When I think of India, the first images that spring to mind are influenced by movies like “The Lunchbox” or “Outsourced” where they depict densely populated cities, full of chaotic traffic – places that are definitely not conducive to cacao farming! However, if you’ve seen the PBS historical drama series “Indian Summers,” you know that there are also beautifully lush/tropical areas (though [spoiler alert] that TV show is actually filmed in Malaysia!) The following paragraph from Meridian Cacao’s blog should help conjure up a mental picture of the Anamala/Anaimalai Hills where the cacao for this bar is grown.
“Some mornings, Harish Manoj and Karthi Palaniswamy will arrive at their farm to find their young coconut palms devastated, with broken fronds as if a hurricane has come through. The source of the destruction is no storm, however—it’s elephants. The farm is right at the base of the western Ghats, a mountain range which extends through the south of India. Lots of elephants (and tigers and monkeys) live on the slopes of those mountains, safe in the Anamalai animal preserve (Anamalai is Tamil for ‘Elephant Hills’). The elephants will lumber down onto the farm at night to help themselves to the coconut trees–not for the coconuts, but for the palm fronds themselves, which, as it turns out, are perfect tools for whacking pesky mosquitos off their backs. Amongst this wild backdrop, Harish and Karthi have begun their mission to make their small valley, known for its abundance of coconuts, an unlikely source of delicious cacao.”
Meridian Cacao’s blog goes on to explain that in 1948, after British Colonial Rule ended, the UK’s chocolate behemoth, Cadbury, set up operations in India and much of the cacao produced in that country today still gets purchased by Mondelez (which now owns Cadbury). I’ve been wanting to try a chocolate bar made from Indian cacao for a while now, so I jumped at the opportunity to purchase an Areté bar after reading an Instagram post from Palo Alto’s The Chocolate Garage.
Wanting to learn more about the beans used by David and Leslie Senk of Areté Fine Chocolate in Milpitas, California, I discovered an informative article published in “The Hindu” a few months ago. On the eve of World Chocolate Day, that article announced that brothers-in-law Karthikeyan Palaniswamy and Harish Manoj Kumar were launching India’s first (and only) tree-to-bar chocolate through their company, Regal Chocolates. After reading this Indian blog post, I would love to get my hands on one of their bars too – both the packaging and the bar itself are decorated with simple embossed lines that look like a stylized cacao tree with many branches, leaves and pods.
And, now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, tasting Areté’s bar…
As always, Areté’s bars have a near-flawless, textured matte finish. The logo of a woman, seemingly floating in air in a modified arabesque balletic pose, reaching for a star with an outstretched hand, “pops” from the center of the deep reddish-brown bar with a polished mirror-like shine.
The aroma wafting from the bar evokes dried fruit and raisins, in particular. It pains me to mar the frame-worthy intact rectangle. Reluctantly, I break off a tasting morsel. While I hear a sharp snap, I see tiny flecks of chocolate flying every which way and landing gently on the table below. There is an earthy, minerality smell at the breaking point and I can see nooks and crannies reminiscent of cut granite.
At the beginning of the slow/even melt, there is a fruity (almost juicy) explosion of flavor in my entire mouth. A few moments later, the sensation shifts to a dusty (yet creamy smooth), nutty taste that reminds me of chomping on Brazil nuts. Finally, there is a sharp acidic burn at the back of my throat (like swallowing a gulp of wine) during the finish.
If you’re like me and have been watching Sunita de Tourreil’s “Happy Chocolate” documentaries on YouTube, you’ll know that she will soon be filming an episode in India. I’m eagerly awaiting that installment to learn even more about this exotic country of origin. I hope she visits the Tiger Reserve 🐯 or Wildlife Sanctuary 🐘 in Anamalai! Imagine the outtakes 😉
This India bar is NOT listed on Areté’s website since it is exclusive to The Chocolate Garage at this point. Contact The Chocolate Garage to place an order if you’d like to taste this bar for yourself! Please let me know your impressions once you try it!!
P.S. In case you missed it, the “theme” for this round of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is ORIGINS! If you have recommendations, please send me a message or leave a comment below!