In the north west of Madagascar is the region of Ambanja, a region responsible for producing some of the fruitiest chocolate that you’re likely to taste. The infamous Sambirano Valley is contained within the region of Ambanja, where Bertil Akesson grows cacao on his 2300 hectare family estate, growing both criollo and trinitario varieties. With an almost unbelievable amount of chocolate awards, this cocoa is well sort after by chocolate makers, with each imparting their own style on the cocoa beans. Once these trinitario beans are harvested they’re shipped to Haddington just east of Edinburgh to Chocolate Tree’s factory where husband and wife team Alastair & Friederike Gower turn these beans into one of Chocolate Tree’s chocolate bars.
I’ve tried quite a bit of cocoa from Ambanja and I’ve tried a few Madagascan dark milks as well now, having tried something very similar from Pump Street Bakery with their 58% Ambanja milk. These beans are unmistakeably fruity with big red fruit flavours and acidities that represent themselves strongly in dark or extra dark bars, but here we have an example of them combined with milk. In earthy or chocolatey cocoa the mix with milk provides a softening of the bitter notes and an increase in accessible caramel flavours, but the introduction of milk provides something very different when combined with acidic chocolate. While there is still a softening and an increase in caramel sugar tones, there’s an additional balance that’s required between the acidity and the milky/creamy flavours, thankfully fat and acidity work well together and so it’s possible to bring together something interesting and something accessible. I’m hoping this bar does just that, provide something interesting and something accessible while offering a set of smooth balanced creamy tones that match up with some bright red fruit. Opening the bar – I’m always pleased to find two individually wrapped 40g bars, one for now and one for later – there’s the familiar uneven flower print blocks that you can expect with Chocolate Tree and a light milky cocoa colour. Snapping a piece off, it’s surprisingly crisp for a dark milk featuring a light acidity with notes of creamy fruit and hint of green aromas. Placing a piece in my mouth, it has a smooth texture with some slightly rough butter textures and a creamy tonality. To taste the bar opens with strong caramel flavours that progress to the dark sugar notes of demerara sugar and biscuits, from here it slowly develops more cream and fruit notes, with a subtle soft strawberry flavour and heaps of creaminess. It reminds me a lot of strawberries dipped in dark chocolate eaten with clotted cream, it has a real English summer dessert feel to it. Towards the end the caramelized strawberry notes continue as a base of dark buttery sautéed mushroom notes comes in to provide an umami flavour on the way out, that lasts a little past the finish. This bar isn’t overtly balanced or complex, but rather it’s consistent, anchored and nuanced, allowing the bar to remain fairly soft despite being fairly dark and powerful, it’s a pleasant display of intense flavour. This does in many ways offer way more in terms of character as a dark milk than other subtler cocoas, providing distinctive fruit where there often is none and it makes for a fairly indulgent experience. I’d recommend you enjoy this with sparkling white wine, as is customary with strawberries, but it seems Chocolate Tree have beaten me to it and added the more conservative but equally appropriate elderflower.
Ingredients: Cacao beans, milk powder, cane sugar, cocoa butter
Colour: Light milky caramel brown Texture: Very smooth Mould: Chocolate Tree flower print uneven blocks Snap: Crisp Temp/Shine: Matte gloss, consistent
Intensity(0-10): 7 Notes: Light red fruit, milk, green peppercorn Quality: Fresh, light, soft
Length: Long Evenness: Even Texture: Smooth, rough butter, cream Quality: Consistent, heavy, smooth
Intensity(0-10): 3 Notes: Milk, strawberry Quality: Fruity, balancing
Intensity(0-10): 9 Notes: Caramel, demerara sugar, strawberry molasses Quality: Developed, dark
Intensity(0-10): 9 Type: Sweet, umami Notes: Caramel, demerara biscuits, cream, caramelized strawberries, sautéed Portobello mushroom Quality: Dark, nuanced, deep
Flavours are deep and long making soft rounds on the peaks of fruity acidity
Notes: Caramelized strawberries, sautéed Portobello mushroom Quality: Sweet strawberry like caramel make their way to the end alongside an umami base of buttery sautéed Portobello mushroom, blending sweet acidity and creamy umami resulting in a finish of lingering dark balanced chocolate tones that stay present long after the finish
Bar is deep and full but remains smooth, flavour are well amalgamated and acidity is balancing with a medium structure that provides some anchoring helping to point the bar towards balance
Bar has plenty of depth and a good degree of dimension, bar is more nuanced than complex but points towards balance, structure is consistent, expression is true of preparation and ingredients processing has imparted smoothness and structure
Chocolate Tree’s Tasting Notes: Soft caramel + dairy with summer fruit notes. Compliment with sparkling white wine or elderflower