A tale of two rivers – Amano ‘Dos Rios’

Amano Dos Rios bars

Amano Dos Rios bars

Last year Lourdes Delgado and I visited the Dominican Republic, as part of a whirlwind tour in August 2008, taking in four fine cacao producing countries in 21 days. Our first stop was the Dominican Republic, which is now becoming well known in the public consciousness as a source of cacao used in organic and Fair Trade chocolate. (As seen on many a supermarket shelf.)

Nazario Rizek

Some very fine chocolate has also been made from Dominican Republic cacao, including some of the most famous names, including Valrhona’s ‘Caraïbe’ and Michel Cluizel’s ‘Los Anconès’. The cacao for both of these, and many others, comes from the family owned Nazario Rizek company, a cacao grower and processor focusing on the quality end of the market.

Los Anconès has always been one of my favourite fine chocolates, noted for its green olive and tobacco notes and dark complexity. (Though this has been toned down in recent years. It was just too complex for many tastes). So I was on a kind of pilgrimage to get to the plantation. You can read all about it here.

A fascinating part of that day was a visit to one of Rizek’s very advanced collection and fermentation centres, near the city of San Francisco de Macorís in Duarte province, where Rizek use plastic boxes for fermenting their cacao. Your first reaction might be that this must have a negative effect on flavour (hints of polythene?), but if you’re into fine chocolate at any level, you’ve already tasted chocolate made from beans processed in this way, without noticing any adverse effects.

A unique liquor

About half way down my travel blog post from last year, I mentioned a liquor tasting session Lourdes and I were treated to after our tour of the Rizek facility. In that previous post, I rather skimmed over the experience, but I don’t think I’ll ever quite forgot the aroma and flavour notes of one particular laboratory liquor sample.

The sample in question had a unique bergamot aroma. On tasting, there were strong flavour notes of orange and rose. I’d never come across anything like this before. This was a combination I won’t forget, but I wondered if I’d ever taste anything like it again. These unique notes were entirely the result of experiments Rizek had been making using different fermentation techniques to create different flavour profiles. (With, I believe,  help from visitors such as Chloé Doutre-Roussel.) The cacao used, incidentally, was from some or Rizek’s farms in the areas surrounding the fermentation facility.

What was really interesting to me here was the idea of the cacao grower taking the initiative and developing new flavour profiles. Usually chocolate makers prefer to give the impression that they are solely the ‘auteur’ – the director – of the chocolate they are making, but I was learning here this might not always be the case. Rizek, it seemed, were actually being more adventurous than most chocolate makers.

A Nazario Rizek plantation in the San Francisco de Macorís region

A Nazario Rizek plantation in the San Francisco de Macorís region

Turning theory into chocolate

After this experience, it was half jokingly that I hoped in my post last year that a chocolate maker would produce a chocolate from this single source.

Even if a chocolate maker was interested in these most unusual flavour notes, would the notes survive into a finished chocolate? Would the cacao be too unusual to make into a single-fermentation chocolate (we’re well beyond origin and variety here!), or would these beans end being used to spice up an otherwise bland blend?

It would need a chocolate maker who produced well refined European style chocolate, but whose philosophy was to keep the flavour notes of the chocolate as close as possible to the notes of the cacao. That left only one chocolate maker whose Yahoo! id I have on my list; Art Pollard of Amano Artisan Chocolate.

Art and I chatted online about the liquor and its unique flavours, and he seemed up for the challenge. To cut an already rather long story short, over the next year Art was able to secure an exclusive supply and a new Amano chocolate, the limited edition Dos Rios, was born.

I don’t want to take any credit here other than for spotting a good thing when I see it and passing the news on. What I think is important here is to recognise the joint work of both cacao grower and chocolate maker in achieving this chocolate. Without the inspiration and effort of both, it would not have been possible.

Tasting Dos Rios

So, at last, onto the actual chocolate itself, which I was able to taste for the first time only minutes before the Academy of Chocolate open event with Clay Gordon, which took place a couple of nights ago.

First congratulations have to go to Amano for preserving the aromas and flavours of the liquor. This is no mean achievement and was sometimes in doubt during the development process. I suspect these notes are coming from a very full fermentation, and one early kitchen sample Art sent us had – as well as the bergamot, orange and rose – a really distinct ‘Stilton’ note (you know, the way that Stilton can be cheesy and strong, but there’s a slight floral edge in there as well). That was pretty interesting of itself, but it didn’t quite sit with the other notes.

Amano have actually had to develop a more delicate refining process to preserve the flavour notes of this chocolate, which is why the chocolate is grainier than other Amano bars, though you wouldn’t notice this in the mouth unless you were looking out for it.

The result is one of the most unique chocolates available, though it may not appeal equally to all tastes. The nose is Earl Grey bergamot, green cardamom and yes that slight hint of cheese. Tasting the chocolate, you will be convinced that the chocolate has been flavoured. (I can guarantee it’s not, having tasted the source).

The dominant note is rose water, drifting off into spice and perhaps fresh apple. There is that stilton hint, but it just about plays nicely with the other notes. There are tannins here, but they are soft and mild, like you’d find in a good Japanese tea, rather than being overly drying.

The length is giant. The rose goes on, and on, and on. Hardly diminishing over time. I can’t think of any other chocolate that holds on so long and so solidly, except perhaps the citrus of some Madagascans. It could almost get annoying if you had too much. (The length even continued after eating different origin chocolate!)

It’s rare to make a fully formed chocolate at first attempt, and I think this applies even more in a case like this, where the chocolate maker is working in uncharted territory in terms of flavour notes. The chocolate is perhaps not as balanced as it might be, and the flavours notes don’t sit as tightly together as they might. Or perhaps this is just too freshly made – a few months on the shelf might actually help.

So this is not a perfect chocolate, but it is one of the most interesting I’ve ever come across, pushing the envelope of flavours on the chocolate tasting map into whole new territory. The name ‘Dos Rios’ refers in this case – or so Art Pollard tells me – that the chocolate has two rivers of flavour (bergamot and chocolate), as well as being the name of a nearby farming community.

You might not want to eat Dos Rios every day of the week, but you sure should give it a try. I think it would be pretty interesting to cook or bake with as well. Congratulations go to both Nazario Rizek and Amano for the achievement.

Stocks of the limited edition ‘Dos Rios’ should be hitting the shelves in the US and Sweden soon, with hopes of a forthcoming UK supply. (Fortnum & Mason are now stocking the current Amano range).

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