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6 Highlights of the London Chocolate Show 2017

cacao pods

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

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

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

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

Highlights of my LCS-2017 experience

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

    freshcacao
    This is chocolate before it’s born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harrer Chocolat – Tasting review

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

Harrer bars
Modern and colourful design

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

Tonka bean

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

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

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

Apricot

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

Harrer apricot
Delightfully fruity apricot ganache with a punch

Caramelised Rosemary

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

Harrer rosemary
Beautiful balance of flavours created with an unusual ingredient

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Harrer Chocolat – Where tradition and innovation go hand in hand

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

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

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

Harrer in a nutshell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the magic happens

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

Harrer chocolate
(photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

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

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

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

Impromptu tasting session

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

Harrer Chocolat Nuts
(photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Harrer Cacao Plantation… in Hungary!

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

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

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

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

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Fabric Chocolates – Where haute couture meets fine flavours

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.

Fabric collection
Everything handmade from start to finish, including the little black gem glued one-by-one onto the packaging (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

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.

awards
Viki with some of her awards in 2015 (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

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.

German display
(photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

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.

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Beautiful and unique mould design and delicious chocolate (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)
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Mexican 66% dark chocolate with cocoa nib tuile (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

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.

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Before becoming chocolate, her designs are first cast into plaster, then silicone (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

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’.

Future plans

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.

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Viki is interested in creating her own chocolates from the bean to make her products even more unique (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

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.

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White chocolate with matcha tea and ginger (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

Coming up…

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!