Thursday, January 24, 2008

Willie and the Chocolate Factory

What are the odds of the first man to start making chocolate from the bean in the UK to have the name of Willie? Love it. Mr Dahl, I’m sure, would be very pleased.

The lovely chaps from Seventypercent invited me to a tasting for Willie Harcourt-Cooze. To be filmed as part of a four-part documentary showing in March. I’m guessing this section is demonstrating the chocolate revolution in the UK and exactly why there will be a demand for Willie’s chocolate liquor in stores. Now, I should clarify: Mr Harcourt-Cooze Is not making chocolate as we know it. He has a farm ( a “hacienda”) in Venezuela and rather than selling his beans to other manufacturers he decided to grind the beans to liquor himself. Liquor is the early stage of chocolate, you will see it as an ingredient on the back of chocolate (also seen as cocoa solids). It doesn’t yet have sugar mixed with it and hasn’t been conched with additional cocoa butter and the sugar to make it smoother and more palatable (this process destroys a lot of the flavanoids that give us antioxidants but, on the upside, remove the bitterness (one and the same in this case, unfortunately).

Only recently, two UK businesses have started to make chocolate themselves, but even these companies buy in the liquor. The making of chocolate they do is all in the blending of the liquor to their own times and temperatures and with varying amounts of sugar. Willie’s product will be completely niche in the UK. It’s not a big production but it will appeal to all of you who, like me, love the idea of stripping food right back to the raw ingredient and then messing about with it in your own kitchen. In order for us to get a taste for his product Willie made it into a tartufo (the liquor, a small amount of sugar and cream). You could tell that the quality was good. There’s a definite difference to the taste and texture because it’s pre-conching but it was miles better than cheaper chocolate in stores and a better flavour profile than some of the other pure bars we tasted on the night. Unfortunately because it was all being filmed I couldn’t really take any pictures but the documentary debuts the 2nd Thursday in March. The tasting is unlikely to be until at least the third hour but I think the whole series, beginning at the plantation in Venezuela, will be just fascinating.

The first line of the liquor goes on sale exclusively in Selfridge’s on February 18th. Sometime in the next few month’s I’m hoping to get down to Devon to see his factory, and one day I might run a chocolate tour to his plantation in Venezuela. Now that would be cool.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Happy New Year!

OK, it's a little late, but it isn't quite Christmas again yet. Though I'm sure that this year it will arrive as quickly as it seemed to last year! In the meantime, there's a lot of chocolate to eat.

Back in the UK now and I'm tempted on almost every corner by quality European brands and my chocolate consumption has returned to its sky-high levels, unfortunately this hasn't been accompanied by resuming regular exercise. Oops. Though I have been doing quite a bit of wandering around London in my research for the 2nd Chocolate Tour, which will launch in the next few months (hooray!).

I hope you all had a fabulous start to 2008. We did, celebrating at home with great friends and great food (well, the ingredients were good, I shouldn't shout too loud as I made most of it). We did have lovely homebaked bread (not made by me) and our friends brought taramasalata from Fishworks (soooo good, if you haven't tried it and you are anywhere near a Fishworks restaurant, go now!) and they also bought chocolate cakes. So we had two chocolate desserts, the one I prepared (to be more specific, this is one I had only got as far as getting the ingredients out for but decided to make even after hearing they had brought another chocolate dessert) and the Christmas Logs from La Maison du Chocolat. The home-made dessert was a peach and chocolate pudding. What can I say? it's Winter here, and hot chocolate pudding was required. I feel I should perhaps clarify that we also had a main course of baked salmon, kale and hazelnut and parsley mash potatoes. I'm getting hungry writing this...

Three days later I was treated to dinner in Claridge's. We discovered they do a fabulous deal on a three course meal. Delicious food, and they use Valhrona Manjari in their chocolate dessert (though the raspberry was actually the tastier dessert, I think).

If you have found this site through Red Magazine, welcome! I hope to see you on a tour sometime!

Now it's really time for dinner. Wishing you all good food and good chocolate and good health for 2008!

Back soon...