New for 2011, a reincarnation of Valrhona’s earlier gift-box only Pedregal offering. Porcelana – a Venezuelan white-beaned criollo variety – is often considered to be the ‘champagne’ of cacao varieties. Sort after, rare and often imitated – many a white-beaned cacao is all too easily given the name. In reality, only a few genuine sources exist.
El Pedregal is a rarity in another way – a cacao plantation actually owned by a chocolate maker. Despite the impression some companies may give, you could actually count the number of these in the world on a few fingers. Most cacao is bought from traders, cooperatives, exporters and occasionally big organised producers.
Although Valrhona have owned this plantation for twenty years, their first version of Pedregal came out only in 2005/2006. This was perhaps though too soon. The chocolate was interesting, but didn’t quite live up to the hype or match up to the standard of the current Valrhona vintages.
For this reason, perhaps, the chocolate was only available in very fancy pentagonal boxes, with two layers of moulded chocolate, laid out in the shape of a cacao flower. This was all very fancy, but unsurprisingly not sustainable as a product.
Back now in a standard bar format, El Pedregal begins to live up to the hype, replacing the former Venezuelan offering in the Vintage bar range, Palmira.
Alex Rast: 14-Jan-2012
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.
Martin Christy: 12-Jan-2012
|Source:||Sample direct from maker|
The colour is as you’d expect from Valrhona, medium brown with hints of¬†burgundy. We know that porcelana can look lighter than this though, so we can guess at a medium roast.
Aroma is nuts, tobacco, spice, overlain with raisin and strawberry fruit notes and a hint of rose. Clean, crisp, light cream and slightly nutty, and chocolate of course.
The flavour is definitely full and fruity, (‘ripe fruits’, just as Valrhona describe), plus hints of merlot and a distinctive tang in the after taste. Spice hints push it towards mulled wine. Close your eyes though and think of nut paste or gianduja and you’re a lot closer to the classic porcelana signature. There’s a certain, but not unpleasant oilyness and the edge of bitterness you get with good hazelnuts. In the background hovers a dark hint of Laphroig. With time in the mouth the fruit slowly rises up, finishing on nutty cream. At the end an oh so slight hint of ash.
Length is long and stable – light cranberry juice with a nut background.
This is good and interesting and a great chocolate to eat, with some fantastically complex notes and a great, balanced aroma. It has perhaps though not yet reached the heady heights we’d expect from the varietal, lacking that ultimate hint of magic, but this is the first proper year of this new vintage. Let’s hope for even better in the future.¬†Given the recent tailing off of Palmira – the Venezuelan vintage that this bar replaces – it’s a step in the right direction.
One thing is for sure though, this is a much, much better and more accomplished chocolate than the original¬†pentagonal¬†presentation box from 2005,¬†weird and fun as that was.