Are these the Best Craft Chocolate Bars in the Philippines?
Plus that time I had a Ratatouille moment at a cacao farm
Since this is technically a business, I was able to override my stingy Cebuano soul and enrolled in this course on Mastering Chocolate Flavor. It is an investment, I told myself.
The course requires consuming a variety of chocolates. Sometimes you need to make sacrifices for the sake of education.
Which chocolate bars do I use for the different lessons? Here are the requirements:
- Two identical chocolate bars of any sort or any percentage.
- Two high-quality fine chocolate bars from the same origin country or region and two more from a different country or region. If possible, choose bars from different makers.
- Two high-quality fine chocolate bars from the same chocolate maker and two more from a different chocolate maker.
- Four to six different bars of dark chocolate to taste and compare with each other for a group tasting session.
- Six bonbons from each of three to four different chocolatiers.
Rosario’s is a brand by Nhel and Eyeth Belviz. Nhel is a second generation chocolate maker and Eyeth got her chocolate training in Belgium. We have been testing out cacao liquor from different sources (officially for business research), and theirs have been the fruitiest we’ve tried, at 7 days fermentation and roasted mild.
The chocolate maker behind Cacao & Beyond is Ressie Dicon. She will be one of the representatives from the Philippines in an upcoming chocolate event in Paris. I’m hoping her chocolates will win. Her cacao liquor is roasted higher than that of the Belvizes and is fermented for 5 days, and has been most “chocolatey” among the ones we have tried.
Both are located in Davao, Rosario’s in Calinan and Cacao & Beyond in Compostella Valley. Their beans are Trinitario (for cacao nerds: UF18, BR25, PBC123 and W10, according to Nhel). Trinitario beans originated in the cacao labs of Latin America in the past decades, a fruit of breeding the most robust and most generous varieties of cacao.
I’ll visit Davao next week, so I’ll have to stock up (for the sake of education!). Rosario’s and Cacao & Beyond are part of Cacao City, so I might as well get to know the other chocolates there as well.
I’d also love to use Criollo bars as well for this tasting class, but they are so hard to find! Criollo is what we call the cacao varieties we got through the Galleon trade with Mexico, and which our forebears propagated in backyards across the country in the past 400 years (there’s an effort to brand them as “Filipino Aromatico” perhaps inspired by the Nacional of Ecuador?).
I was so fortunate to have visited Chris Fadriga’s Criollo farm in Bago, Negros, early this year, when he just got his first batch of chocolates from his first harvest of cacao. At the time of the visit, Chris had collected 14 cultivars from families across the Philippines (Criollo scions which he grafts into Trinatario rootstocks).
Perhaps it was because of the atmosphere of the farm and our conversation. Perhaps it was the long absence of non-commercial chocolate in my experience of food. But perhaps it was the Criollo flavor that gave me a Ratatouille moment as I tasted Chris’s Criollo bar (the one with the black packaging).
That specific chocolate flavor was like a tunnel through decades, connecting me to my 10 year-old self, who was one lucky boy, having had a supply of sikwate made from Criollo beans from his lola’s garden in Balamban, Cebu.
Remember that scene in that movie with the rat chef? At the climax of the film, the hardass food critic tasted the chef’s Ratatouille, a simple dish of rural France. When it hit his palette, he was transported back to his childhood, and his dour face transformed into one of pure joy.
Time travel via chocolate. Freakin’ insane. My Filipino machismo is preventing me from writing more about the inner drama that ensued.
I tried another Criollo bar some months after. It was from Krak Chocolade, and used Mexican beans. The common note I remember is citrus. That was probably a coincidence. The only way to confirm this is to try out more Criollo bars.
No Ratatouille moment for this one. That time travel was probably a one-off thing. I’ve consumed — mostly drank — so much chocolate since then, that my brain is probably saturated with fresh neural connections around the flavors of chocolate, burying that gateway to my childhood.
But I continue to seek that secret portal. Perhaps this is ultimately why I’m doing this.
There’s a continuing debate whether Criollo is truly superior in terms of flavor, or if well-fermented Trinitarios could achieve the same or greater quality and complexity. I’d love to find out myself. If I could only get hold of Criollo bars!
I’m in Makati as I write this, 12 minutes or 3.5 km away from Auro’s main store, according to Google Maps. Might as well get some bars there. Then I should probably get some Malagos when I’m in Davao. For the sake of education and business research!
And that, my friends, is how you convince your stingy calculating left brain to let you buy bars of glorious chocolate.