Lately, there has been a lot of talk about raw chocolate. While Vintage Plantations, founded by Pierrick Chouard, does not make a strictly “raw” bar, they like the essence of their beans to shine forth; so, they don’t add vanilla, they sweeten with raw sugar cane, and the result is unique. Whichever bar you try, the antique national cocoa beans from Ecuador loudly proclaim their heritage.
What does that mean? When you take a bite of any VP product: bars, chocolate covered nibs, or truffles, you know you are eating the real thing. Their cacao is sourced through farmers who have passed the Rainforest Alliance certification process. The Alliance was formed to help Ecuadorean farmers get certified. Vintage Plantations Chocolates had to design their own commodity chain and source the cocoa beans directly from the farmers. The Alliance believed the smartest way to engage the farmers was to introduce them to a comprehensive sustainable farm management program, which encompasses all aspects of cocoa farming: chemicals, fertilizers, waste reduction, and water conservation.
In a recent conversation Mr. Chouard said, “I am getting email form all the traders from Ecuador who want to sell me cocoa beans: exactly the system we are avoiding: We buy directly from the farmer and avoid the traders. It is so hard to access the farmers and work with them. They are under the traders control, and have very little opportunity to increase their income. That’s why they sell their land, and give up. The land is then bought by rich investors, who congregate it into one piece, put in a manager, and select high volume hybrids instead of the native cacao being grown there.”
In other words, when you buy a VP product you are not only getting something delicious, but you are really making a difference.
As I always say, it’s nice when your chocolate has a pedigree; but, all the PC cred in the world won’t make up for a poor product. Luckily, VP’s wares are designed to sate all cravings from extreme dark to milk, and they succeed.
My favorite bar was the 75% Dark with Macadamia Nuts. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience: crunchy, buttery chopped nuts enhance the smooth, perfectly sweetened chocolate. These beans produce a non-acidic chocolate that’s easy to eat and gentle on the palate. Even in the 90% bar, that mildness was only slightly offset by a hint, almost a molecular memory, of the soil. The 100% bar had a drier finish, some coffee, leather, and stronger soil notes. The difference between the 90% and the 100% was far more striking than I would have thought. What struck me was how smooth a 90% bar could be considering VP does not add cocoa butter to their dark line. I actually thought it was just as easy to eat and enjoy the 90% as the 65%, a very rare experience.
VP’s truffles were just marvelous. I was particularly thrilled with the Praline of caramelized pistachio and peanuts, the tea infused Vanilla in a milk ganache, and the Expresso in a dark ganache. The Salty Caramel was a great, more liquidy, rendition than is typical. Heavenly.
I also tried four milk bars with a 38% cacao content. VP uses only whole milk, the way milk chocolate was originally conceived. Crunchy Almond Cream was an atypical bar of milk chocolate with creamy almond paste and toasted almond slivers. I found it soothing and interesting, as the little bits of roasted almond punctuated a marzipan-inspired experience. Milk with Sea Salt Crystals was creamy but not unctuous, and the salt added a more adult finish. Whole Milk is a plain, classic bar. Latte Mocha adds some ground espresso and instant coffee for an extra kick and a bit of subtle crunch.
I have tried many dark chocolate covered cocoa nibs and VP’s are among those with a less sugary profile. The couverture actually adds smoothness to a totally crunchy experience. The nine ounce bag has a re-closable top that makes it user-friendly.