Cocoa Barry is a chocolate maker* to chefs and also to many chocolate companies, including some of the larger, mass-market ones. Officially part of the larger company Barry Callebaut since a 1996 merger, Cocoa Barry continues to run as a mostly independent, slightly more premium brand.
A few weeks ago I was honoured to be invited to the unveiling of three new chocolates under a new collection, “Purity of Nature”. In a cinema-style presentation the company representatives explained how “seven years of research” had finally perfected a way to improve the consistency of the fermentation of the cocoa beans and combined this with a “completely traceable” silo-ing of beans to a particular type from a particular area and all sorted to eliminate defects before further processing. The result of this combination of efforts was three new chocolates that should be the most consistent that the company had ever produced. Consistency from suppliers is highly desirable for chefs and chocolatiers, so no doubt this was welcome news to many.
Not as desirable as taste, I would hope.
What was interesting was that even with all of this effort gone into the production, we were reminded that these chocolates are “intended for ganaches, mousses and tarts”, not as bars. The implicit message was that Cocoa Barry did not expect these chocolates to stand up against other fine bean-to-bar chocolate when consumed on their own. Good to know they knew this themselves because on tasting them, I have to agree: they wouldn’t. As a ganache, delicious, the chocolate shell on its own, not so much.
So what is the point, you might wonder? Why is it worthy of fanfare? Well, my guess is connected to the fact that generally beans from West Africa do not make exceptional chocolate. This might sound like a broad generalisation but it is the case of my experience and on a quick, non-scientific canvassing of my peers in the chocolate world, a widely-held belief amongst fine chocolate lovers. What Cocoa Barry have obviously attempted to do is narrowly limit the potential constraints on flavour to produce the best result possible. According to them, this took “seven years” of research into “Q Fermentation”, based on ancient techniques “used for thousands of years to make beer, cheese, wine and bread” and also involves lightly roasting the beans afterwards to bring out “even the most delicate flavours” but also “the purest and most intense cocoa flavours on the market”.
I have to admire the scientific approach and dedication to making the best product with the ingredients to hand. Even if the product itself doesn’t exactly marry up with the marketing speak. As I always tell people during the focused tasting part of the Chocolate Tours, there are so many factors that can influence the final flavour of the chocolate bar. The geek (and former Psychology student) in me loves that they’re doing their best to control the extraneous variables. I am also comforted by their promise of a fair price paid to farmers, though curious to hear what a “fair price” is.
I did find it slightly confusing that Cocoa Barry were claiming to be the “first” to successfully meddle with the fermentation process in cocoa. As they say, it’s something that’s been happening in wine and cheese for many years and, although cocoa fermentation is not my area of expertise, I find it hard to believe that no other cocoa producer or chocolate maker has successfully achieved this before. In fact, at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association conference in New York in June I listened to Nat Bletter of Madre Chocolate discuss his experimentation with adding natural bacteria to improve and encourage the fermentation of his beans in Hawaii and how he had finally hit upon a successful formula. He rightly pointed out that as a live process, fermentation is subject to variation no matter how much you try and control it. I am sure I also heard that Felchlin of Switzerland (who also produce for others) have also been successfully using similar methods.
Back to the taste: despite the chocolate eaten alone tasting quite one-dimensional there was nothing unpleasant about their flavour (well, definitely not in the dark ones, the milk still had hints of the peanut note I don’t enjoy and that I seem to find consistently in chocolate made from West African cocoa beans). The 65% was more intense in cocoa than the 70%, likely to be useful holding up the chocolate notes against red berries in a dessert, as suggested and possibly will solve my frequent complaint that many chocolate desserts just don’t taste “chocolatey” enough.
As promised, the proof was indeed in the pudding (sorry!): in the three desserts made with the new chocolates that we were offered afterwards were delicious. I couldn’t comment on how easy the chocolates were to work with, and I have to say I hope that not too many of the great chocolatiers adopt the chocolate as an enrobing chocolate, but for ganaches it is quite acceptable. I certainly enjoyed the centres of the chocolates we were sent home with demonstrating the chocolates again, made by the talented Marc Demarquette.
Whilst it is definitely far from the most amazing pure chocolate I have tasted recently, at least this was not their suggestion and I am pleased with anyone who is paying more attention to the processes and making an effort to improve the quality of cocoa and the standard of living for farmers. It’s surely good for all of us as consumers as well.
If you’re looking for the three chocolates they are:
Inaya – an “intense dark chocolate with a minimum 65% cocoa content that is ideal for making ganaches, mousses, molleaux and chocolate drinks”
Ocoao – “a distinctive 70% dark chocolate, is especially suited to thin moulding and enrobing” (and less intense than the 65%)
Alunga (41%) – “is an indulgent milk chocolate couverture that works well in ganaches and mousses”.
* A person or company who makes chocolate directly from cocoa beans.