The juxtaposition between the salubrious lives of those that purchase fine chocolate from the likes of Paul A. Young and the mere existence of those that are at the genesis of a bar’s life is as troubling as it is stark. But within it exists a paradox that just has to change.
Plaudits are given to chocolatiers in abundance. They are renowned, revered and exalted. Forgotten, however, are the bands of people which many don't even know exist. These people, who often can't afford life's bare essentials, are forgotten in the whole chocolate making process.
Chocolatiers the world over acquire couverture: chocolate already made but awaiting the skilled touch of a craftsman to turn it into the chocolate treats we all love. It's far from an easy task I know, but what's infinitely more troublesome is taking unroasted beans from a supplier and turning them into chocolate and then those treats you crave. Those that have a foot in the chocolate making and the chocolatier 'camp' have stepped that direction, known that I know of have moved from the chocolatier to chocolate maker way of doing things. Until Paul A. Young.
Anyone could try and make wonderful chocolate the conventional way. A few do actually succeed in creating something worthwhile. But none, that I am aware of make chocolate in this more wholesome way - with the shell of the bean still on.
When I first entered the world of chocolate I attended an event and was given a roasted bean. The lady gave it to me. I bit in, but to her disgust I hadn't removed the shell. It is this "you're doing it wrong" aspect of the chocolate industry that still irks me today. You'll share a photo of someone making chocolate and you'll get a load of other chocolate makers saying "they're doing it wrong". My response has always been: I don't care how they do it, as long as the chocolate tastes bloody good. In latter years I've appended it with "as long as the growers aren't getting screwed too".
It's this notion of not changing a winning formula that is the most annoying aspect of the chocolate industry. The second most annoying feature are the gimmicks chocolatiers come out with to gain attention and sales. What is so often missing is: doing something because it is simply the right thing to do. Using couverture from large corporations who have lavish offices and large corporate hospitality budgets does little for those growers and farmers earning less than a pint of milk a day. Paul may be acquiring his beans from Menakao (I love them, especially Valerie) is cutting part of that wasted expense out, but this is just a test run, I'm sure Paul will be buying beans direct from growers and producing micro-batch chocolate where even more of the price of the bar goes to support people.
And this is the purpose of the two bars I have before me. It is a test to see if people like us (including Dom who has done a wonderful review) think of the chocolate. The approach is unique however. Paul doesn't use a winnower to remove the husks, he uses a piddly little melanger which any home enthusiast can acquire and invests a great deal of his and his staff's time monitoring it. There's none of full blown, highly scientific approach that I've seen from even Hotel Chocolat's rhudimentary bean to bar "factory" - I thought that was basic until I saw Paul whip out his blender (a posh one though).
Witnessing the chocolate making process from start to almost finish (excluding the tempering, moulding, ageing and packaging) we could witness how so much of the natural flavour of the bean is kept in the chocolate. I'm a huge fan of Menakao's own chocolate but I must say that Paul's chocolate made with the husk is a step change in quality. How Paul can scale his approach and keep the quality high is another thing.
But it's not just about the bloody brilliant 73% chocolate he's made with the beans, nor the 64% which has a softer, sweeter and nuttier flavour that I love - and boy, do I love it! But its the water ganaches his team made with the chocolate - they're so good the EU are most probably already in committee to regulate them.
I want to say its all about the flavour because its just so fantastic. But that is to do Paul's raison d'etre an injustice. He started out on this journey eighteen months or so ago to ensure that not only was excellence part of every chocolate he creates but more financial reward is passed further down the production chain. It's so easy to get lost in the flavour and its understandable that the unusual production processes are at the forefront of your mind as you tuck into the ganaches. But a core feature of this current batch of whole bean to bar chocolate is that it is just the first step of a British chocolatier doing what's right for the custodians of fine cocoa beans.
With that I leave you and tuck into the last of the ganaches.