One of the great pleasures of single estate chocolate is the way that different makers and farmers can coax out so many flavours from their beans. It’s the antithesis of mass-produced chocolate, which aims to produce uniformity and consistency.
The mass-produced chocolate found in supermarkets overlooks the rich potential that exists within its basic ingredients. Often chocolate has a lengthy ingredient list with many artificial flavours. These are designed to mask the natural complexity of cocoa beans and keep you wanting more.
It all begins in a bean. From the soil conditions and climate to the fermentation, drying and roasting processes; every small difference will subtly affect a bar’s final taste. The craft makers are determined to showcase the unique flavour notes of each harvest’s beans, rather than masking the differences with artificial flavourings. These little inconsistencies are one of the great things about small-batch chocolate: no two batches, even of the same bar, will ever taste exactly the same.
The same chocolate ingredients, when processed and manufactured differently, can produce huge variety in the taste and texture of the final bar, despite containing identical ingredients.
Vintage chocolate is one such example. The age of the beans (and, to a lesser extent, the age of the bar) can create bars with very different taste and texture profiles.
What is vintage chocolate?
Fine wine and malt whisky – just like craft chocolate – are all about the quality of the ingredients and crafting. But one aspect that sets wine, whisky, and many other alcohols apart is the concept of vintages and “ageing”. This makes them collectible. It makes them (in theory) a great investment. Indeed, the BBC had an extraordinary story about one man who received from his father a bottle of Macallan Whisky every birthday for 18 years; he’s just sold the collection to put down a deposit on his flat (see here).
You can’t really do this with specialty coffee, where freshness is paramount. Ageing obviously doesn’t work for bread. And even within artisan cheese, the likes of Parmesan can’t be laid down for the next generation.
But craft chocolate is different. As with wine, each harvest is different. And unlike coffee beans, unroasted cocoa beans CAN be stored and aged.
Create your own vintages
Only particular types of dark chocolate can be aged to create a vintage bar. It is essential that the chocolate contains no perishable ingredients: chocolate that contains dairy products or preservatives must be eaten within its use-by date.
Once you have found a suitable bar (any of our dairy-free dark chocolate bars), store in a dark, dry cupboard in an airtight container (or one of our resealable pouches) and leave it for a couple of years. After this time, the flavour of the chocolate will not change dramatically but the texture will be different.
‘Fresh’ chocolate contains tempered cocoa butter which melts at just below human temperature, making it technically still a liquid at the time of tempering. This is what gives chocolate its creamy, melt-in-the-mouth consistency. As the chocolate ages, however, this cocoa butter begins to turn solid which changes the bar’s texture.
But if you’re not a fan of the vintage texture, the ageing process can be reversed. Melt the chocolate and the cocoa butter will turn once more to liquid, allowing you to retemper the bar to a texture as if it were new.