I’m thrilled to let you know that my Kickstarter campaign for the Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar is now 111% funded! With a few hours to go until the campaign ends on 9 October (23:59 CET), I’ll be able to send out these unique craft chocolate advent calendars to my lovely backers.
To bring the project even closer to you, I decided to create a mini video-series where I introduce the makers featured within the advent calendar. Each video includes 4 makers:
Episode 1: Duffy’s, Pump Street Chocolate, Chocolate Tree, Solkiki Chocolatemaker
Episode 2: Dormouse Chocolates, York Cocoa Works, J.Cocoa, NearyNógs
Episode 3: Ara Chocolat, Mike&Becky, Original Beans, Zotter
Episode 6: FriisHolm, Malmö Chokladfabrik, Vento d’Oro, Aelan Chocolate Makers
The kind of chocolate that they will have within the advent calendar will remain a secret until December when I will share with you day-by-day each new maker and new flavour. I’m so excited about this project and can’t wait to hear what you think about the chocolates within the calendar, so if you haven’t got it yet, jump on board and get one of the limited edition Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendars. Hurry up, as there are only 200 calendars made and 121 of them are already gone. The calendar is exclusively available through Kickstarter until 9 October, offering worldwide shipping.
I’d like to take a moment here to thank all my lovely backers and also everyone who shared my project with others either by talking about it or by sharing it on social media and in email. The positive response to my idea blew me away and I am intensely grateful for all your support!
Don’t forget that by getting a Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar you not only help me make my dream project come true, but you also support 24 craft bean-to-bar chocolate makers (most of whom are micro-batch businesses), and through them you strengthen a more sustainable and more ethical cacao supply chain and ensure a better livelihood for cacao farmers around the world.
After introducing the Hungarian chocolatier Fabric Chocolates, it’s time for me to dive in and taste some of their products and give you a more detailed insight. The intricate design doesn’t end with their packaging. In fact, seeing their chocolate bar for the first time left me speechless. If you’ve ever found yourself silently staring at a chocolate bar for what seems forever then you know what I’m talking about. A smooth, glossy finish is already pleasing the eye but to see such a detailed and intricate chocolate artwork is mesmerising.
I couldn’t get over the fact that despite this high level of detail there were almost no surface errors, bubbles or any other disturbing elements on either side of the chocolate bars. Knowing that Fabric bars are made in custom-designed silicone moulds, it is almost unbelievable. But then Viki explained to me during my visit that although the designs are detailed, the indentations are relatively fine, not deep, so air bubbles don’t cause her that much trouble.
But let’s start with the viewing and tasting of the bars!
Mexican Dark 66% with Smoked Salt Caramelised Almonds
As I am an amateur crocheter, Fabric’s main mould design really appeals to me. It looks like a beautiful crochet tablecloth with a mirrored motif. Fine details, curves and patterns that look like tiny flowers, waves or a fishing net. On the back side of the bar, you can see how generous they are with her toppings. Whole almonds pop out on the surface of the bar nearly on every square centimetre and salt crystals are also visible throughout.
There is a slight smokiness in the aroma with some nutty background, so that’s a good sign. The thin bar breaks with a sharp snap and melts relatively easily alternating between salty, sometimes reminiscent of crispy bacon, and bittersweet flavours. To get the most out of the toppings, I chomped on this bar, as this releases even more smoked, salty, nutty flavours. The balance of flavour notes is perfect as nothing is overpowering, not even the chocolate. This makes it all the more difficult not to eat it all in one go. The Academy of Chocolate gave Bronze for this bar in 2016.
Ecuador 80% with Candied Kumquats and Coffee Beans
Same crochet pattern as previously, but the back side of the bar has a smoother look due to the smaller pieces of toppings used. The thin bar makes it possible for the toppings to be completely covered in chocolate while still standing out visibly on the back side too. If you’ve read my post about Fabric you’ll know that this bar won a Gold at the Academy of Chocolate Awards this year, so I tried it with high expectations.
As soon as I opened the packaging, I could smell the fresh and sweet orangey aroma of the kumquat peel (tiny orange-like fruits the size of an olive) that is candied by Viki herself as this is an ingredient that is not widely available on the market. Again, the chocolate melts easily partly because it’s thin, and also this Ecuador 80% (Hoja Verde couverture) is nice and creamy. If you let the chocolate melt completely, first you’ll get the rich and earthy notes of the chocolate and a slight coffee flavour. Then you’re left with tiny kumquat pieces and some coffee grains which then dominate the aftertaste. If you decide to chomp the bar, the three main components will balance out each other, and the kumquat will really shine through (especially when you actually chew on a piece) and complete the earthy and roasted notes with a light sweetness.
Viento – Madagascan Milk 44% with Almond Oil and Caramelised Cocoa Nibs
Firstly, I stop for a moment to take a look at the packaging. Different from the crochet design, this bar seems smaller, although only by 10 grams. Keeping the beige and black colour combination, this packaging has a lovely watercolour effect in grey-blue to create a sky-like background for the flying birds that cover the front surrounding the title “Viento” (means wind or breeze in Spanish), that looks like a baroque sign. The golden ribbon is tied just on the left side so as not to disturb the picture and creates an elegant finish to the packaging. No wonder that Fabric won a Gold at the Academy of Chocolate Awards for this packaging design in 2016.
When you flip the bar to open it at the back, the two side flaps look like angel wings or a triptych with the bar as the middle image. The thin rectangle has a flying bird and fluffy clouds engraved into its surface, matching the beautiful outer packaging’s theme. And even beneath the engraved motifs the surface of the bar is not smooth but it has a fine floral pattern on it, like a silk tablecloth.
As I opened the packaging, I could already smell strong marzipan notes coming from the almond oil. The thin milk chocolate breaks with a soft snap revealing caramelised cocoa nibs throughout the bar. I decided to chomp the first piece to see how the chocolate and nibs act together. At the start, sweet vanilla and marzipan chocolate dominate the scene, but as I start to chew on a few pieces of roasted, caramelised nibs, the flavour becomes contrasted by roasted, nutty, sometimes even a tiny bit over-roasted (bacon-like) notes. The aftertaste is predominantly roasted, especially if you finish with munching on the nibs. This chocolate won a Bronze at the 2016 Academy of Chocolate Awards.
Cuban Dark 75% with Tonka Beans and Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar
The packaging stands out from the usual range as this is the result of a cooperation with a Hungarian wine maker (Egri Borvár Tóth Ferenc Wine Cellar), thus the name and drawing on the front showing grapes and grape leaves as a wreath. The Fabric-style comes with the ribbon and gemstone that decorates the front and of course the bar itself. This depicts the picture from the packaging engraved into chocolate. It’s so hard to break it up (not literally!) destroying this artwork.
The smell of this bar is astonishing. Sweet fruity and spicy aromas hit my nose straight away. I love tonka beans and their warmth resembling a perfect cinnamon-nutmeg-vanilla mix, but there’s more here. I wouldn’t be able to tell just from the smell that it’s raspberry balsamic vinegar (perhaps because I haven’t tried it on its own yet), but it’s a pleasant sweet fruity smell.
No visible toppings here obviously, so I just let the chocolate melt on my tongue. The tonka bean’s taste comes first and stays central throughout, here and there the flavour becomes sweeter or a bit more acidic, but never unpleasant, creating a beautiful pairing of spice and fruit vinegar with the chocolate from Cuba (Pralus couverture).
As an interesting comparison, Viki also gave me a few tasting squares of the same chocolate paired with tonka beans and date vinegar. This combination won a bronze at the Academy of Chocolate Awards this year as well. Same spicy notes in the aroma, but this one is less sweet, the chocolate is rich, earthy with coffee notes that get stronger in the aftertaste. The tonka is less dominant. The acidity of the vinegar is more noticeable at the back sides of the tongue but it’s still pleasant. Amazing, how different the end result becomes by only changing one ingredient.
Lenka Milk 35%
As you could see from the tonka flavoured bar already, Fabric is open for creative projects with other companies. While the tonka bar was specially created to suit the wines of the maker, in the case of this bar, the visual representation was seemingly more important.
Lenka is a little girl who gets bullied in school for being a bit crummy and has no friends, so starts playing on her own drawing on the pavement until a little boy notices her… The short story is all about empathy, friendship and diversity. Viki really liked the story and was happy to create a Lenka bar for the book. It’s a plain milk chocolate couverture, so there’s not much to talk about the flavour itself, but the design is amazing on its own. Using the book’s own illustration about the crummy red haired, big round-eyed girl, Viki made Lenka’s portrait in chocolate so well that I actually prefer it to the drawing.
Lemon and Cinnamon Pecans
This beautiful round tin is the previous packaging for Viki’s award-winning dragée, pecans enrobed in lemon and cinnamon white chocolate. She was working on her new design when I visited her, and by now, it’s available in a square box, mimicking the packaging of her crochet-style bars to fit more into the whole collection.
The content is the same though. It’s like opening a jewellery box. Brown tissue paper discreetly covers the nuts, you have to open these delicate layers to discover this highly addictive delicacy. We all know, nuts and chocolate are a match made in heaven. You can’t really go wrong with this combination. But to create something that is unique, both pleasing the eyes and the taste buds, is all the more challenging. Viki decided to use her lemon-cinnamon white chocolate, a flavour inspired by the Spanish dessert, crema catalana, and pair it with whole pecan nuts. It smells divine.
Orange and cinnamon are frequently used together to create a warm, cosy feeling bringing back memories of winter and Christmas time. Here, lemon is used as a twist, and it creates a fresher flavour, more like a summer dessert or ice cream flavour. Biting a pecan in half reveals that the spicy chocolate layer is infinitely thin around the nut, which makes it possible to create a perfect balance between the ingredients. The warmth of the cinnamon works really well with the soft nuttiness of the pecans rounded out by the zingy lemon. Can I just have one more? Oh wait, it’s all gone… This should come with a warning 😊
Fabric really is a tiny chocolate manufacture full of creativity and brave innovation when it comes to flavour combinations. Art, design and textures have a very important role from the first step until the last so the customer gets a product that is both pleasant to look at and also memorable when tasted. Perfect gift idea, or something to treat yourself to. Although the flavour combinations are unique and maybe sound weird sometimes, I think that they are so balanced and well-thought that they can easily become crowd-pleasers. I want to thank Viki for making time for me to visit her and talk about her company and her chocolates and I can’t wait to try her bean-to-bar chocolates in the future too.
Which Fabric bar would YOU like to try?
Disclaimer: I received these chocolates from Viki (Fabric) as a gift during my visit to her atelier but not as an exchange for a good review. 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.
The first time I saw Fabric bars I was meeting a friend in a small coffee shop and wine bar in Budapest where they were also selling some handmade chocolates. Straight away I was mesmerised by the intricate packaging and couldn’t resist to buy one to try: it was their now multiple award-winning Mexican 66% dark with cocoa nib tuile. I know. It is as delicious as it sounds. More on this later. Then in 2015, I briefly met Viki, the chocolatier and founder of Fabric, at the London Chocolate Show, where she was awarded for her chocolate creations. No wonder I wanted to visit her as I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip this year! I was really happy when we arranged the visit, and Viki was so friendly and welcoming. Her workshop is in one of Budapest’s suburban areas. Located in the underground of a block of flats, her place is kept cool throughout the year; this is quite useful in the hot summer days like the one when I visited her.
Her workshop is separated into two main areas: chocolate production and packaging/storage. After a quick look around, we sat down at a big round table in the latter area where she was packaging her bars and putting on the chocolate award labels on the front. Behind her, I could see all her awards nicely displayed on the wall. As we were chatting about her career, her chocolates and her plans, I could taste the chocolates she generously prepared for my visit.
How it all came to be
Behind Fabric you can find a lively and very approachable lady, Viki, who invents and creates all the products and packaging for her award-winning chocolate business. She has an artistic background, studying packaging design and later working for a TV channel on kids’ programmes. How is this all ending up in a chocolate making business? She was filming at a chocolate workshop and became seduced by the world of chocolate. Suddenly, all what she was studying and working for became useful tools for starting her own business. Even though this all happened at a time when “artisan and handmade chocolates” were popping up everywhere in Hungary, she still carried on learning about her new profession, and took two entire years to finalise her first product line and packaging. By that time, many of those trendy handmade chocolate businesses were already long forgotten. Her hard work then paid off, as two years after launching her chocolates in September 2012, she already received awards at both the International Chocolate Awards and at the Academy of Chocolate Awards in 2015.
Haute Couture Chocolates
At the very beginning Viki and her husband (also working in television, and helping her with the business-related tasks and R&D of course!) wanted to create a unique product that stands out from the crowd not just in its flavour but also in its design. Their idea about using different textured fabrics to create their chocolate moulds gave birth to their company, Fabric. The name reflects the connection between textures, art, and chocolate flavours. Even though this name seemed an unlucky choice for distribution in Germany for example (Fabrik means factory in German), the quality of their products proved this wrong and now the largest part of their international trade goes to Germany.
Unlike many other chocolatiers in Hungary, praising and working with the “finest Belgian chocolate” (mostly Callebaut), Fabric is constantly looking for unique flavours to use in their bars, so they turned early on to single origin chocolates made by smaller chocolate makers such as Menakao, Pralus, Michel Cluizel and more recently Hoja Verde (exclusively in Hungary). This can be very challenging in the planning process, as if one of the bars proves to be more popular than they thought, and sells out, sometimes they have to wait months before receiving the next shipment of couverture and need to think of an alternative. Or, as a very recent example of bad luck, the delivery of their Ecuadorian couverture was confiscated at customs because of illegal drug trafficking of unknown source. So now, even though they have just received a prestigious Gold award from the Academy of Chocolates a few weeks ago, they might have to wait months until they can make a new batch of the winner bar flavoured with candied kumquats and roasted coffee beans.
The toppings used to create their bars are also far away from the casual fruit and nut. Viki is always eager to find new, rare and unique ingredients to pair up with her chocolate when she’s visiting farmer’s markets or travelling abroad. And many times, this also means a good bit of DIY from her part, such as dehydrating cherry tomatoes, candying kumquats or caramelising almonds with smoked salt.
Speaking of DIY, her atelier also has some equipment that were developed by her father working as an aeronautic engineer (sorry, the details will remain company secret). Viki is a real artisan chocolatier, who is actually doing everything by hand from start to finish. As said above, Viki is a packaging designer, so no wonder that all her packaging and even her chocolate moulds are designed and created by herself. She revealed to me, that she always has a little pot of playdough in her bag. In case she finds an interesting texture or design, she just pushes it onto her playdough and then recreates it at home, casting in plaster, then silicone. This way, she can recreate any design (company logo, intricate textures, images or text, etc.) and keep her products very unique and customisable, opening a way for her to collaborate with others, such as a wine maker, a hotel chain or a children’s book illustrator to just name a few of her projects.
In a following article, I will show you a few products more in detail, but for now I’ll just give you a general idea about how these delicious chocolates are created. Would you believe that Viki is one of those people who doesn’t really like sweets? She prefers more characteristic and less sweet flavours so this is what she recreates in her chocolate bars, using mainly dark chocolate as a base. She doesn’t make any chocolate that she wouldn’t like to eat herself and this is one of the reasons she doesn’t work with marzipan for example. Cocoa nibs, nuts, dried fruits and spices are her main ingredients with a few more peculiar toppings such as brown rice, millet, date vinegar, dried tomatoes previously soaked in raspberry vinegar, among others. Picking up inspiration for future flavours everywhere, her famous lemon-cinnamon combination was born thanks to one of her favourite desserts: ‘crema catalana’.
As staying unique is one of Fabric’s main priority, no wonder that the bean-to-bar production is also on their mind. This would allow them to really create flavours and flavour combinations that no one else does on the market. But of course, even though small-batch production is now possible with a smaller investment by using table-top melangeurs, there is still the question of buying the right cocoa beans. It is a steep learning curve, and you can be sure that Viki won’t release anything before being 100% satisfied with the product herself. Don’t worry, I’ll give you an update as soon as it is available.
It’s no secret, that getting awards for their chocolates is a key to international recognition and possible distribution. Viki says, that instead of trying to reach out to chocolate retailers with samples, as they did when they started, now it’s the opposite, they get more and more national and international trade possibilities thanks to these awards. Now their chocolates available in Germany, France and even in the USA, they would like to distribute them to other countries as well.
More importantly, their aim is to stay true to their original work ethics which means they will stay small, as doing everything by hand, they have physical limits of how many bars they can actually make in a day. So far, anything that has been made under their name, be it a bar of chocolate or a piece of packaging, has always gone through Viki’s hands and needs to meet her strict quality standards.
As a follow-up for this post, I’ll continue with a more detailed tasting review of some of Fabric’s products, including award-winning bars and a dangerously addictive pecan dragee. Stay tuned!
Did you already know Fabric chocolates, and if yes, which of their bars is your favourite? If not, which one would you like to try? Share in the comments below!
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.
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.
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)
Zsuzsanna Ötvös (Hungary)
Zotter Schokolade (Austria)
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.
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.