Did you know that Vietnam was producing cacao until the Vietnam war intruded? I didn’t. Currently, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the cacao industry has been expanding at breakneck speed, with trees mainly grown in three areas: Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, the south-eastern region, and the Central Highlands.
For the past five years André Stengel, Vietcacao’s founder, has been growing beans in the Mekong Delta and sending them to France to be used by chocolatiers and chefs. Stengel’s work history, as head of a high school and VP of the French Confectioners & Chocolatiers Association, has clearly equipped him with the necessary diplomatic, management, and culinary skills for the job.
Vietcacao is fully invested in an ethical and sustainable development program. They have also been training pupils from the Bến Tre School for the Handicapped to learn the various aspects of the cacao industry.
I was lucky enough to sample four bars, and a cache of burgundy-mahogany colored pods which I immediately ground up into a supremely aromatic coarse powder to use on various savory dishes like: deviled eggs, chili, pilafs, Molé, vinaigrettes, quick sautés of vegetables and chicken with smoked paprika, garlic, dijon mustard and olive oil. I also sprinkled this magic powder on an open-faced sandwich of almond butter, home-made nectarine chutney, and thinly sliced avocado. In sweets, I sprinkled it over ice cream with a splash of Kahlúa, added it to tempered chocolate for textural interest, mixed it into cookies, and dusted it over fruit salad. The possibilities are endless.
All four bars I tried are quite different and worthy of attention.
70% Mint has an assertive but not overwhelming herbal presence, exactly the balance I seek in this combination. Frankly, I could eat the whole 100 gram bar as it lulled me into a minty stupor. No exaggeration, as mint is known for both its rejuvenating and relaxing qualities.
Their 70% bar with tiny bits of ground, roasted nibs is very different from most of the nib studded chocolates I have tried. Here, the crunch and intensity of actual cacao is more of a footnote than an in-your-face experience.
The 40% milk is a very comforting bar whose dairy notes are a bit more acidic than milk chocolate produced in the US or UK. It is that delicate edge that takes it above your normal milk chocolate. A great choice for those looking for a higher cacao content milk.
70% dark, the base for their mint and nib bars, is rapturous by itself. I could never call this a plain bar, though it is unadulterated, since there are so many flavors and textures: plum, raisin, hints of soil, light citrus notes, woodsy undertones, a lovely floral scent, and a lingering clean, fresh, slightly dry long finish, all in a perfectly creamy texture. Not only is this well-tempered bar great as-is, it would also be wonderful for tempering and chocolate desserts. Right now, I am thinking of mixing shards of it with some Greek halvah (just sesame seeds and honey, from Amazon.com) into dark chocolate organic ice cream.
If you are hankering for more news from Vietcacao, take a look at their beautiful and informative blog. Just google: “Vietcacao blog” and have google translate it for you.