A rare treat

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Graeme Phillips

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.”

Pic­tures: CHRIS KIDD

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.

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