Madagascar keeps on throwing up local chocolate manufacturers…with a reputation for inconsistency. Here we go with another one whose long-term results will have to be tested in time but who show that the Madagascans are determined to try to get it right. As usual the questions focus around the processing choices at manufacture; no one doubts the ultimate potential quality of the beans and so this is very much a presentation of the state of development of chocolate production in the country. With the 72% Menakao presents a classic percentage that should suit a broad variety of tastes – and an ideal reference test case for their products.
Alex Rast: 29-Jul-2012
While a reasonable effort from a young manufacturer, this bar demonstrates a certain lack of sophistication that shows that local production in Madagascar still has a long way to go if it would compete with the Cluizels and Praluses of the world. By going for a dark style, Menakao appears to have tried to emulate the successful Pralus model, yet this very approach is perhaps the riskiest processing choice a manufacturer can make; it’s so easy to overdo things and diminish the chocolate’s flavour. Here the outcome is a bit more subtle, the effect being more of rusticity and wildness than of heavy-handedness, yet still the chocolate shows that Menakao has a lot to learn.
Although lighter than some chocolates, out of the box, this bar is dangerously dark for Madagascar origin, and a rough, dry-looking finish without sheen suggests tempering, while adequate, is not exceptional. The effect is of something primitive, something rough-cut. Aroma instantly reveals that Menakao is opting for a dark style; it’s rich and bold, with mahogany and blackberry predominant early, brown sugar late. Hints of chocolatey in the middle have promise, but other hints of vanilla and smoke (even without vanilla actually present), are rather more ominous.
The flavour is fine but doesn’t really reveal much not already hinted at in the aroma, starting out with brown sugar and blackberry, almost a signature Ecuador-type. Chocolatey and treacle dominate the middle, and then then things start to get tannic with blackcurrant and woody along with hints of red wine. The classic citrus note expected in a Madagascar doesn’t appear, or rather is to be suspected has morphed through aggressive roasting into the blackberry and currant notes so obviously present. It’s a chocolate that belies its origin; in a blind testing, one would almost certainly assume an Ecuador Arriba.
Menakao don’t help themselves with the texture but neither do they harm themselves; it’s as the appearance would suggest, fairly average, medium smooth and with decent but not unctious creaminess. As a fine chocolate, it’s passable but it doesn’t really excite; reminiscent of many an Ecuador, its a chocolate whose interest lies more in the origin than the flavour per se. Which is less than what Menakao should strive for. An effort to generate their own style, rather than the generic, Pralus-influenced one they have at present, would enormously boost their appeal, and as a young company, they have the latitude to do so. Experimentation and practice are called for; in a few years perhaps they will be producing really interesting chocolates from an unique source. For the moment, though, it’s a bar that can be tried for reference or safely ignored, as desired.