Read more about Fabric Chocolates and their products here and here.
1. What’s your favourite family tradition during this period of the year? I love cooking together with my husband. My task is the fish soup, but I forget every year how it’s made. 😀 (traditional Hungarian recipe, part of the Christmas Eve menu – LBC)
2. The Xmas song that puts you in the mood for the holiday season? We are always listening to Phil Collins.
3. What does the Xmas period mean to your chocolate business? Luckily many people find us to get their presents. It can get stressful to get ready with everything, but it is still the best period of the year.
1. What’s your favourite family tradition during this period of the year? These questions are a bit hard for me. Since we are working with chocolate it got a bit harder to get into the Christmas spirit because we are so busy. And as Zoli used to work in pyrotechnology we still sell fireworks for New Years Eve, so it changes everything during Christmas-time too.
2. The Xmas song that puts you in the mood for the holiday season? Jingle Bells and Last Christmas, but really only for a few moments, and then we go on.
3. What does the Xmas period mean to your chocolate business? As many of our products are designed to be gifted, of course we are selling lots of those and we are happy that people choose our handmade chocolates for their Christmas presents.
Read my previous blog posts about Harrer here and here.
1. What’s your favourite family tradition during this period of the year? For many years now, on 24 December Karl gets up very early in the morning to go back to his hometown Mattersburg in Austria. Christmas starts there for him with breakfast on the main square among family. And more importantly, he brings back home the lights of Betlehem.
2. The Xmas song that puts you in the mood for the holiday season? I cannot start decorating the Christmas tree without listening to Bojtorján band’s song “A mai nap” (This day) and of course Christmas Eve is not complete without “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night).
3. What does the Xmas period mean to your chocolate business? The period before Christmas is probably the busiest for a pastry shop, but also full of love because we can watch the children joyfully eating their chocolate Santas and the happiness in the eyes of those who got our products as gifts for Christmas. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is spent among family, these are the only days in the year when we are closed for business.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!