Cacao from Madagascar has inspired some the great chocolate makers for years now. Most famous of all is the Sambirano River Valley, located on the northern tip of the island. Sambirano’s unique combination of tree genetics, climate, and terroir make for chocolate that is both warm and acidic, with lush cherry flavors that spend themselves like dark lucre in a fruit market of citrus.
Alan “Patric” McClure of Patric Chocolate, one of Missouri’s two bean-to-bar chocolate makers (what is it about Missouri and chocolate?), is a big fan of Madagascan cacao. He makes two different plain Madagascar bars and one with nibs, each one a distinct showcasing of this phenomenal bean. He and I exchanged some emails recently regarding his Patric 75% Sambirano bar, which he says was his “attempt to push the limits of the cacao in terms of balance.”
“I felt like the cacao I was using was so mild in terms of bitterness that if I was able to handle the roasting and conching just right, I’d end up with a concentrated, interesting, delicious and balanced chocolate. Someone once called the bar the espresso of Madagascar chocolates, and I really like that. I think it is just the right description for something so full of flavors and yet still so balanced.”
Alan also makes a 67% Sambirano bar, and I was curious how he thought it stood apart from the 75%. Aside from being a bit sweeter, and therefore more accessible,
“…there are also flavors in that bar that are quite clear—more so than in the 75%–even though there is a higher percentage of those flavor compounds in the 75%. It seems contrary to reason, but what it shows is how sugar can actually have a positive impact on chocolate in terms of allowing certain flavors, specifically juicy berry-like flavors, to shine instead of simply adding sweetness or detracting from the chocolate.”
My brother – a gourmand if there ever was one, and a wine collector who snuffs around Los Angeles like a sort of oenophilic wild boar – considers the Patric 67% Sambirano the best chocolate bar on the market. His single-minded obsession with this one bar guarantees that we run out of stock periodically when he unexpectedly decides to replenish his supply. I had a similar obsession with Patric’s 100% Sambirano chocolate discs, which sold like wildfire from a jar in our store. That chocolate, alas, has been discontinued (send Alan a letter and beg him to put that back into production).
Patric also makes a 70% blend and a Dark Milk, for which he uses his Sambirano beans, some Rio Caribe, and two other origins that remain a trade secret. His view of blend versus single-origin chocolate bars refuses to take a side, as one would expect from a man who understands the whole process of turning those seeds of the brightly-colored cacao pod into the shiny dark slabs we’re all familiar with.
“I am not a proponent of single-origin bars over blended bars or the other way around. Theoretically, a single-origin bar can tell the consumer more about the terroir of the cacao in the chocolate, but often the post-harvest processing and chocolate making changes the flavor so dramatically that it is hard to argue that one is getting an extremely clear picture of the impact of the terroir. Additionally, even if one does, that doesn’t make the chocolate any good. It is a rare bean that can make a delicious chocolate by itself.”