Chocolate Secrets of the Caribbean

After four long years I’m finally heading out to the Grenada Chocolate Festival, on the Caribbean island of Grenada (not the southern Spanish town of Granada – spelled and pronounced differently). My plane stops in Barbados for a few hours (it’s the Virgin Atlantic one and about £150 cheaper than the direct route or the one that stops in St Lucia to refuel), giving me just enough time to make a beeline for Oustins – a touristy foodie strip en route to Bridgetown frequented by burnt English people and pissed Aussies. As it turns out I’ve arrived for Friday Night Fish Fry, so it only seems right I settle for a grilled Mahimahi with rice n beans and fresh plantain, dressed with extra hot pepper and cocoa nib sauce and a rum punch to wash it down.

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Some of the best grilled mahi mahi I’ve had!

A little prop plane awaited my return to the airport, a drastic transformation from the jumbo I came over on, and in less than one hours I touched down in Grenada.

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Grow Your Own Chocolate

Since I’m fascinated with where food comes from, the next logical step in my ‘farm-to-table’ ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate adventures was to try growing my own cacao trees…in London!

It was a challenge, with the first hurdle being to get fresh pods back from Ingemann in Nicaragua through US customs. After enduring a good hours’ worth of questioning by a typically Texan border enforcement official, the pods were let through!

My cacao pod stash, on arrival at Heathrow!
My cacao pod stash, on arrival at Heathrow!

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A Northern Ireland Chocolate Quest

When you’re asked by the Academy of Chocolate to attend and speak at the Finnebrougue Fine Food Fair in Killyleagh Castle, Northern Ireland, courtesy of Food NI 2016 – the obvious answer to this request is ‘yes’.

The trip was all planned out by Food NI, and after an exhilaratingly turbulent 55 minute flight from Gatwick, I touched down in Belfast City Airport, greeted at the airport by Sharon Machala of Food NI – my chauffeur for the next 28 hours (this was very much a flying visit).

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How to Know if you’re a Chocoholic

…and what to do about it.

Please note: This article will not tell you how to to give up chocolate, that’s not the point.

The “Chocoholic”, as defined by Google and the English Oxford Dictionary reads: ‘A person who is addicted to, or very fond of, chocolate’, Wikipedia goes on to state: ‘A chocoholic is a person who craves or compulsively consumes chocolate.’ Sound familiar? There is even evidence to support this theory.

Now the drugs don't work, they just make you worse. But I know you should eat chocolate instead.
Now the drugs don’t work, they just make you worse. But I know you should eat chocolate instead.

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The Science of Tasting Chocolate

Our tongue is an amazing muscular organ, capable of detecting a range of different flavours on its taste buds. Until fairly recently it was believed the tongue resembled a ‘map’ of regions that detected these different flavours in groups – salty, sweet, sour, bitter etc as presented by German scientist David P. Hanig. Recent findings show this was in fact, a miss translation. But it’s not just the tongue and its taste buds that is important when it comes to taste and flavour detection, the nose plays an equally, if not more important role. Without your sense of smell, the range of different flavours that your tongue can detect is dampened by a staggering 60%, that’s why when you are sick you can’t taste your food much.

The Map of the tongue - actually shows areas that pick up on flavours more quickly than others.
The Map of the tongue – 1. bitter, 2. sour, 3. salty, 4. sweet – actually shows areas that pick up on flavours more quickly than others.

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The Flavour of Eco Chocolate

Alter Eco – Dark Salted Brown Butter Organic Chocolate

Alter Eco’s Organic Dark Salted Brown Butter chocolate is something every chocolate lover should have in their cacao library.

But it’s not just the silky melt-in-your-mouth texture, or the invitingly intense flavour of this fine Ecuadorian chocolate expertly blended with dark salted brown butter that should get you excited, it’s the ethos, and the story behind the company that makes this bar equally exciting.

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Island Hopping the Venetian Lagoon

Well, Taverna el Remer had certainly left its mark on me, in the form of one hell of a hangover! I mean, as I mentioned previously, the blues band was amazing and the drinks (extra strong and expertly crafted) went down all too quickly, to the point where I recall little of the night before – but my phone has managed to help me out; apparently on the way back we came across a variety of little glass sculptures which I’m sure you’ll agree are beautiful!

Glass blown bees, they are actually about the size of a real bee – amazing talent!

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Chocolate on the streets of Venice

August Bank Holiday weekend saw the boy whisk me off to Venice for a belated birthday surprise! Arriving close to midnight, we stayed in the San Sebastiano Garden Hotel; a little out of the centre, but easy walking distance to the action.

Like most trips, I like to research the destination as much as I can, and create a little map with timings and things to do at each location. Very geeky, I know, but it means that if time and/or funds are not on your side, you can still let the place get under your skin, just about.

Geeky Venice Map
Geeky Venice Map

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A Cooling Cup of Chocolate

Venice can be hot, very hot in the summer, so what better way to cool down than with a classic chocolate drink, chilled to perfection?

Vino Virtu's summer take on their classic dark hot chocolate
Vino Virtu’s summer take on their classic dark hot chocolate

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Chocolate Bars with a Conscience

 Equal Exchange Chocolates

These guys source from small farmer organizations and each bar has it’s own deep intense flavour profile, as well as enlightening stories about the farmers who produce their ingredients, AND a map of where it’s all from on the inside of the wrapper!

Each origin bar details the individual community who have harvested the beans as well as the co op information and a photograph of everyone! Just one step closer to bringing people closer to their food producers, even if they are on the other side of the world.

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