Great taste in music, a quirky sense of humour, chocolate to die for and some of the world’s best scenery – Iceland really does tick all the boxes.
Even those of you more partial to a bikini-toting, pinacolada-sipping beachside holiday can still find some solace (and outstanding chocolate) in this magical land of elf rocks, blizzards and thermal spas.
We flew with Wow Air who provided great service with a smile at a reasonable price. However, arriving in Iceland was a somewhat, err, blizzardy affair, resulting in us marveling at the giant ploughs clearing the snow as the blizzard blasted past our windows, grateful of the fact we were still holed up in a very warm plane.
An hour later and at last we were off the plane and quickly discovering just how expensive Iceland was as we stocked up on essentials in the airports mini mart. With no time to loose we booked and boarded the last shuttle bus from Keflavik to Reykjavik central. We were finally on our way. A moment of confusion between us and our bus driver meant five weary travelers, large luggage bags in tow, were very nearly stranded 2 foot deep in snow, miles from our intended accommodation. After some discussion (made better with chocolate bribes) the bus driver agreed he would take us as far as he could (he was driving a big bus not designed for the smaller more snowy roads).
ON THE CHOCOLATE HUNT:
After a few hours of much-needed sleep I was back on the road armed with a map, to meet with Oskar – Omnom’s CEO and co-founder. We were to meet in his kitchen, an hours walk from my apartment. Setting off, it soon became apparent that last night’s blizzard hadn’t had the last of it’s fun. I could feel it, grabbing at my legs, blowing snowflakes into my hood, and making it increasingly hard to read the map.
Pressing on, the blizzard worsened, at one point causing a white out making it impossible to read the map or any road signs. Eventually though, the windy streets led me to the coastal road, with fat grey snow clouds thick on the horizon – I really was in Viking country now.
Getting to the Google Maps location just in time, with snow still swirling all around, I was expecting a shop with the ‘Omnom’ sign indicating its presence. Nothing…just lots of snow, a disused petrol station and a faint whiff of chocolate. I walked past it, following my nose, which lead me straight back to the petrol station. Now running almost 10 minutes late I thought it was at least worth a try, and my luck changed – a small sign on the door proudly displayed Omnom’s distinctive geometric fox symbol, I knocked and I could see Oskar at the work bench beckoning me in.
The factory was tiny, but extremely well organised and efficient. Oskar was packing the last big bars of a large restaurant order – OmNom is getting more and more demand from Icelandic restaurants to supply their bespoke bean to bar chocolate bars for chefs. After we had finished packing the bars (I couldn’t just turn up and not help) it was time for a tour of the kitchen – which was equally as small as the res of the place – but again incredibly well organised. A wall of utensils – laid out as an almost intentional nod to the geometric patterns adorning their packaging, clean cut, well organised and neatly spaced out – stood to our right as we entered the kitchen, behind which, stood a small storage oven, keeping the chocolate at just the right temperature until it was needed for the Selmi*. Then Oskar led me to their pride and joy – a home made winnowing machine! With fresh nibs in the tray below. Further in, at the back of the kitchen, there were trays upon trays of single origin beans, roasted and ready to be winnowed. Their first (and still their biggest) supplier of beans is the award-winning Swedish cacao and chocolate producer – Bertil Akesson, whose beans are used in most of OmNom’s chocolate bars, unless stated otherwise. After I had sniffed my way around the nibs and beans and stared in awe-struck longing at the home-made winnowing machine…it was now time to investigate OmNom’s best sellers. Their three most popular bars are the Madagascar 66%, Milk and Coffee and White Chocolate and Licorice, which were all quietly conching away in their Selmi, patiently waiting to be poured into moulds. Armed with three mini plastic ice cream scoops, it was time for quality control – the most important part of chocolate production.
First up, for the purists, I try their Madagascar 66% – the familiar fruity, almost jammy notes hit my palette instantly. This bar is a classic, a mid percentage dark chocolate made from beans sourced directly from Bertil Akesson’s Madagascan cacao plantation. One of OmNom’s best sellers, a Silver winner at the International Chocolate Awards 2015, and a firm favourite of the Omnom team – it’s not hard to see why. Madagascan beans have a particular penchant for displaying a range of sweeter more fruity notes than their West African counterparts which are (at least in the main stream public’s eyes) classically bitter, often bland and sometimes even sour. Which I why I consider Madagascan beans a perfect ‘welcome’ bean for people looking at ‘getting into’ dark chocolate. This said, however, Bertil’s beans in particular have a deeper hint of cherry to them, than the classic ‘red berry’ notes of other Madagascan producers.
Having tried the pure chocolate, it was now time to move onto the flavoured bars. Their milk and coffee chocolate (45% of cacao beans) is divine – whether taken at perfect temper straight from the Selmi, or broken into delicate chunks along the intended fault lines of their chocolate bars, this one should become a staple in anyone’s chocolate cupboard. Made with Nicaraguan coffee beans that they grind fresh on site, you really feel like you are enjoying an expertly prepared cappuccino from an award-winning barista from fresh coffee beans – but no, you’re eating chocolate. It’s not just the freshness of the coffee beans and cacao beans that have this effect on the chocolate, I find coffee in chocolate works best when blended with a high quality high cocoa content milk chocolate, as it retains and enhances more of the higher coffee notes, due to them not fighting for attention with the stronger notes of a dark chocolate. Unfortunately, at this point in time, most of the chocolate world hasn’t caught on to milk chocolate and coffee, so I suggest if you need to stock up, a quick check online for OmNom chocolates would be time well spent.
Now for the all time Icelandic (and Scandinavia in general) favourite – chocolate and licorice. Not normally a licorice fan myself (even when combined with chocolate), this one is a pleasant surprise. Blended with a white chocolate, you would expect it to be white, but NO! Using the powdered licorice root (the same once used to ‘sweeten’ tobacco), it is blended into the chocolate at tempering stage which results in the chocolate turning from a light yellow to a brown colour, causing it to frequently be mistaken for milk chocolate. Licorice and white chocolate prejudices aside, this is one chocolate you do not want to miss, again another perfect example of a top quality high percentage non-dark chocolate being paired with a specific flavour. Even if you really aren’t a licorice fan, give this one a go and you may be pleasantly surprised.
After soaking up a good couple of hours of Oskar’s time, it was time to make my way back to the center of town. I had a sight seeing tour and a music festival to attend, and now had enough chocolate to power me for the rest of the day.
*A Selmi machine is a brand of machine used to keep chocolate churning at held in constant temper until it is ready to be poured into moulds.