other creations as well. [photo credit: Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé]

Before the end of my visit, I asked Kati about her newest venture. Last year she initiated and together with nine other Hungarian chocolate makers and chocolatiers, founded a group called the Hungarian Society of Chocolate Manufactures. Their goal is to create a reference standard in the Hungarian chocolate scene by educating customers about quality chocolate, shaping people’s taste rather than serving the present demand for cheap and low-quality products. I can only applaud this initiative and I will report on their activities in another post.

I would like to thank again Kati for allowing me to visit them in their new factory. Are you hungry for more? Stay tuned for the second part where I will review some Rózsavölgyi bars.

 

Have YOU already tried Rózsavölgyi chocolates? Share your thoughts on this brand in the comments below!

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Harrer Chocolat – Where tradition and innovation go hand in hand

This wasn’t the first time for me to meet Beatrix Harrer-Abosi co-owner of Harrer Chocolat. In fact, she contacted me first in 2015 because she was reading my Hungarian chocolate blog and saw that I’ll be also attending the London Chocolate Show. So we met there, more precisely at the stand of HB Ingredients displaying their table-top melangeurs (this will be important later on). Bea and her husband Karl came to the Show because their delicious chocolates were awarded by the International Chocolate Awards. They kindly invited me to visit them in Sopron if I had the chance. Well this chance (or rather decision) came this June as I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip. As my hometown is quite close to Sopron, it was obvious that I wanted to include them on my list of visits. Luckily, although Bea is a very busy businessperson, we managed to find a date that suited us both and we had a great morning at their factory-complex.

Harrer Factory-Complex
Harrer’s Chocolate Factory-Complex is a chocolate lover’s dream. You can take a 360° look here. (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

We arrived a bit late due to some roadworks leading to the city, so I was quite nervous as I didn’t want Bea to wait for me too long. I rushed up the stairs to the beautifully furnished café where she greeted me with a huge smile and made me feel at ease straight away. She was very laid-back and it felt like I was chatting to a very good friend about our favourite subject: chocolate!

Harrer in a nutshell

Harrer is a well-known name in this area on both sides of the border. Karl was born into a baker-confectioner family, as his parents were running a bakery in his hometown in Austria. He became pastry chef and so did his sons later on. The family tradition was passed on from generation to generation and the very first Harrer pastry shop and café is now run by one of Karl’s sons. Bea met Karl at this café and her roots brought them across the border to Hungary where they opened another café in 1995. Karl’s dream came true when in 2009 they finally built and opened their modern and minimalist style factory-complex: pastry and chocolate workshop, café, chocolate tasting venue, giftshop, ice cream parlour all in one place.

By keeping the brand name Harrer they also kept the standards and traditions of Karl’s family, while also bringing innovation to this new venture by bringing chocolates in the front row. Karl learned his chocolate skills as a highly trained and awarded pastry chef so no wonder his chocolate creations are just as meticulously tested and planned as the different cakes and desserts. While their product line looks classic and traditional, every single dessert and chocolate has a little twist of innovation be it in its shape, presentation or an unusual ingredient added to the recipe.

Karl Harrer tempering
Karl Harrer hand tempering on a marble (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

The café lounge is airy and spacious with an L-shaped counter dominating one side—offering ice creams, cakes and desserts, hot and cold drinks on one end finishing off with the range of small chocolates on the other end. This area is serving as a gift shop where you can browse their whole range of ganache bars, flavoured bars, hot chocolate mixes and loose tea mixes, chocolate gifts, lollies, biscuits etc.

Every now and then school groups filled the place with excited chattering and loud wows as they discovered the delights behind the counters and in the exposition area where they took part in a chocolate tasting session. Here they show a short video about where chocolate comes from, how it’s made and at the end participants get to try some of the best-selling products as well.

The lovely terrace was also filling up with customers enjoying the shade and the stunning views all around. As we were sipping on our drinks, I asked Bea about the beginnings and especially her role and place in this family business.

Bea is working on the business side, dealing with all kinds of things from staffing, marketing, social media, business meetings with partners and the general running of their two cafés (the other one is in central Sopron and it’s a smaller, more traditional café – ice cream parlour). She says that it is really important for her to know the essence of all the different tasks so she can jump in any time if there is a rush of people to be served. This also helps her to maintain their quality standards as well as to create a lovely and friendly atmosphere among colleagues who all feel they are part of a big happy family. Being a chocolate-lover herself, Bea is also taking an important part in inventing new flavour combinations such as the caramelised rosemary that I will talk more about in my upcoming tasting review.

Where the magic happens

At one point, Karl came up to our table to say hello and quickly discussed something with Bea in German which led to a chance for me to take a look into their production area as Karl wanted to show us something. Pastry and chocolate making is all in one place to my surprise. I thought where cakes are being baked it is not really possible to make chocolate. But then I saw how the pros deal with this kind of issue. Clever engineering and space planning is all it takes to make this possible. Everything seemed to go like clockwork. On one table, two ladies were putting together a large cake, others were mixing and putting cakes in the ovens, and one of the chocolatiers was busy enrobing some chocolates.

Harrer chocolate
(photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

The chocolate area is relatively small compared to the rest. It’s strategically located at the inner end of the room, only separated from the chocolate demo area (accessible from the café lounge) by a glass wall. So groups arriving for a chocolate tasting demo can have a peek inside the production area. Total transparency here which is amazing. Bea even placed a few large jars on top of the enrobing belt’s cooling tunnel filled with a fresh whole cocoa pod and vodka! She said that people usually don’t believe that cocoa pods are so big, so here you have the proof. First, it looked creepy, as if it was taken from a lab where they prepare animals and body parts in formaldehyde, but the more I looked at it, I felt like I want one like this as well. I mean, how cool is this? Mind-blown.

Karl Harrer chocolate
Karl creating their signature ganache bars (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Bea was also proudly showing me their beautiful resealable packaging specifically designed for their new amazing bean-to-bar range that will be released later this year. Then Karl handed us a bunch of bars in cello bags for me to taste. We had a quick look around the chocolate making area which is usually run by Karl and two other chocolatiers. They have two Cocoatown grinders and one of them was busy mixing their strawberry white chocolate using freeze dried strawberry powder. This is also an area people can watch while having a tour and tasting session on the other side of the glass wall.

Impromptu tasting session

We went back to our table in the café with the chocolate stash, and Bea even offered me some of their small chocolates and ganache bars that they make here daily. Delightful combinations of flavours like ginger-kalamansi, forest fruits, salted caramel paired with a layer of crunchy praline, ganache bars with merlot wine, apricots, tonka beans. It was really hard to decide what to taste first. We started with the origin bars as they are not flavoured. Working with a cocoa importer in the Netherlands, Harrer choose origins like Madagascar, Bolivia, Belize, Vietnam and Venezuela to create their first bean-to-bar single origin range and even came up with their own house blend.

Harrer Chocolat Nuts
(photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Do you remember what I said about the table-top melangeurs at the London Chocolate Show? I first talked to Bea next to these small machines that allow more and more people to try bean-to-bar chocolate making in their kitchen. Bea was amazed by this and thought that they should buy one to try. Karl was more realistic about it and said that it would require long years of learning and trial and error as making chocolate from the bean is a totally different profession than creating chocolates using couverture. But if you ever have a chance of meeting Karl in person, you will understand in a second that he is not the type who just lets go. This whole thing got stuck in his mind and didn’t leave him until they finally took the first step by purchasing a melangeur and some beans to test.

Harrer cocoa beans
Karl gave in to the temptation of the challenge to create his own chocolate directly from the cacao beans. (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

And here we are two years later tasting their very first batches of bean-to-bar chocolates. Karl took these two years of learning and testing really seriously. He wouldn’t launch any product without being 100% happy with it himself. They have worked closely with a well-known sommelier to identify flavour notes of each origin and adjust their recipes according to their needs. I’m hoping to give you a more detailed description of this new range as soon as it is officially launched later this year.

Now for the small chocolates: fine layers of pate de fruit and soft ganache, soft caramel and crunchy praline, bright and fruity berry ganache, spices and alcohol are used to create their wide range of products. Behind the counter right next to mouth-watering cakes and desserts there are two trays filled with their small chocolate selection. Their design is minimal, following French and Belgian traditions of enrobed ganache squares or moulded half spheres with a tiny spot or stripe of colour, an embossed line, sprinkles or a whole almond. The flavours are fresh and natural as only high-quality ingredients are used, no colourings or artificial flavourings. The pate de fruit and ganache layers are in perfect harmony.

Harrer awards
Karl and Bea at the London Chocolate Show 2015 with their awards. (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Their signature product line is their range of filled chocolate bars, that are essentially large ganache squares enrobed with only a fine layer of couverture. So instead of moulding a bar’s outer shell and filling it, they create a filling and enrobing that. This makes it possible to change the shell-filling ratio in favour of more filling. In my following article about Harrer I will review some of their award-winning creations, so stay tuned.

The Harrer Cacao Plantation… in Hungary!

Before you think Harrer is just another out of now hundreds of companies to jump on the bean-to-bar bandwagon, let me tell you something: they are so passionate about chocolate and cacao that they have a greenhouse and planted cacao seeds brought from their holiday years ago in Grenada. Now they have 8 fully-grown cacao trees that are regularly in bloom, with the latest addition of some seedlings from a cacao pod brought back also from Grenada by a friend. According to Bea, it was entirely Karl’s idea to try and grow cacao, she didn’t believe that the seeds would even germinate!

Unfortunately, although Karl and Bea take very good care of their precious plants (most of the cacao trees I’ve seen in botanical gardens are in a rather poor state compared to theirs), they have yet to find a way to pollinate their trees so that they bear fruits. At origin, this is usually done by tiny midges or if these are missing, sometimes the pollination is done manually with a small brush. Believe me, they have tried that too. I can only wish them good luck to finally find the way, because that would be the ultimate success if one day they could create a chocolate bar made with cacao harvested from their own greenhouse in Hungary! Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Harrer cocoa plants
Fingers crossed for the first Hungarian tree-to-bar chocolate by Harrer! (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Let me finish by thanking Bea for her friendly welcome and chat at the heart of their business in Sopron. I hope that this article made you discover this great family chocolate business. If you are curious about how some of their products taste, don’t forget to read my upcoming tasting review!