Willie’s Chocolate Revolution reviewed – part 2

So here we are into episode 2 of Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s chocolate bar adventure.

We start off with a very good point about what many people often call ‘chocolate’ – high street candy bars, which more rightly deserve the name ‘confectionery’, a point that, I suspect, Willie picked up from Sara Jayne-Stanes, who’s always hammering that message home at Academy of Chocolate events. Sugar is of course much, much cheaper than cacao, especially cacao of any quality, as is the vegetable fat often added to create ‘mouth feel’.

The commentary tells us that Willie is “beginning the daunting task of re-educating the nation’s palates” an idea I’m completely behind yes, but it’s a hardly a task that’s just started. The likes of Chantal Coady have been at it for 25 years, laying the groundwork for today’s fine chocolate revolution in the UK. (Seventypercent.com is now 9 years old by the way – must organise something big for out 10th birthday next year!)

Conching machines

The idea of using a company like ADM Classic Courverture to finish the chocolate is interesting. This branch of the US food giant doesn’t actually grind from beans as far as I know. Willie provided them with cocoa mass – rough ground cacao that he’d already roasted and roughly refined. Finishing from this point on in an industrial manner would probably produce a palatable, well refined, result and it would be hard to get the chocolate wrong from this point on – provided you didn’t put in any nasty additives.

It’s still not really an artisinal way to work though, and I wouldn’t have gone that way either. If you really want to make the best chocolate, you need total control.

Another possibility would have been to use a ChocoEasy machine, which refines from mass into chocolate in one machine. Sir Hans Sloane have one of these, and used with skill (e.g. by the likes of Bill McCarrick) you can produce pretty good results, especially if you also have control of the beans, roasting and initial grinding.

Willie’s actually using something a bit like this, with the Universal machine from Lloveras. He’s using this for final refining of the cocoa liquor and conching. Pralus have the same machine, so it will be interesting to see if there are any similarities in style.

Chocolate and passion

The most important thing you need if you want to make great chocolate is to really like your product, so it was good to see Willie enjoying that first batch. (He got a good snap from that lab sample, I notice.)

Without exception, every great fine chocolate maker has someone behind the company with a deep passion and love for chocolate and a real appreciation of taste. Without those, you just probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning and work to the early hours in search of perfection, or sleep next to the chocolate refiner as I’ve heard some chocolate makers have done.

Focus group

It’s a common reaction to describe fine dark chocolate as ‘bitter’ when you try it for the first time – it’s easy to confuse bitterness with intensity and the strong, slightly sour citrus found in chocolate with some proportion of criollo in its heritage. It would be like saying cherries are bitter, when in fact they’re more sour/sweet fruit. This is why I’m always very careful about which chocolate’s to start a tasting with. Valrhona Guanaja is good, but if your first taste was Malagasy’s Mora Mora, you might find it a bit of a shock. Manjari or Mangaro are my usual starting points – they are usually liked by everyone, even the most ardent milk chocolate lovers.

I was trying to work out what the two other tasting samples were – no. 1 and 3 in the taste test. 1. might have been Valrhona Cao Grande organic, and no. 3 really looked like a Pralus – the extra cocoa butter might have made it seem mild and milky. If so, while worthy examples of fine chocolate, it was a fairly easy text to win if you had top notch Venezuelan beans at your disposal.

It’s a wonderful when you see people wake up and realise that they’ve mostly been tasting milk, fat and sugar in the past and that there’s actually something a lot more authentic out there. Fine chocolate might not be for everyone, but then neither is single malt whisky. Good to know it exists though.

Great to see Cacao San José arriving in the UK, I can’t blame Willie for his sense of elation on opening the first sacks. Shame they turned out to the wrong beans. Not an easy problem to solve that one. I wonder from where else in Europe he could quickly pick up Carenero? Domori maybe? If you look at Willie’s web site right now, it says that the Carenero bar is coming soon, so maybe he just went with the other origins instead. I guess we find out tomorrow.