In amongst the exotically illustrated Stainer bars I received earlier this year were these two ‘Grand Cru’ bars – one with 75% cacao and a ‘medio’ chilli addition, and the other a 70% bar with Espelette chilli and pineapple.
I decided to try the pineapple bar first, as it was going to be a first for me and I was curious as to how pineapple and chocolate would get along. I had to research Espelette chillies, and it turns out that they are an AOC controlled product. Originating in South America, the peppers are now grown in the Northern part of Basque country in France. Indeed it is apparently a cornerstone of Basque cuisine and has replaced black pepper in many dishes, as it is not considered very hot for a chilli.
When the wrapper came off there was absolutely no doubting the fruit content of this bar. The pineapple smell was all too evident, putting me in mind of those pineapple cube sweets I used to see in jars as a child. Naturally it was also the first thing I tasted as well, but it was very quickly followed by a warming note of chilli which intensified as the chocolate began to melt. As I allowed the chocolate to break down in my mouth the chilli just kept on giving – almost to the point of worry! Pretty intense chilli heat flooded my mouth, but oddly enough it never obliterated the citrussy tang of the pineapple. Indeed, the finish proved to be an equal balance between the two added flavours, and as the heat died away I was left with a rather lovely aftertaste of pineapple.
Having been a little worried by the intensity of the pineapple and chilli bar, the sight of three Italian chillies on the second bar had me pondering just how hot this one was likely to be – especially with no additional flavours on offer to moderate the heat of the chilli!
As it turned out, this bar was a little less intense. As the first square began to melt I could taste a whole series of dark, leathery, woody notes with an undercurrent of nuttiness which actually gave way to much lighter, unexpectedly delicate finish. At no time did I get the rush of chilli that I had experienced with the previous bar, rather it seemed to just be there as a delicate counterpoint to the rich flavours of the cocoa, adding warmth and a little spice to what was principally a very good, deep, complex blend.
I thoroughly enjoyed tasting both of these, but if I had to make a choice it would be the second bar, primarily because Stainers seem to have managed to enhance the flavour of the cocoa rather than putting something else alongside it, which is the impression I got from the pineapple bar. Chilli and chocolate virgins would do well to seek out the Stainer 75% bar. With such an array of flavours and so delicate a balance it could well be the start of a whole new taste experience for you.