A rare treat
THE Mayans introduced chocolate to the Spanish Conquistadors, who took it back to Spain in the 16th century – and the world has been in love with chocolate ever since.
However, for about the past 100 years, the majority of chocolate has come from Forastero cacao beans grown in West Africa, with smaller proportions coming from the Criolla variety in Cuba and from inferior hybrid varieties grown in South- East Asia.
In 2007, American mining caterers Dan Pearson and Brian Horsely were working in the remote Maraon River Valley high in the Andes of northern Peru when, as reported in the New York Times, “they saw some strange trees with footballsized pods growing right out of their trunks”.
The trees were found to belong to the original and ancient cacao strain called nacional, the mother strain of all of today’s cacao varieties but thought to have been wiped out by disease in Ecuador in 1916.
“The magnitude of the find is bigger than anything I have known,” Swiss chocolate expert Franz Ziegler was reported as saying.
Named Fortunato 4, after the family found farming the trees, this pure nacional chocolate is not only available in Tasmania, but Igor Van Gerwen, from the House of Anvers in Latrobe, has secured exclusive rights to the product in Australia.
When he found out about the discovery, Igor also found there was no one distributing Fortunato 4 in Australia.
He flew in 2kg as a trial in May and immediately ordered two tonnes and tied up Australian exclusivity. And you can now taste the results wherever they sell Anvers chocolates in Hobart.
“This is a very complex, powerful chocolate … it’s like no other,” he said. “I’m from Belgium and I’ve tasted the world’s greatest chocolate, and this is the richest, the most exquisite by far. This is what chocolate would have tasted like when it was being enjoyed by royalty when first introduced to Europe.”
He said unlike other varieties, the nacional pods contained both purple and white beans ( not to be confused with white chocolate), which before their identification were blended in Lima with other varieties and processed simply as commodity chocolate.
Now they are dried and fermented separately and shipped to Switzerland for roasting and processing into couverture, using traditional roller- conching equipment dating to 1879.
Unlike all other chocolate, Igor said nacional did not require any added vanilla to boost flavours, nor did it need any no soy lecithin to keep it liquid.
“The properties of the chocolate mean it stays liquid at very low temperatures and is very easy to work with,” he said.
“It contains 68 per cent dark chocolate and a whopping 30 per cent cocoa butter.
“In my 30 years of searching for different varieties of single- origin chocolate, I have never tasted a chocolate this intense.
“It’s not something you bring to a picnic, but chocolate to be enjoyed after a good meal with a glass of cognac and some coffee.”
POWERFUL PRODUCT: Clockwise from above, House of Anvers owner Igor Van Gerwen; assistant confectioner Kirsty Anderson and trainee confectioner Emily Burrows sample chocolate- covered honeycomb; the House of Anvers at Latrobe.