If someone invites you to visit one of ‘the most comprehensive chocolate showrooms in Melbourne’ you’re not going to say ‘no thanks,’ are you?
And so one nice morning I met Oliver Dede and Rainer Sandmann of Premier Food and Beverages and learned a lot about obscure European brands not commonly available in Australia, the intricacies of shipping and what makes German-Aussies homesick.
PFB import 50% chocolate and 50% deli items. Their showroom is hidden in an enormous warehouse, but is a veritable treasure trove of chocolate, confectionery and foods such as sauerkraut, egg noodles, German biscuits, mustards, mayonnaise and even herbal teas endorsed by Steffi Graf.
Despite moving a huge number of Lindt blocks and Ritter sport bars to various confectioners and coffee shops in Australia, Rainer is keen to introduce Aussies to European brands that are not yet widely known and provide top quality chocolate and value for money.
His first move towards this goal was from the heart and not the wallet. Jovial Rainer is from the south-west corner of Germany, and his fondest memories are of riding on his grandmother’s bike across the river into Switzerland to buy blocks of his favourite chocolate, Torino. And this from a bloke who grew up smelling the Milka chocolate being made near his home!
He tells me, “I’m a businessman and shouldn’t be led by personal emotions, but I had to bring Torino out to Australia.” Made by Camille Bloch, it is a European classic consisting of sweet milk chocolate covering a soft and buttery hazelnut praline and named after an Italian city famous for hazelnut-filled chocolates. We cracked open a block and I was instantly converted. Milka who?
Then Oliver brought over another block, Ragusa. “This is a Swiss icon. Anyone who is Swiss was bought up on this and always pines for it when they’re away from home.” It is this block that “started it all” for Camille Bloch.
Ragusa was created in the 1930s at a time when cocoa was in short supply in Switzerland. They inserted whole hazelnuts into the praline centre to make the cocoa stretch further. What they got was not only a clever cocoa-conservation method, but also a chocolate that the people loved, with the recipe still the same to this day. (They have since released a dark chocolate version which I’ll review in a future article). For Jewish chocolate fans out there, Ragusa is made in a kosher version. In a fairly complicated delivery, it is made in Switzerland, shipped to the United States and then sent over to Australia but is apparently worth the effort to find.
Camille Bloch then moved on to liqueur filled chocolates, one of which, the Kirsch block, Ashleigh found during his European odyssey, brought back to Australia and reviewed for Chocablog. Rainer laughs, “Your Ashleigh could have found them here, but only in the international departure lounge at the airport!” Hopefully this availability will increase and stay tuned for a review on the Grappa (Italian spirit) and Williams (pear brandy) soon.
Australia is a hot country and importing chocolate can be difficult, Oliver and Rainer agree. Their shipping containers are refrigerated which naturally increase the costs of transport and reduces the size available inside. Once here, they are stored in their warehouse that has a specially-built ‘Chocolate Room’ refrigerated between 16-18C.
Rainer explains that every year he travels to Germany to attend the International Sweets Fair in Cologne. Sounds like a tough life I say jokingly, but he disagrees, “For most people, it’s work.” He describes seeing acres and acres of stalls over several floors, with new products, seasonal ranges and varieties on display. It was here that he found a new brand to import, Rausch.
Ironically, he didn’t see it at the fair, but in a German coffee shop. He loved the presentation of the product and its faithfulness towards specific countries, plantations and cocoa contents.
Presented in wooden cigar boxes or beautifully wrapped blocks, the eight varieties of chocolate each come from separate countries and plantations and range from 37% to 80% cocoa solids. Oliver chimes in, “We have individual wrapped squares of these in our showroom which is next to the coffee machine that we all use. It’s clear that the staff like the 43% the best, because the box empties so quickly.”
For sheer cuteness however, their imported Belfine chocolates – yes, from Belgium, are little works of art.
Everything from painted chocolate ducks to Santas, Easter Bunnies, flowers and chocolate lollipops and chocolate spoons to swirl into hot milk.
Less cute, but no less refined is Momami Creations hand scooped chocolate. This is very popular in Europe, but Rainer thinks that Aussies need to get over the fact that it may look like a cowpat, because the taste is significantly better.
Oliver cracked open the cranberry and milk chocolate creation and it was….. divine. The tartness of the berries cut a swathe through the sweetness of the chocolate and it went down a treat with our cups of freshly brewed espresso cappuccinos. And despite Rainer’s misgivings, I think they look beautiful. They won an award at the International Sweet Fair this year for their new La Choco La range which is a new style of hand-poured slab, some studded with toffee sesame seeds, ginger, seeds, cocoa nibs, almond slivers, and florentine pieces. I was heartily wishing them well in bringing all of those varieties over for us to enjoy.
What chocolate does Rainer eat when he’s at home, in his tracksuit pants in front of the TV?
“Still Torino, but also Rausch 43% or 47% or their nice dark 60% or 80% to cleanse my palate.”
And your wife and teenage children?
“My wife always loves blocks of good quality plain milk chocolate. Or she goes completely the other way and insists on Camille Bloch’s kirsch-filled blocks. My twelve year old son loves the Torino and my fourteen year old daughter prefers mostly dark chocolates, especially the dark Torino.”
As for you, Oliver, a chef with many years experience now immersed in chocolate, what do you like to eat in your down time?
“Oh, I eat the miniature Rausch chocolates because if I start on a block it’s gone before I know it!”
Rainer when you’re not actually in Europe for work, how do you keep track of chocolate varieties, prices and trends?
(Rainer smiles). “My mother might be 75, but she is often asked to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of what products are around, what everyone likes and what’s big in Germany.”
You’ve shown me a lot of German and Swiss varieties. Is there anything else up your sleeve?
“Yes, Spain! The company Simon Coll bought Amatller but I did think ‘Why on earth do I need Spanish chocolate?’” Rainer said. “Then I remembered that it was the Spaniards that introduced the cocoa bean to Europe and with Coll operating since the late 1770s they might know a thing or two.”
He could be right. The 70% block we tasted was very mild and creamy and had no hint of bitterness. Stay tuned for future reviews.