Posted on

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)
Posted on

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.

shop
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!

Posted on

Harrer Chocolat – Tasting review

As promised in my previous introductory post about Harrer Chocolat, this time I will show you three of their award-winning chocolate bars more in detail. Flavoured solid bars and enrobed ganache bars are the flagships of Harrer’s chocolate product line so I thought I will taste some of these. The range is very wide, from kid-friendly white and milk chocolates sprinkled with colourful beans or coloured with freeze dried strawberries, through all-time favourites like whole hazelnuts, fruit&nut, strawberry and raspberry, salted caramel, finishing with adventurous pairings like their popular white chocolate with mint, using trendy ingredients like matcha tea, tonka beans, ylang-ylang, smoked salt. And last but not least their wine or spirit flavoured ganache bars are the fruits of cooperation with some of Hungary’s most famous wine and spirit making companies.

Harrer bars
Modern and colourful design

Before tucking in, let me just briefly talk about the packaging. All the bars are 9x9cm square shape and come in a teal coloured box matching the brand colours and decorated with a shiny embossing of floral curves. All the important information regarding the bar is on a removable label that showcases the main ingredient of the bar on the front (plus the award labels) and ingredients in both Hungarian and German on the back. The bar can easily be pulled out on either side as it is sitting in a white pocket perfectly safe. I love how the whole packaging is completely resealable and that this little pocket is cushioning the bar so well. The removable flavour label makes it very easy for them to customise their packaging, so it is possible to buy some bars for occasions with cute labels like ‘I love you’, ‘Thank you’ or ‘Happy Birthday’, with the logo of a company (Harrer is sponsoring for example the VOLT Festival, one of Hungary’s biggest music festivals in Sopron) or a landmark (e.g their Sopron collection).

Tonka bean

Firstly, just take a moment to look at the bar itself. It’s a thin ganache square enrobed in a thin layer of milk chocolate. The top side of the bar has a slightly wavy surface which can be achieved by blowing air on the chocolate before it sets. You can try this technique when hand dipping chocolates, but it’s a built-in fan that does the job for you if you have an enrobing machine. And then you turn the bar to check the bottom. My jaw literally dropped. I know, it’s not such a big thing to use a structure sheet on the bottom of chocolates to create a relief, in this case the Harrer logo, but I just wasn’t expecting such an attention to detail. This is a minor detail and doesn’t really affect how the chocolate will taste. But really, do you think a chocolate will taste bad after taking so much care to create its look? I doubt it. But let’s see!

Harrer Tonka
I love the irresistible aroma and flavour of tonka beans

Honestly, do you know anyone who doesn’t like tonka beans? I don’t. (But hey, comment below if you do!) There’s just something so comforting when you smell this wonderful spice. Vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg all in one. It has a lovely warmth without being too spicy and it pairs really well with milk chocolate. Harrer knows this well too, as here you have a thin layer of velvety milk chocolate ganache infused with tonka beans covered in a 50% milk chocolate. I think it was a really good choice to use a stronger milk chocolate here as with a lower percentage this combination could end up tasting overly sweet. I hope you can see from the cross-section photo how perfectly balanced the filling-to-shell ratio is. The chocolate is soft and smooth, creamy. The smell and later the taste of tonka beans dominates throughout but is never excessive. I wonder if someone can restrain themselves from eating this bar in one sitting. I only managed because I have two other ones to try…

Apricot

This bar has the same look as the previous Tonka bean bar, but this time the milk chocolate ganache has an amazingly fresh fruitiness from the puréed dried apricots. The apricot aroma hits your nose as soon as you open the packaging. This is not because they added any flavourings. The trick here is to use a splash of apricot pálinka (a Hungarian speciality, basically a fruit brandy) and a bit of nutmeg to enhance the flavour of the fruit in the chocolate. It works brilliantly. Again, look at the cross-section photo, you can almost see the apricot fibre in the ganache. It’s like 1 of your 5-a-day! Yet the mouthfeel is still smooth and creamy. The ‘World Gold’ International Chocolate Award in 2015 is absolutely well deserved for this creation.

Harrer apricot
Delightfully fruity apricot ganache with a punch

Caramelised Rosemary

Among the many fruity, spicy or alcohol-filled bars this was one has the most intriguing flavour to me. So I obviously had to try it. Some herbs go really well with chocolate, think mint, lavender or even basil but this was the first time I saw rosemary in chocolate. And not only rosemary but caramelised rosemary. I couldn’t wait to finally try it.

Harrer rosemary
Beautiful balance of flavours created with an unusual ingredient

This time we are looking at a solid 50% milk chocolate bar, but the packaging and the size of the bar is the same. The mould design is simple and elegant showing the Harrer logo and replicating the floral curve motifs from the packaging. The bar is thin and easy to break, it gives a satisfying snap. The aroma reminds me of something from my childhood, I can’t exactly picture what. Is it a dessert, some other food, or just a memory? I can’t tell. But it’s a familiar and pleasant feeling. As the piece of chocolate starts to melt on my tongue and I slowly inhale, the rosemary’s true flavour kicks in with a punch. It is not overwhelming, but strong and fresh. I think you need to like rosemary to like this chocolate, but if you do, you will have a great tasting experience. To get the caramelised rosemary they used Muscovado sugar which, with its deeper, molasses-like flavour, compliments the earthy and floral notes of the rosemary. Pairing all these with a 50% milk chocolate turned out again as a good choice in my opinion. But I’d be curious to try this in a similarly earthy-floral single origin dark chocolate too.

 

Do you like flavoured milk chocolates? What’s your favourite? Comment below!

 

 

Disclaimer: My review is 100% my true personal opinion about the products (whether I bought them myself or received as a gift). This is not a paid advertisement for the company.

Posted on

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!

Posted on

My Chocolate Eurotrip

If you have followed my recent Instagram posts (if you haven’t, you can find me here), you know that in the last five weeks I travelled across Europe by car. The main reason behind this trip was to introduce our 5-month-old son to the rest of the family living in Hungary. But of course, one cannot ignore the added benefits of a trip like this, so I obviously planned to visit chocolate shops, chocolate makers and chocolatiers on the way. The convenience of going by car is that it’s flexible (but long, oh yes!), not to mention the ample space in the back to put all the goodies I buy (+gifts for the baby of course). In this post, I’m going to briefly share with you the main highlights of this holiday, but only as an appetizer. More detailed posts are on the way about each of the chocolate makers and chocolatiers I visited to give you as much insight as possible.

eurotrip

ITINERARY
Our itinerary was quite straightforward, as we have done this route many times over the last 5 years. We always stop in Brussels, as we have some friends to visit here, and adding a few chocolate shops won’t do any harm either. This time though, because of precautionary reasons regarding our baby, we planned another stop on the way in Germany. This way, we weren’t bound to the car all day on the motorway, but could stretch our legs and even do a bit of sightseeing. On the way out we had a quick stroll in Heidelberg, a university city and found an amazing fine food and fine chocolate shop, L’Épicerie.

After Heidelberg, we traversed Austria and entered Hungary at the northwest border just after Vienna to say hello to my Mum in Győr (my beloved hometown). For the next two weeks we had our “base camp” in the capital Budapest, where I visited many chocolate professionals. We spent our last week in Hungary in Győr, which proved to be a perfect base camp for day-out trips to chocolate factories such as Harrer in Sopron or Zotter in Austria.

The last week of our trip started with going through Austria and Germany once again, this time stopping in Trier, a city full of ancient Roman architecture, a huge cathedral and the birthplace of Karl Marx. Unfortunately it was Whit Monday so most of the shops were closed, but still managed to buy some chocolates in a little café near the cathedral. Finally, we arrived to Brussels again, and we spent 4 days here before returning home to Cambridge.

eurotripcollage

HIGHLIGHTS
Not surprisingly the highlights of this journey were the meetings with chocolate makers and chocolatiers and the factory visits. I crammed in as many as possible, and I am fairly happy with the outcome, as I only missed one visit out of the 8 that I planned.

  • Fabric Csokoládé (Hungary)
  • Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (Hungary)
  • Harrer Chocolat (Hungary)
  • ChocoFacture (Hungary)
  • Zsuzsanna Ötvös (Hungary)
  • Zotter Schokolade (Austria)
  • Mike&Becky (Belgium)

In Hungary, I visited Fabric Csokoládé, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé, Harrer Chocolat, ChocoFacture and Zsuzsi, a chocolate friend (now working as a pastry chef) who used to work with the late Szántó Tibor. In Austria, I had a fabulous day at the Zotter Factory and Edible Zoo, a wonderful place full of chocolate and fun. In Brussels, I visited the atelier where I had my training and also many different little shops in the city centre. The best part here was my visit to Mike&Becky, a couple who opened a fine chocolate shop and make their own bean-to-bar chocolates as well. And the missed visit was that of Benoit Nihant’s factory. But fear not, I’m already planning for my next trip in September!

TIPS FOR CHOCOLATE TOURS

Whenever I go somewhere new, my first thing to do is to check chocolate shops on Google Maps and on the Find Chocolate! app by Ecole Chocolat. I also just simply google the “city name + chocolate” to see what comes up, and I like to read reviews on TripAdvisor too. The beauty of this is that I still find places that were nowhere on the Internet, so there’s always an element of surprise! But, this minor preparation is important for a successful chocolate hunt. In my upcoming posts, I will share with you maps of the places I visited so that all you have to do is download, and you’re ready to go.

Buying chocolate while sightseeing can be tricky especially during warmer season. May was particularly hot this year throughout Europe, so it gave me a little headache to keep my chocolate stash cool in the car and while out and about. Investing in small insulated bags (zippered ones are best) can be a chocolate lifesaver. I must admit, that I haven’t thought of it, but luckily we got a free bag at Zotter factory for buying a lot of chocolates 😉 The good thing is, these insulated bags are reusable and can come handy for any other outdoor activities or picnics too.

eurotrip2

WHAT’S NEXT?

In the upcoming weeks, I will post in detail about the visited chocolate professionals to give you an insight into their work, their products and philosophy. I didn’t conduct any formal interviews, because I wanted to concentrate on the person behind the chocolates. I’m hoping to show you a few brands that you may not know so well yet, and I will try to give you some help on where to find these chocolates on the international market (if available). Please, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the brands/makers or to give your opinion on these posts in the comment section below.

Let’s get started!