10 Oct 2016

Cocoa Planet

Do you know what goes into your chocolate and where it comes from? We do. We’re taking a closer look at one of our brand new bars in honour of Chocolate Week, 10th–14th October.

We’ve all tried buffalo mozzarella. We’ve had it springy and creamy in cold chunks on salad, and satisfyingly stretchy piping-hot on pizza. But we know less about buffalo milk, which we’re naturally drawn to or uncertain of in light of our personal experiences of sheep’s and goat’s milk – will it be sour like they are? Will it taste no different to cow’s milk?

The answer is neither of these: buffalo milk has an unprecedented creaminess and a certain inimitable je ne sais quoi that – being chocolate people – we just couldn’t wait to try with cocoa. We experimented with some of the best cocoa on the planet to come up with our finest incarnation: our Rare & Vintage 65% Buffalo Milk Saint Lucia chocolate, with an intense creaminess and expressive cocoa edge that have already earned it an Academy of Chocolate Award.

But it’s not just the inherent novelty of buffalo milk that makes this bar so tempting, it’s the provenance of the ingredients: that buffalo milk carefully sourced from the biodynamic, organic Laverstoke Park Farm and paired with cocoa grown for us by independent farmers in Saint Lucia as part of our Engaged Ethics programme.

Biodynamics: from field to fork

Surrounded by the green fields of Hampshire, it’s easy to imagine that traditional pastoral practices are behind the quality of the buffalo milk produced at Laverstoke Park Farm. Indeed the old ways of eating for health are part of the inspiration, but there’s a careful balance being struck here: between paying close attention to nature and benefiting from top new scientific research, equipment and techniques.

The farm’s owner, Jody Sheckter, started his smallholding with the idea of creating uncompromising food for his family, but later began to sell his produce regionally, from field to fork, and took home a glut of awards for his efforts, including a Gold Great Taste Award for – you guessed it – his buffalo mozzarella.

The 2,500-acre steading is certified organic and biodynamic, which means that Jody approaches the farm holistically. In a nutshell, the idea is that good soil grows good grass, which is eaten by our buffalo and makes for great-tasting food and a happier you and me – the people eating the dairy or meat in the end.

So what makes the soil here so good? It’s due in no small part to Jody and his team having established Europe’s only licensed Soil Foodweb lab, which researches the activity of soil microorganisms that could be advantageous: those involved with decomposing organic matter, releasing nutrients, deterring plant pathogens and improving the water capacity and structure of soil for better root penetration and access to oxygen, nutrients and water. The ultimate aim of all this hard work is to achieve the best-tasting, healthiest food possible, with no compromises.

Saint Lucian cocoa: rebooting the island

Saint Lucia is listed among the International Cocoa Organization’s countries that produce fine-flavour cocoa – and once we tried it we realised they had a point! But the cocoa economy on the island was already in decline, and the cocoa produced there was being used exclusively in blends with other, poorer-quality cocoa, so that its nuanced flavour profile was lost.

To bring you the complex cocoa you’ll taste in our Rare & Vintage 65% Buffalo Milk Saint Lucia chocolate, we knew we’d have to do some serious work – and we did, launching our Engaged Ethics programme on the island to regenerate the cocoa economy. Our mission statement: ‘You work too hard for bad chocolate. They work too hard for cheap cocoa.’

Today, more than 150 local farmers are involved, benefiting from our guarantee of buying their whole cocoa crop at above the world price, direct payment, free technical help and more, which mean that they can invest in their farms with confidence, and you can enjoy the distinctive taste of this ethically produced single-origin cocoa.

More Rare & Vintage

We’re democratising access to top-quality chocolate with Rare & Vintage, a range of bars made with some of the most sought-after cocoa in the world, yet priced so reasonably that they can be enjoyed every day.

Roasted to perfection in small batches to tease out their multi-layered flavours, these beans come from six distinct cocoa-growing regions – Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Honduras, Saint Lucia and Vietnam – each carefully chosen to showcase the sheer breadth of flavours possible when high-quality cocoa is treated with care.

These bars are also presented in a brand new design, remarkable for both its chic modern aesthetic and its fresh approach to portion control: satisfyingly snappable into slim shards that are the ideal way to take cocoa of such sublime depth.

Look out for Rare & Vintage landing 10th October at your local Hotel Chocolat store.