Last weekend I had the great pleasure of returning to The School of Artisan Food to take part in an Artisan Chocolate making workshop hosted by the award winning Ottar Chocolate. It was such a joy being back on the historic grounds of The Welbeck Estate, its sandstone buildings glimmering in the spring sunshine, framed by fields in a rainbow of green.
Shelly was our guide for the day and it was apparent from the outset that chocolate runs through her veins, blood may be thicker than water but chocolate is thicker still! She shared her knowledge about the origin of the beans and I found it fascinating to learn what real chocolate is. The link between cocoa beans and tea leaves is clear; it truly matters where the product comes from and how it is processed. As with many crops the soil, altitude, weather and atmosphere all impact on the flavour. This seems a logical link when talking about wine, coffee and tea but chocolate seems to be the black sheep of this family. Let’s face it we all reach for a bar of galaxy or dairy milk when we get a sugar craving but that is exactly the issue, it’s a sugar craving and so far removed from chocolate.
My palate is used to detecting the subtle flavours in tea, appreciating hints of malt, spice or fruit in different brews, but could I tune in to chocolate? We took a taste test with beans from two origins, Madagascan and Brazilian. Like a sommelier of chocolate we used all of our senses to experience each. Starting with the Madagascan I noted it didn’t immediately melt with the warmth of my fingers into a gooey, sticky mess. Snapping the chocolate drop in half released the familiar aroma before I popped it into my mouth, letting it melt slowly. Solid dissolved to liquid on my tongue and it hit my taste buds with an unexpected citrus zing. The texture was unmistakably chocolate but the flavour was creamy, cut through with sharp lemon and a floral undertone. The Brazilian taster was still smooth but held a more nutty, toasted flavour. Deeper and richer it stayed on the palate with a comforting warmth of roasted beans. The differences were notable and could not be disputed; I finally understood what chocolate tastes like!
My taste buds were alive and in turn ignited my imagination. The kitchen soon became a hive of activity with a smorgasbord of fresh ingredients on offer; herbs, spices, fruit, nuts and, to my relief, teas! Shelly guided us through making salted caramel and tempering chocolate. She offered advice on balancing flavours as we raided the ingredients to create the perfect truffle. I was content lost in this chocolate paradise, coco powder in my hair and a workstation looking similar to an edible Pollack masterpiece.
It was a day spent with like minded people, learning and laughing. As always the school were attentive hosts offering an array of freshly made salads for lunch, the pea and mint hummus with herby focaccia was so delicious I had to have seconds…..and thirds! You can taste the freshness in every dish and the ethos of the school runs through every product and course they offer.
A perfect part of this artisan puzzle is Ottar chocolates, creating divine sweet pastries and truffles from high quality ingredients. The cocoa beans are ethically sourced from farms where the workers are treated well, their children are in school and the product is processed with care and respect. The passion for every step of this artisan process is evident in the work this husband and wife team put in, lovingly transforming chocolate into delicious treats which can be enjoyed (almost) guilt free.
Next time you have a chocolate craving think about the bar you choose. Don’t automatically reach for the sugar hit, why not explore the bean to bar process and select something where you can savour the flavour and awaken your taste buds!
Ottar Chocolate, The Welbeck Estate, Worksop, S80 3LT TEL: 01909 512579