Chocolate tasting in Wellington

Most boutique chocolate companies tell more or less the same story; machinery sourced from all over he world (the older the better), small-scale farmers in exotic places, micro scale production and a vision/passion to make artisan chocolate from bean to bar. With this in mind, how does the average consumer make head or tail of the competition? A tasting is a great place to start. In a recent tasting with Jo Coffey, prior owner of Wellington's L'affair au Chocolat I tasted bars from Canada, Holland, Australia and the Philippines, which all used imported beans, and two locally produced bars from Vanuatu and Fiji. The tasting threw up some surprising results.

Without going into too much detail, the favourites were Gabriel 80% Chuao (Venezuela) and Sirene's Ecuador 70%; someone commented they could eat more of the Fijana 72% due to it's lack of intensity; the Aelan Chocolate from Vanuatu (made with Santo Criollo beans) competed on flavour but suffered from more than a hint of smoke. The least favoured were Indonesia's Pipilten range and Australia's Bahen & Co Brazil 70%.

Getting hold of these bars is not straight forward, some coming from friends (we supplied the two Pacific Island bars) and others from online distributors of which there are at least two based in NZ. Between them they stock some of the highest rated bars made. Amedei is arguably the world's best and is available at All about Chocolate, and very well regarded American brands Taza and Dick Taylor can be found among others at The Chocolate Bar

How good is good chocolate? We had a group of friends for lunch recently and had the chance to compare a bar of Grenada Chocolate Company's 60% organic nib with a favourite New Zealand brand's 'boutique' range. Despite being stored in a fridge for nearly a year and looking much the worse for wear, the Granada chocolate left the competition in the dust and was ecstatically and unanimously praised.

On another occasion, a friend of ours was determined we would not change her preference for her supermarket purchased, NZ made favourite chocolate. After tasting a selection of bars from Pralus (including a 100%), she spat out the NZ product when asked to compare, saying it now tasted like plastic and berated us for destroying her favourite thing.

For those who want to become chocolate snobs, help is here.  The International Chocolate Awards are in their 7th year and have become well-known arbiters of good chocolate. They run regional and international awards each year. NZ made bars have already had some favourable reviews and it would be great to see NZ chocolate feature in the awards some day. Photos all taken on phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foodie tour starts in Vanuatu

A block of land north of Port Vila with a multitude of food-producing plants is now open to visitors. The brainchild of Jimmy Nipo and his wife Ledcha Nanuman, Fansa Farm Foodie Tours has been designed to showcase the best in Vanuatu’s food while also wanting to demonstrate new crop varieties and farming practices better suited to Vanuatu’s shifting weather patterns. Crops you will see on the foodie tour include pineapple, mango, pawpaw, taro, drought resistant yam,kava, corn, tamarind, banana, breadfruit, sugarcane, pepper, chilli, kumala (kumara), coconut, nangai (an almond like nut ) and manioc (cassava) which Jimmy says represents continuity: “Manioc is always there, it just keep going, it feeds us and provides our energy throughout the seasons,” he says.

Jimmy Nipo and Ledcha Nanuman come from the island of Tanna in the south of Vanuatu. Jimmy says Fansa Farm takes its name from the fansa bird (similar to a fantail ) which holds special significance as a leader in Tanna Island culture.

“The fansa leads all other birds to food. It is active, smart and creative, and never stops moving,” says Jimmy. “Fansa also means safe, and for us Ni-Vanuatu, that relates to food security which is very important for our survival” he says.

Visitors to Fansa Farm can choose between three tours ranging from two to four hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.

The Food Path provides a guided tour through the farm with refreshments and produce on offer along the way.

Food Path and ‘aelan-style’ Cooking provides a guided tour through the farm with refreshments and produce along the way followed by an opportunity to cook local dishes ‘aelan style’.

The third tour, Food Path, Port Vila Market and brunch at Lapita Cafe is offered in partnership with Port Vila’s Lapita Café, well known suppliers of high quality aelan cuisine ( the Lapita Cafe food at the opening was delicious ). The tour includes a guided tour of the farm, then a tour of the Port Vila central market, followed by brunch.

Bookings are essential. Visit www.fansafoodietours.weebly.com

 

 

 

Vanilla Pioneer departs Vanuatu

After 28 yrs of Vanilla production in Vanuatu Pierro Bianchessi has left for Italy, his homeland. An organic chemist, Bianchessi arrived in Vanuatu in 1987 and found the perfect climate for growing vanilla. He established Venui Vanilla and by 1991 demand had increased beyond what he could produce on his own land. Growers were contracted and trained from northern islands in Vanuatu, processing 2000-2500 tons of vanilla each year at the peak of production. Certified organic from 1997, Pierro marketed the vanilla himself at food shows in Europe, NZ , Australia and New Caledonia. Venui Vanilla quickly became Vanuatu’s premiere artisan food producer.

Vanilla needs a dry coolish winter of 7-8 weeks for successful pollination and although this was possible initially the amount of vanilla being processed has now dropped to 2-300kg per year. Bianchessi states this is a direct result of climate change.

Venui Vanilla now also produces peppercorns, turmeric, chillies and ginger and to reflect this has been rebranded Venui Vanilla - Spices of Vanuatu. Venui would have to process five times the amount of peppercorns to replace the value of the declining vanilla crop according to Bianchessi.

New Zealand has strong links with Venui. An Auckland based graphic designer created the cool looking soft packaging and New Zealand’s BioGro Organic Certification was achieved in 2013. This certification also covers the 200 small farmers who supply the company.

A new manager has been found and the company has been sold to LCM, a very established grocery business based in Luganville. A new cold pressed centrifugal coconut oil processing facility is being built as a result of the new investment.

Although departing, Bianchessi was optimistic the organic ethos of Venui will continue. He believes Vanuatu has a good future with food production as it remains naturally organic, the last of the Pacific Islands to be in this state.

 

Organic fruit at Te Mata | Murray Lloyd Photography

Te Mata Wine, Te Mata Cheese, Te Mata Peak may all be names recognizable to Hawkes Bay visitors and residents but Te Mata Orchard less so. Only a stone's throw from the Te Mata Cheesery, the orchard is an organic operation growing  apples, pears and plums. Ian Kiddle, who has hosted me on a couple of occasions exports produce and also supplies the Pure Fresh brand seen in New Zealand supermarkets. The domestic organic market in NZ is worth about $350 million (at last count) and more than half that value is exported. Evidence is mounting the world wants sustainable produce.

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