I always love discovering new bean-to-bar chocolate makers. There’s probably around 250 artisans around the world making small-batch chocolate from the bean, and there are new makers popping up every week. Some, like Lillie Belle Farms, have been around for a while, but I’ve only recently had the chance to try them.
Based in Oregon, Lillie Belle was founded by Jeff Shepherd and named after his wife and daughter. They started making truffles 10 years ago (a lifetime ago in chocolate industry terms), but only started producing their own chocolate from the bean last year.
I picked up this 70% Madagascar bar from Selfridges in London. The packaging is distinctive and unique, but not entirely my cup of tea. There’s certainly no mistaking the maker, but when I’m paying £10 for a bar, I want unwrapping it to be part of the pleasure. It doesn’t quite feel like a high value product when presented in an environment like Selfridges, where it is displayed next to some beautifully packaged bars. And that’s a shame, because this bar is really rather interesting.
With hundreds of bars in front of me to choose from, what drew me to this one was the fact that it has been made with two different bean roasts.
Cocoa beans are (almost always) roasted as part of the chocolate making process, and the time and temperature of that roast has a significant effect on the flavour of the finished chocolate. Roast them too long and the chocolate will have a burnt flavour. Not enough, and the real chocolate flavours won’t develop at all.
The idea of using two different roasts is that the finished chocolate will take you on a journey. In theory, it should add an extra layer of complexity to the flavour, bringing out a full range of flavours within the bean. But it also adds complexity to the chocolate making process, and if the roasts aren’t timed extremely carefully, it could easily go wrong.
So did Lillie Belle Farms get it right? Well… almost!
The chocolate certainly has many of the wonderful citrus flavour notes that are common to Madagascan cocoa, and there are some wonderful hints of subtle red fruit. For me though, the higher roast is too high, and ends up masking some of those subtle notes with a strongly roasted, smoky flavour.
I’ve tasted several bars made with Madagascan cocoa that have a similar high roast recently and this is by no means the “most roasted”. It’s actually a pleasant flavour, but it does tend to hide rather than accentuate the natural flavour of the bean. Roast time is a very difficult thing to get right and not something you can change after the fact. It’s also quite a personal thing, so you could equally put it down to me having slightly different tastes to the chocolate maker.
That said, this is still a great bar and I’ll be picking up some more from Lillie Belle. They also produce a 50% milk chocolate with blue cheese, which I think I have to try…