My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and Duffy’s bean to bar chocolate from Cleethorpes

Friday 11th March

George, Jo, Kathryn, Lara, Theresa & Vicky

When we ordered the chocolate for this month it came with a little note asking if we chose the books to match the chocolate. Well, we haven’t done so far but we thought that was a brilliant idea and have taken it up as a challenge for next time.  For this meeting we chose a very intimate book about female friendship by an Italian writer with chocolate from Ecuador, Honduras and Venezuela made by a former motor sports engineer. Not much to match there but definitely a good pairing from a quality and intensity point of view and they certainly gave us plenty to talk about. Obviously we still found time to put the world to rights and talk about the latest episode of the Archers (Rob has really gone too far this time), Lara’s confessions of her Archers Addicts weekends… very revealing! and Jo’s scary app that monitors her sleep patterns from the bedside cabinet.

This was how the evening went:

The Book: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My brilliant friend

So we didn’t all finish it, but that is quite normal and not a reflection on the appeal of the book, more an indication of the hectic month some of us had had. It was a popular choice but not everyone had enjoyed it as much as they thought they would.

Interestingly Vicky had used a Kindle for the first time and struggled to get into it, so we got a little distracted discussing the merits of hard copy vs electronic versions. Some of us are still quite precious about having the physical book, even after trying e-books.

My Brilliant Friend (the first in a series of four) covers the teenage years of close friends Elena and Lila who grow up in a very insular and at times, quite violent neighbourhood of Naples.  We really enjoyed the level of detail and how the most mundane of events took on massive significance and evoked quite brilliantly the intense feelings and inner turmoil of the teenage characters.

We were quite struck by how intensely honest it was. We loved how the narrator Elena gave the most intimate details of her feelings…hiding nothing.  It took us right back to our own teenage years with the same feelings of insecurity, obsessions with friendships and the opposite sex. Really well written, we thought.

The characters and their names posed a bit of a problem. It was a little difficult to distinguish and remember the different characters. The list of families in the front of the book helped but also puzzled us a bit. Was it there to help or to illustrate just how restricted and confined their lives were?

So why the slight disappointment? We thought we had perhaps expected more to happen, but on the whole, we had enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it as a book club read. It will be interesting to see how many of us go on to read more in the series.

The Chocolate: Bars from Duffy’s

Duffys Corazon Del Ecuador,  Camino Verde, 72%

Duffys Corazon Del Ecuador 72%

We started the Duffy tasting with the dark Corazon Del Ecuador made from Nacional beans. The first comment was that it, was very ‘clean’ and you had to work it with your tongue a little to release the flavour but then came the murmurs of appreciation and then “oh yes, I really like that” and “oh that’s really nice!”, sometimes it takes us a little longer to decide if we like it or not. No-one identified any really strong flavours, or specific flavour notes immediately.  A ‘slight caramel’ was suggested and we all tried to get the floral notes mentioned on the wrapper and although we thought we should be able too, we all had to admit we couldn’t. This surprised me, I have tasted this bar before and noted the floral flavour so with the bit that was left, I tasted it again the next day with my mum and brother and we all immediately identified the floral notes so it was probably just because we hadn’t cleansed our palates enough after all those nibbles and various combinations of flavoured water, wine and beer but it certainly didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the chocolate. What we did all find was a ‘rich’, ‘satisfying’ and ‘intensely chocolatey’ taste. A big hit with everyone!

Duffy’s Honduras Indio Rojo, 72%

Duffys Indio RojoNext we passed around the Indio Rojo made from Xoco Criollo Beans. I gave this bar quite a build-up describing its awards and the pedigree of the Criollo beans but then got a bit nervous as it all went a bit quiet. But I needn’t have worried, everyone what working out what to describe first: ‘toffee’, ‘bonfire night toffee’, ‘sticky toffee pudding’. I asked if you anyone could taste raisins, ‘raisins in sticky toffee pudding’ George thought or dates even? Compared to the Corazon Del Ecuador we described it as ‘more earthy’, ‘slightly more creamy’, ‘more textured’ and with ‘more layers of flavour’, ‘more impact’ and ‘touching more senses’. We have tasted award winning bars before and sometimes been a bit disappointed that we didn’t really get why the experts thought it was so good but this time we were quite pleased we could agree with them. Maybe we are becoming a bit more sophisticated after all!

It wasn’t just complex, it was ‘delicious’. Having said that, both Vicky and Theresa although they liked the intensity of this bar did say they preferred the Corazon Del Ecuador but definitely thought it was a worthwhile taste experience.

Duffy’s Venezuela Ocumare 55%

Duffys Ocumare 55%We then moved onto the milk bars starting with the 55% made with fine Criollo beans. More murmurs of ‘heavenly’ and ‘really gorgeous’ so not a bad start. After tasting the dark Criollo bar we thought it was a little more difficult to define the flavours of this bar but it was still very intense. Jo decided it was ‘heady’ and the tastes somehow managed to ‘hit her brain’. A good value Friday night high then! We agreed that despite the 55% it was very creamy. We were looking for the toffee flavours and we did at this point consult the chocolate tasting wheel for inspiration, which we haven’t really used before and we decided it was more ‘dulce de leche’ or even over towards ‘fresh cream’ rather than the really dark toffee flavours.

Duffy’s Corazon Del Ecuador 43% with Cocoa Nibs and Oak Smoked Salt

Duffys Corazon Del Ecuador Sea saltWe finished with the milk bar with cocoa nibs and oak smoked salt. This bar met with mixed feelings. Vicky isn’t a fan of cocoa nibs and there was a little hesitation over the thought of the salt. I know it isn’t for everyone. I think we were split down the middle on this one. I can just eat and eat this bar and Jo and Lara loved the texture and how the salt contrasted with the smooth chocolately taste but the others were not convinced, finding when they hit the salt it was overpowering and preferred the straight chocolate. But we all agreed it was an experience and it would be boring if we all agreed on everything.

We don’t score the chocolate but what we have decided to do is say which bar we would like to take home and eat the rest of, with the following results

Vicky and Theresa  – Corazon Del Equador

Lara, George, Kathryn – Indio Rojo

Jo – Cocoa Nibs & Smoked Salt

So when we meet in May, we have decided to read an Ernest Hemingway book and there was actually a reason for decision this time. We have previously read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, telling the story of Hemingway’s relationship with his first wife Hadley which we all loved but Hemingway didn’t come out of it too favourably and we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to read anything by him straight afterwards. But time has passed and we feel we have forgiven him enough to give one a go and we chose to read The Sun Also Rises.  Our challenge now is to match the chocolate to the book so any suggestions are most welcome.

Kathryn x

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