I walk out of the Neuilly-Sur-Seinne metro stop and see a farmers market in front. I go through it, wishing I had a kitchen to cook all of the seasonal treats, but as I am running late, I don't stop. I walk down the street and one more when I see a lady walking in front of me with a trolley full of products. She enters a shop and disappears. I know it is Catherine Cluizle that I have to meet. It is cold, and I order a tea, embarrassing myself by infusing it the wrong way.
We sit down and the waiter brings a plate with plantation chocolates as we are talking about that today. My passion and my daily piece of chocolate.
The idea about plantation chocolates started 15 years ago when chocolate suppliers began to be disappointed with the quality of the chocolate (not the beans). The idea was born to do things differently, to raise the quality of chocolate, focusing on plantations that usually belong to a family (not a cooperative). They were the first chocolate producers to make plantation chocolates that are called differently today, putting the name of the exact plantation of the packaging. They were the first, but as always, there are followers. Some producers make premier cru chocolates by mixing different plantation beans in one bar, whereas MC makes them from one plantation only and can prove where it comes from - one place.
Although many people work in the company, even today the chocolates are chosen by the owner and chief chocolatier Marc Cluizel by looking at the territories and regions. The idea behind every new plantation is to reveal the most interesting aromatic notes from the specific region. It is Marcs' decision still.
Gone are the days when he had to look carefully for plantations and families that would work with him. His high reputation is doing its magic: they come to him. The factory is known for its high quality, and today many planters come directly to the company to show their cacao beans. There is a story of a girl from the Mokaya plantation. She was so determined to show the quality of her beans that she not only sent them but got on the plane and delivered them to Marc Cluizel herself. They are still working together today.
I am living proof of the flavours you can taste in the chocolate. I love Mangaro (65%), which comes from one plantation. It has a character that speaks to me. And I love mango. Later I discovered that mango grows around this plantation – they fall to the ground and feed the earth with their juices and flavours, which then appear in the chocolate. This is how important the soil of each cacao bean plantation is because you can discern the various tastes that differentiate one plantation from another. Production methods do not differ.
It is the same in chocolates – terroir is essential, but it is different as the taste and quality will almost always be the same. Of course, there can be a bit of a difference, but it will not be huge. For them, it is important, but not so easy to have and keep the identity of each chocolate and plantation. It is all about processing and know-how. So it is something we have mastered in many years.
Mokaya Noir (65%) is one of two organic chocolates in their assortment. The beans are grown on a plantation in Mexico. The first thing you notice when tasting the chocolate is a distinct cacao and fruit taste that slowly transforms into nuances of dried fruits.
El Jardin (69%) resembles notes of berries and honey. It is like walking in a berry garden with a jar of honey and caramel in your hands.
Los Anconès (67%) is the second organic chocolate. The cacao beans come from Saint-Domingue and are transformed into chocolate that tastes of red berries and licorice at first but later raisins and dried apricots — one of the chocolates that received the Academy of Chocolate gold medal.
Vila Gracinda Noir (67%) cacao beans come from São Tomé in Africa and taste of roasting and flavours that combine with mild licorice and tropical fruits.
Mangaro Noir (65%) comes from Madagascar, and the flavour contains the hints of mango I have already mentioned, as well as citrus and ginger.
Mangaro Lait (50%) is milk chocolate prepared from the same Madagascar beans mixed with milk to create a beautiful creamy caramel, ginger, and honey taste sensation.
Riachuelo (70%) is a mildly spiced, profoundly dense chocolate filled with aromas of caramel, cacao, and sweet dried fruit.
Riachuelo lait (51%) - the spices and earthy flavors are mixed with milk and resemble a slowly melting creamy feeling.
Regardless of the quality of the beans, the fermentation process is even more important because it is precisely the fermentation process that will later create the distinct flavour of each chocolate. It is the foundation. If good beans are not fermented well, the end result will not be ideal. The method and length of fermentation depend on the producer, and one change or lack of attention can be costly – the resulting chocolate can be completely different than intended. Only after fermentation does the roasting process begin. This, of course, is also important because each producer decides how long to roast the beans to create a specific flavour.