NB: this is an old post moved from my old Chocolate Reviews blog.
What separates a chocoholic from a chocolate lover is that a chocoholic's appreciation stops at the chocolate itself. Whilst a chocolate lover consumes the story behind the chocolate. The trend in recent years has been to create chocolate with a good story about it - be it origin, bean or whatever. However, what sets great chocolate from the rest is its ability to improve the world.
Oialla, a Spanish girl's name with an unknown meaning, is a specific brand from the fine chocolate maker, chef and entrepreneur Rasmus Bo Bojensen. The bar is made with cacao from 26 islands in the southern reaches of the Amazon basin in the Itenez region of Beni department of Bolivia. As you can imagine this is a difficult to reach part of the world and Rasmus reportedly has to take five flights, a day in a canoe navigating the Amazon and then fifteen hours hiking across the jungle to get to the source of the cacao. View Larger Map
Anybody can get cacao beans from Ivory Coast, Ghana or Indonesia, and although wild cacao from the Beni region of Bolivia have become a touch more ubiquitous in the recent past thanks to the efforts of Felchlin, the differentiating aspect of this bar is the hands-on approach that Rasmus takes and that people and the terrain are viewed as just as important as the cacao itself. One of my business principles is that the last five per cent of anything you do can be the difference between producing something good and something great. When Rasmus first encountered these beans he felt they were over-fermented and encouraged the local harvesters to ferment them for two days fewer. He and the rest of the team, including Marcelo Baldivieso and David Vacaflores not only put a great deal of effort striving for perfection, but they're taking the difficult path of actually trying to improve the livelihoods of the communities. For many chocolate makers and confectioners in particular, this sort of Corporate Social Responsibility Policy is a marketing ploy, often devised by those that have never caught sight of a cacao tree in real life. However, I get the impression that Rasmus' statements on this front are sincere.
From what I can gather, the Bolivian government actually own the land the wild beans are grown on, but allow the local communities to harvest them and play a part in improving their livelihoods. I feel they also understand that there is a great potential to improve the local environment by using the income the beans generate. And this is an aspect that Rasmus is keen to make known - during the initial success, the profits from the sale of this chocolate will be re-invested in the local area to improve how the beans are looked after. This can only be a good thing. Of course, the best beans cost a great deal in relative terms, but they don't cost the earth on an environmental one. This 50g box of little 5g chocolate squares cost £11.80, whilst a 100g box costs £16.82. For the vast majority of chocoholics this would seem expensive. I would have no reservation, however, in suggesting that the chocolate is worth it.
The presentation is box is high quality and manages to convey the sort of experience the chocolate contained within delivers. The decision to divide the chocolate into the ten small squares is a curious one. It does, however, differentiate them from all other chocolate makers, apart from Amedei. Although I commend Rasmus for doing something different, there is a rebellious streak within me that prefers not to be 'told' how to consume the chocolate. But, by the same token, it'd be a shame to have it in bar form when you don't know the extent of the quality of the bar and then initially consume it as you would any other bar. We're talking about the haute cuisine of chocolate making where presentation and taking one's time to enjoy the experience is of the order.
Although the chocolate doesn't taste anything like acidic, the aroma does have the slightest edge but is far more restrained than any other bar that could be considered of a similar ilk. But there is a rich, warm red-wine character to it.
The first time I tasted a piece of this chocolate I was taken aback by how much of a journey it takes you on - perhaps as adventurous as Rusmus' own when he visits the region. It really is a remarkable mild chocolate which has both floral and nutty. There are some wonderful mango flavours that come through and at the very edges the slightest hint of red fruits - perhaps like a summer fruit salad? After trying the one piece I do get why they're individually wrapped - it's to slow you down and enjoy the chocolate. The flavour available from the one piece lasts an eternity. You don't have to consume this chocolate like some cinema confectionery. In fact I'd say it'd be whole unjust to consume more than one piece every five minutes.
The texture is also sublime and divine. Every now and then I do get the odd crunch of some of sugar crystal, which incidentally, originates from Brazil, and that's all. He doesn't use soya lecithin to control the texture or vanilla to hide any short-comings as there just aren't any. The natural nature and unmanaged cacao ensures that it has a more restrained, less acidic flavour which just doesn't need controlled by the use of additives. All that is need is skill and patience to hone the flavours.
I know I'm a lover of robust, punchy, characterful chocolate. But there certainly is a place for chocolate that soothes your senses rather than shocks them. Classical music can be just as satisfying as the Rolling Stones or Goldfrapp - it's all about context. Some may not be so forgiving, they may view it as too elegant, too willing to please, and perhaps even too pretentious. But it's nothing of the sort. It's one heck of a good chocolate that should be enjoyed in much a different way to most fine chocolate.