There’s one exception to that rule about life’s temptations being illegal, immoral or making you fat – dark chocolate…
Words: Marianne Heron
Pictures: David Morgan
Real chocolate, that top-quality dark stuff, has so much going for it – the feel-good effect, the antioxidants, all those uses in recipes, and it’s supposed to be an aphrodisiac. The cherry has been the discovery by local entrepreneurs that chocolatiering is a great artisan business that also allows the dream of living in the countryside.
One woman who has her finger on the fledgling artisan chocolate business here is Di Burger, self-confessed chocoholic and author of Chocolate’s African Odyssey – Celebrating Chocolate in South Africa. Finding in chocolate the perfect subject to follow her previous book on bubbly (aka Cap Classique), she was surprised when her research revealed more than 40 artisan companies working with chocolate, among them more than a score of chocolatiers and chocolate makers. (Chocolatiers buy couverture – or base chocolate – with which to create their chocolates, whereas bean-to-bar makers process beans to produce their own couverture to make chocolates.)
“It really started at the same time as the Slow Food Movement,” says Di. “But people haven’t been educated about artisanal chocolates handmade from the finest ingredients in small quantities.” Compared to mass-produced chocolate, with its high amount of added sugar, fat and milk (all the things that really do make you fat), artisan chocolates are expensive.
“As South Africans we grew up with mass-produced chocolates; things like Smarties are fun but they’re sweets rather than chocolates,” says Di, who believes that premium chocolate appreciation can be just as complex and rewarding as wine appreciation.
“There are four things I can’t do without,” says Alan Clegg. “My polycarbonate moulds, my thermometer, my hairdryer and my cotton buds.” Not the kind of remark you expect from a financier but then Alan Clegg is also a chocolatier.
A job in merchant banking brought Alan and his wife Kam from England to South Africa. When the job ended the couple stayed on in South Africa, in Constantia, Cape Town, and Kam went off to work while Alan stayed home with the couple’s sons Ellery and Austin. “I was happy looking after the children and playing with Lego but I liked the idea of starting my own business.”
Ellery and Austin became the inspiration for that business. Alan couldn’t find any really good Easter eggs for the boys and combined the idea of making Easter treats with supplying a gap in the market here for high-end, modern chocolates.
Now, there are chocolates and chocolates. The Alexander Avery brand is couture chocolates, the Dior or Yves St Laurent creations of the sweet world, handmade in the garden cottage of the Clegg’s home. There are golden chocolates, chocolates with delicate gold chinoiserie designs, rose and gold marbling in glossy chocolate, chocolates spotted with jewel colours looking almost too beautiful to eat… until you try one.
The fillings are equally original: ganache with juniper and gin, buchu fondant, rooibos tea and rose petals. (And I can’t tell you how the ethereal flower patterns on Alan’s exquisite packaging are achieved because it is a secret).
Rather than Easter bunnies there are chocolate dinosaurs and beasts designed to delight any small person, as well as intriguingly patterned and coloured Easter eggs.
The couverture (or base chocolate) Alan uses is Valrhona Grand Cru de Terroir, a single varietal (sounds like wine doesn’t it?) from Ghana and Madagascar. His thermometer is essential for tempering the chocolate at just the right temperature, the polycarbonate moulds for giving the chocolates that extra glossy look, and the hairdryer and cotton buds for finishing them off. His is a niche market primarily supplying bespoke chocolates for special occasions, and also select restaurants and hotels. There isn’t much time for Lego now. “I just made 4 000 chocolates last week,” says Alan, who has culinary genes – both his father and his brother are chefs.
Niki de Wolf and Rijk von Kooij, originally from Rotterdam, Holland, really have made their dream of life in the South African countryside come true. They had fallen in love with Tulbagh when they held their wedding there more than 14 years ago and, on their return for a holiday with their two small children Aisha and Kenan, they bought historic Schoonderzicht Farm that dates back to 1795.
Niki, a journalist and food writer, hoped to get involved in tourism. “We thought of having a guest house but it wouldn’t have worked with two small children. Then I noticed that there were no luxury chocolates here, something I missed.” And so, after extensive research and visits to the celebrated firm of Callebaut in Belgium, home of the finest chocolates, Moniki chocolates was started.
Niki began experimenting with chocolate making in a small kitchen on the farm. “I wanted an absolutely natural product, working with 70 per cent cocoa solids and without loads of sugar.” Initially a tasting experience for visitors, featuring sumptuous ganache-filled Belgian chocolate with coffee, it now includes wine, brandy or sherry pairings with chocolate at Tulbagh Winery’s Paddagang premises on Tulbagh’s Church Street. “The business just exploded as people got to hear about it,” says Niki.
Her wine and chocolate pairings have a novel feature. “One of the things I do is use wine in the chocolate. Like Shiraz with three colours of pepper and Maldon salt, or the ‘strawberries and cream’, which combines rosé wine with white chocolate, or wooded Chardonnay with lavender. But chocolate, unlike wine, is best eaten immediately.”
Moniki’s Chocolates are also supplied to hotels, B&Bs and functions. For Easter, Niki makes bunnies and eggs. “Eating them as a child is how I developed my craving for chocolate.”
A slim book provided Richard Von Geusau with the inspiration for a new business when he moved from Cape Town to Greyton. Called The Chocolate Companion, its author, the founder of Rococo Chocolates, is Chantal Coady. “She was very helpful,” says Richard, “and said ‘come over to the UK and I’ll help you’. Perhaps she felt responsible, having written a book that was about to change my life, and so she took me to Belgium as well. She had a successful business in the UK and was ethical in her operations. She has just been awarded an OBE for her work in chocolate.”
Fourteen years later Richard’s chocolate business is flourishing. His shop at the Oak and Vigne Café in picturesque Greyton could be a set from the movie Chocolat, based on Joanne Harris’s book of the same name. He uses the finest Belgian couverture for his handmade chocolates and bars. On the counter beside the displays of luscious truffles and chocolates filled with combinations like Cointreau, orange peel and pecan is a bouquet of chocolate roses fashioned by Richard, which took first prize in the Greyton Rose Festival. Nearby is Richard’s alternative to the Easter Bunny, a chocolate meerkat bar about to be launched on the market. “Rabbits aren’t indigenous and tourists want to buy something typically South African.”
Richard, a self-confessed chocoholic, likes to eat chocolate every day. “But I keep it dark. Dark chocolate has had a lot of great press of late for its good properties. Cocoa is one of the superfoods. It’s an antioxidant and as soon as you add milk and sugar you spoil that.”
A lucky meeting between Richard and Kevin Arnold of Waterford Wine Estate led to what was then the innovative idea of chocolate and wine pairing. “It has gone from strength to strength and is hugely popular. The whole idea of
a pairing is that it adds a dimension to both the wine and the chocolate. Now we also pair with port and old brandies.”
Von Geusau chocolate bars for pairings have intriguing flavours like fynbos, rooibos, rose geranium or cinnamon with orange and ginger, which make a superb companion to fine malt whisky. “We also send parcels of chocolates across the world, especially to the USA, where people have tasted my chocolate at Waterford.” So maybe it’s true that chocolate can be addictive – well, just a little bit.
Huguenot Fine Chocolates
Chocolate is always a delicious surprise but for Denver Adonis and Danny Windvogel it involved one of a different kind. Denver was studying marketing and Danny was working for a finance company and they applied for bursaries (designed to foster entrepreneurship) offered by the Belgian NGO, Livos. They received them and leapt at the chance to spend time in Europe. “It was only after we were accepted that we discovered that the bursaries were to study chocolate making,” says Denver. “It was a bit of a shock but we decided to go for it.”
After an intensive week at Callebaut in Belgium, they were converts. “Before that the only kind of chocolate
I knew came in slabs,” admits Denver. Training in the industry, with evening classes at chocolate school, followed during their year-long training in Belgium. That was more than a decade ago. On their return, they set up shop in Franschhoek, seeing the opportunity to supply fine chocolates at a time when chocolatiers were extremely rare in South Africa.
Initially just the two partners and a helper were involved. Today Denver and Danny have 16 employees at Huguenot Fine Chocolates, and sent two of their team, Morné September and Leon Groenewald, to Belgium to study patisserie making. At their premises on Huguenot Street they offer 300 varieties of chocolate. “Not all at the same time,” says Denver with a laugh.
In addition to gift boxes, individual chocolates and bespoke chocolates for special events, with original flavours like rooibos, beer and cinnamon milktart, they also offer ‘The Chocolate Experience’, a presentation on the history and background of cocoa and chocolate making. And, yes, it does involve tasting.
- In South America, chocolate was always revered as the food of the gods and was introduced to Spain by the conquistadores.
- Made from beans found in the gourds of the cacao tree, chocolate was initially consumed as a luxury drink that spread in popularity throughout Europe. By the mid-17th century chocolate houses had become fashionable in London.
- In England, abstentionist Quaker families like the Frys and the Cadburys (whose motto might well have been the acronym ABG or Anything But Gin), sought to provide alternative attractions to notorious gin palaces, and were prime movers in developing chocolate drinks and sweets.
- Joseph Fry’s first chocolate bar, Fry’s Chocolate Cream, was produced in 1847 and is still made to this day.
- New ways of producing and mixing chocolate helped Cadbury (founded 1824) add milk chocolate bars to its range of cocoa powders in 1905, paving the way for other favourites like Cadbury Milk Tray.
- Painted and decorated eggs have been part of Easter celebrations for centuries, and the new chocolate manufacturers were quick to capitalise on the tradition, starting to make chocolate Easter eggs early last century.
- How did the Easter Bunny get in on the act? Apparently the tradition comes from Germany where the Easter Bunny or Hare brought eggs to good children at Easter time.