A bar that inevitably will attract comparisons to Friis-Holm’s bar from the same extremely rare source. Indeed, it is sources like this that reveal the value of micro-producers: the ability to bring out unusual varietals coming from sources whose total output is far too small for larger manufacturers to consider. In the past, such beans would inevitably have wound up in blends and probably passed unnoticed, but now they can see the light of day and perhaps draw more attention to the efforts of a few farmers willing to take a risk with quality cacao. This is an immense step for the future: on the producers’ side it provides an outlet for small-volume growing, making it economically realistic for farmers to concentrate on quality over quantity; on the consumers’ side, it broadens the range of the chocolate experience into something approximating what is now possible in wine, enabling a new appreciation of the individual qualities of each bean and of each manufacturer. The end result has to be an expanded sophistication in the fine chocolate world.
Alex Rast: 18-Jun-2011
A chocolate that comes close to defining an artistic impression, in that it’s clear that here Red Star has employed a conscious effort to make the result an expression of interpretative style as much as character of the bean. Here they have also chosen to present a chocolate about as far stylistically from any other chocolate as has been seen as to be a total innovation. Unusual in every way, this is a chocolate that will inspire polarised reactions, that you are likely either to love or hate. In a refreshing note it must be said that the tasting notes are here actually accurate, giving a good impression of what to expect out of the bar, although whatever the case, it is a chocolate in which to expect the unexpected.
Very few bars can look as astonishingly gorgeous as this out of the wrapper: it has virtually the perfect medium-light red-brown colour and an ideal temper, with essentially no indication of mould irregularities and even swirling mostly absent. Put this in a prettier mould design and it would be art merely to look at. The real artistry, though for good or for ill, is in the substance: first noticeable in the aroma which is unusual to the point of causing one to struggle for adequate descriptors. Undoubtedly the most powerful note is fruitiness, specifically, bright raspberry. This is backed by an equally obvious woody, cedar undertone all suggesting quite a sharp bar. But then really odd aromas emerge, earthy tones that hint of mushroom, smoky hints, something that is reminiscent of bacon. It seems clear what the basic flavour is likely to be but the overall impression remains at this point unknown.
Unsurprisingly, the initial flavour is a hyper-strong raspberry, which predictably moves to woody, all so far very logical. This is where things get interesting, though, for then creme fraiche makes an appearance, and next the flavour veers towards something much more earthy, like graham crackers with a honey note and hints of mushroom. Superficially this may sound like simply a flavour muddle but there is, somehow, a coherence in it that one can’t quite place: the logic is unclear but the effect works. It seems like a dimension that might always have been latent in cacao but never explored.
Melt is quite good, very smooth and extremely creamy, although not to the level of the extraordinary Friis-Holm version. And in the final analysis, this might be where it sits flavour-wise as well: it’s undeniably an interesting, worthwhile chocolate with lots of positive qualities but Friis-Holm appears to have gotten just that little bit better refinement. These are the kinds of comparisons it should be possible to make with fine chocolate! The industry has now matured to the point where individual companies are able to put out equally meaningful interpretations of interesting bean sources, and Red Star is among the leaders in opening up this fresh territory of micro-production. Let us hope more efforts like this appear in the years to come.