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.
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.
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).
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.