Vicky hosted…talk of how the hell do you remember your mobile number? The dangers of text messages and misinterpreting texts…should you use capitals, why do partner’s text just say ‘OK’ and hardback books…you just can’t read them in bed can you! A smaller group of us this time Lara, George, Theresa, Kathryn, Sally, Jo and Vicky.
Paths of Glory, by Jeffrey Archer
Well it was with some sniggering and trepidation that we had agreed to take on this book when Jo suggested it in the spirit of reading “something we wouldn’t usually pick up off the shelf.” Jo had previously read it and remembered it as an inspiring story. As Jeffrey Archer is a previous MP for Louth (in the early 1970’s) we felt we should give it a go for the local connection.
This is a novel based on the true life story of George Mallory who died during an attempt to climb Everest in the 1920s. The book outlines his life, relationships and two Everest attempts. This is a fictional account, which supports the claim that Mallory may have reached the summit of Everest before he died. Lara admitted that she did not read it, despite having been away on holiday so having had plenty of time. “I could not bring myself to read a Jeffrey Archer book in public on a beach!”
Both Trudy and Anna, who had not been able to attend on the evening had messaged to say they found the book a good “page-turner.” Everyone who had read it had finished it fairly quickly, however, the literary merit of the book was found ‘questionable’. Theresa found the characters “flat.” Vicky was surprised that the characters’ motivations for climbing Everest and the mental side of such a difficult endeavour were not really touched on. We felt there was no real depth in the writing either characterisation, atmosphere or relationships. Kathryn said she was “annoyed with the lovey-dovey stuff” and George agreed saying Mallory and his relationship with his wife were portrayed as “perfect” and just too unrealistic. Similarly, the class issues related to the non-Oxbridge climber being left out of the final team were interesting but not properly examined. Given that the story was so much about mountaineering Jo said that the reality of this activity, especially the hardships of climbers in the 1920s, was not communicated at all.
All agreed the novel is based on an interesting story, and we all liked that in ‘real life’ Mallory’s grandson did climb and reach the summit of Everest. Jeffrey Archer’s depiction is though, disappointing and shallow.
So mixed opinions on the book and there were a few interesting comments about our choice on my twitter feed too but whatever you think of Jeffrey Archer’s historical tale, you cannot fail to be impressed by the pioneering spirit of George Mallory and his companions. And it did present us with the best opportunity to taste chocolate from some of the industry’s own pioneers. I eventually managed to narrow my list down to four makers with the characters providing the main inspiration for bar choice, and a fifth bar resulting from the irresistible link between Forever Cacao and the Royal Geographical Society.
The bars for this session were sourced from Duffy’s and the fabulous chocolate library at Cocoa Runners.
Akesson’s Bali, 45% Milk with Fleur de Sel & Coconut Blossom Sugar
Bertil Akesson was one of the first people to start selling high quality cacao to makers around the world and we start and finish with his bars, representing the two women in George’s life: his wife Ruth and Mount Everest. The first was chosen with the almost too perfect Ruth in mind; a smooth and gentle milk chocolate sweetened with coconut blossom sugar with fleur de sel to add a little dimension. The Everest bar, will come to at the end.
It didn’t disappoint. Starting with a creamy, nutty aroma with notes of caramel, it had a beautiful melt and a velvety smoothness. I liked Lara’s description of ‘proper milky’! The salt comes through from the beginning contrasting but balanced with the creamy texture. Vicky was finding floral notes, like elderflower and others were tasting deep caramel and molasses but we all agreed that these progressed into a buttery, milky butterscotch flavours. The finish was satisfyingly chocolatey. We liked it. It felt familiar but with an interesting depth. Not too far perhaps from how Archer wanted us see Ruth.
The Smooth Chocolator, Australia 72%
The Smooth Chocolator’s Madagascan bar had really impressed us in a previous tasting so with Mallory’s Australian climbing partner George Finch in mind I thought it would be interesting to see what they had achieved with their native Australian cacao.
The light aroma gave hints of tropical fruit. It had a cool even and slow melt, with a very creamy mouth feel. There were subtle hints of fruit developing but we were struggling to pin them down, we were talking green, watery and sweet; the packaging suggested lychees and green grapes which prompted a few nods but we thought it was perhaps more like melon. Vicky and Lara were picking up something a little artificial or slightly chemical behind the fruit. Then those initial high fruity notes became more muted and developed into hints of pecan nut and molasses for Lara. The aftertaste gave a slight orange rind bitterness. We were a little undecided about this bar but like Finch, it was intriguing, slightly provocative. It has also given us a rare opportunity to taste Australian cacao…adventurous if nothing else!
Forever Cacao, Peru 72% Raw
The link between this bar and Paths of Glory is the patronage of the Royal Geographic Society. In 1978, a documentary was screened on the BBC’s World About Us series on the life of the Ashaninka community in Peru. It was the first time they had been filmed. One of the film makers was a student called Dilwyn Jenkins who went on to found Ecotribal, helping the Ashaninka people create sustainable incomes from crops such as cacao. (Read full story: In Memory of Dilwyn Jenkins). It is the families of the Ashaninka communities that grow, harvest, ferment and dry the wild criollo beans for the Forever Cacao chocolate and the Royal Geographic Society who helped bring them to the world’s attention, so I just had to add this into the mix.
It looked very dark for a 72% bar with an equally dark aroma. The melt was slow to start but then quickened into a sweet creamy melt and for some a slightly dry finish. Burnt sugar was mentioned along with ‘just very chocolatey’ and green vegetal flavours. I agreed with the Cocoa Runner’s description of ‘buttered asparagus’ and it was these notes that had the real staying power. One of our more successful raw bar tastings I think.
Duffy’s Honduras Indio Rojo 72%
This bar was chosen for George himself. Duffy may not have climbed Everest but as a former Formula One engineer and part of the team that broke the diesel-powered land speed record, he is no stranger to sporting triumph. In his first year of making chocolate, Duffy’s Indio Rojo bar won the Academy of Chocolate’s Golden Bean award for the best bean to bar dark chocolate in the world. This is our second tasting of this bar but interesting to return to it.
We took in that familiar deep chocolately aroma with notes of dried fruit, and orange. Its cool, citrusy opening created a contrast to the ever so slightly grainy texture.
Coffee seemed to be the dominant flavour followed by sweet currants for Lara. On the second tasting, the raisin notes took the lead, accompanied by deep chocolate, coffee, cream and sweeter banana notes with the coffee notes re-emerging in the lengthy after taste. Just like Mallory, it knows how to deliver. Definitely still a winner!
Akesson’s Madagascar Bejofo 100%
We started our tasting with Ruth’s sweet, gentle milk bar and we finished with our chocolate Everest – Akesson’s 100% Criollo. Although, we have tasted a lot of chocolate, I always hesitate to bring in 100% bars but endurance was the theme this time and I thought we were ready for it. We didn’t all make it. It had been a long evening. It was late. Children needed collecting. The stresses of the working week meant some had given in to tiredness and headed home. There was only Vicky, Lara, Theresa? and myself remaining.
The aroma was beckoning us; so full of chocolate flavour and hinting of sweetness and red fruit. We wavered. We didn’t want to spoil the sensation of the beautiful aroma but we knew we had to push on. I closed my eyes and forged ahead, bracing myself for the powerful chocolate hit to come. I could hear the groans beside me, ‘I really don’t like it’, ‘it tastes a bit burnt to me’, ‘this is a bit hard core’, ‘relentless’ ‘it just keeps going and going’. But through the objections came mentions of the creamy smooth melt; peaks of sweetness; the fruit coming through; the waves of chocolate flavour; and through the astringent finish, the let up in the aftertaste revealing gentler nutty flavours. Music to my ears! It had been a challenge. Looking at their faces, I had to admit, I hadn’t convinced them of the merits of 100% but despite the reluctance, I was heartened by the definite flickers of recognition for the intensity of the experience.
So thank you Jeffery Archer for introducing us to George Mallory and giving us the opportunity to scale the heights of some chocolate greats.
Due to people falling by the wayside throughout the evening, there were no opinions taken on favourite bars this time.
For our next meeting, we are reading Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak