January 14, 2012

Valrhona – El Pedregal

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Written by: Alex Rast

The bizarre high-concept idea of Porcelana del Pedregal finally bears fruit in a more realistic retail format as an origin bar. One might have hoped, with the experiments of the past which showed some promise but were in the end “ordinary” good chocolate that Valrhona might have been able to see beyond the problems of their original dubious marketing ploy to take a hard look at the chocolate itself and how it could be improved, but as it turns out here the years have moved on and there isn’t much improvement to report. This doesn’t make it a bad chocolate, just as the original wasn’t bad in any sense, it just makes it a bar that continues to have room for improvement. This could be Valrhona’s flagship, if only they could decide on a clear style for it.

Valrhona makes few mistakes in the visual area; none here of note. Indeed, eliminating the sculptural “artistry” of the old for the reassuring slab-shaped bar of the new makes for an improvement, and the temper shows off better, even if the colour is, perhaps, slightly darker than one might expect for a Porcelana bean. Indeed, the aroma is most un-Porcelana-like, at least as we have come to expect; instead, it’s pungent and spicy, with a mixture of pepper and clove. There’s a complementary hint of cedar-like wood, and in fact additional hints of citrus and raisin make it a very balanced aroma indeed…except for a very worrisome rubbery hint.

In fact, this rubbery hint carries over into the flavour, but only momentarily, not long enough to ruin it before the taste shifts to calmer vanilla and cocoa, then gradually grows more assured, prune and treacle suddenly emerging powerfully with hints of liquorice and coffee. The finish ultimately rescues the start and makes this a satisfying chocolate ultimately. It’s not quite as satisfying texturally, though, as Valrhonas of ages past; being moderately smooth but slightly dry. No disasters but not the effortless melt Valrhona had long had.

In the intervening years something HAS happened: Valrhona have made a dramatic style change. From being a company whose style had always been bright and refreshingly fruity, here they seem to be drifting into the Amedei style of dark, treacley chocolate. One wonders whether Valrhona is consciously or unconsciously modifying their style in the wake of Amedei’s public success. Here however there’s also something else going on. That rubber hint suggests that the fermentation, at least on this batch, was poor, and a darker, more “Amedei-like” roast might to some extent be mitigating it. There is the feeling here of a batch rescued from the brink: this is a very good chocolate, but clearly flirting with disaster. Overall it can’t be said to be a substantial improvement on the Porcelana del Pedregal, even if it’s not any worse, but Valrhona have some work to do in supplier control and process management if they are to perfect what should be their signature chocolate.

About the Author

Alex Rast
Alex Rast is a long-time chocolate experimenter, taster and part-time consultant to chocolate companies. Starting in 1990 with early experiments himself in making chocolate, he quickly moved into evaluating chocolates in commercial production and assisting other companies in improving process. Over the course of many years he has evaluated over 700 distinct chocolate bars. He is one of the earliest reviewers for SeventyPercent and has helped to define and systematise the ratings system. In addition to bar chocolate, he also experiments with chocolate baking and the formulation of "canonical" recipes for classic chocolate items.



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