I was recently given a bag of Valrhona Guanaja 70% couverture ‘beans’. That’s beans as in roughly what they look like, not cacao beans from the tree. These are a couverture chocolate that you can buy at good food merchants as a bulk product and they will weigh out how much you want. Perfect! Being a professional product, this is the kind of thing that is commonly used by chocolatiers and pastry chefs – where they won’t tell you what the source product was. A shame – when the source is as good as this.
A check of the ‘Experts Section‘ of the Valrhona web site is most impressive; there are cooking trade brochures containing some exquisite photographs, and perhaps most interesting of all, the chocolate tasting wheels actually explain a little of the character of their range. The character of the products is shown, such as flavour intensity, fruitiness, acidity, bitterness, and so on. The brochures are excellent – drool-worthy in their own right and explaining more about chocolate character than any other manufacturer I have found.
Essentially, this is a high class cooking chocolate. Valrhona describe the Guanaja 70% as “a palette of bitterness”, which actually does not sound all that appealing.
As far as the look goes – well, I quite like the shape, actually. I also don’t mind that they get a bit knocked about and have a few white marks and dusty edges; this is normal for a couverture and to be expected for a product sold in 3 kg packs. The small size makes for extra surface area, which is better for releasing aroma and for melting quickly. The “beans” are small, perhaps only 5 or 10 grams each, which makes them the PERFECT size for melting but also for eating. And by the way, if anybody has one of those 3kg packs going spare, please feel free to send it to me.
I opened the pack and was hit by the intense rich, earthy aroma. I’ve pretty much never come across a chocolate that has smelled as good as this, so I knew I was in for something good. Get some of these. Pour about 10 onto a plate or the table, and pop one in the mouth. Bet you can’t stop at one. I can’t. I kept scooping out another 2 or 3, then perhaps a handful.
The flavour is slightly bitter, rich, earthy, almost mushroomy; with a curiously creamy mouth feel. “A palette of bitterness”? I don’t really think so – that description does not adequately cover what this chocolate is all about. Huge discipline and immense self control was barely able to stop me from scoffing down the whole 300 gram bag in a single sitting.
Then came a revelation, quite by accident I’d just made a big industrial size mug of real coffee, and was eating these and sipping (black) coffee. WOW! What a combination. I know it’s the cliché match-made-in-heaven yada yada, and sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Not all coffee goes with all chocolate. But my nice fresh Chagga Peaberry works with this. Really works. I was, and still am, stunned at how well they go together.
This is my new Gold Standard for a 70% dark chocolate. Sorry Mr Lindt, you have been displaced. Now, if you’ll excuse me, its time to scarf down the last few of the beans that are left, along with a nice big black coffee. Bliss!