Technique, vision, and a Venezuelan cacao bean have produced a chocolate that leading chefs are doing their block over …
Some never forget a face. Chef Giovanni Pilu, of the award-winning Sydney restaurant, Pilu, never forgets a taste. Several years ago, he encountered what he thought might be the perfect chocolate.
“It was at the Anuga Food Fair in Cologne, in Germany. This chocolate was unlike anything I had tried before. So many different notes. It just stayed in my head. And it was impossible to find again,” says the Sardinian masterchef.
By coincidence, 18 months ago he had lunch with two Sydney importers of fine Italian wine, Pierro Tantini and Claudio Piretti of the Godot Group, who knew the chocolate and knew who made it. It was called Domori and the whizkid was Gianluca Franzoni – the three had been students together at Bologna University.
Franzoni had fallen in love with the cacao industry in 1993 while on a visit to Venezuela to sell water filtration plants. He ended up on a mission to saving Criollo cacao from near extinction there.
Set among mango trees, papaya, mahogany, frangipani, banana, bromeliads, and palms, the Criollo cacao is said to be the finest in the world, representing just a tiny percentage of the world’s harvest. It’s feted for the cinnamon colour it imparts to chocolate, its smoothness, low astringency and intensity. Domori chocolate is processed with no cocoa butter, vanilla or emulsifier.
Those with a nose for nuance (and a love of single origin anything) detect the scent of dry fruit, bread, jam and cream.
Like a fine wine, says Pilu, a fine chocolate is a blend of technique, vision and philosophy. “For Italian entrepreneurs,” he says, “it is never about money – you do it for yourself. It is being passionate about quality, the story and value. You do it for the value.”
Franzoni established the Domori brand in 1997. He bought 50% of the Hacienda San Jose plantation in Venezuela. Its first full crop was produced in 2003. The Illy Group then snaffled up 80% of the company in 2006 (no doubt for economies of scale rather than money!) and Franzoni stayed on as director. Beans from Ecuador, Madagascar, Peru, Tanzania and Colombia are now partners in prime. The world’s harvest is less than three million tonnes per year. Almost all the world’s cacao is grown in plantations that range in size from 1 to 4 hectares and which produce less than 500kg per hectare.
The cacao is turned into chocolate at a factory in None, Turin, in Italy’s Piedmont.
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Now, Pilu, Tantini and Piretti are establishing an Italian food import business which will include Domori chocolate and its accoutrements among its treats.
To launch the initiative, Pilu turned on the kind of dinner that makes you want to be a hungry Sardinian: cow’s milk ricotta in a lake of truffled honey; cuttlefish ink tonnarelli styled up like a Philip Treacy race-day hat; and char-grilled Rangers Valley beef rib cap with pickled onion and saffron butter.
To pique the interest of the most jaded diner was a jar of Vino al Cucchiaio, or wine by the spoon, a clever jelly made from the reduction of the white grape variety Vermentino by Sardinian winemaker Daniela Pinna of the winery Tenute Olbios. Just because you can.
But that wasn’t the only good thing in a jar that led us into temptation. Jars of La Crema Nocciola, a grown-up version of Nutella, brought out the inner kid in a lolly shop. You can eat that by the spoonful, too (indeed, Tantini swears he keeps his by the bedside, as a nightcap – or was it the wine jelly?). Next came two versions of a Domori gelato that the ice-cream gurus at Gelato Messina have been experimenting with, one using beans from Ecuador, the other from Peru. And a dessert of smoked chocolate mousse with prune and chocolate sorbet and toasted wild rice.
The after-dinner party trick was a large square of Domori Quantam Blend (a 70% dark chocolate blend of Criollo, Trinitario, and Blue National beans, and 30% sugar cane), set into a bespoke board that comes with a stylish stainless steel knife used to smash the chocolate into shards. Expect it to be the gift on discerning foodies’ Christmas lists very soon.
The downside of all this deliciousness is that Australian chocoholics won’t be able to buy Domori at local retail until next year, although it can be ordered through the website, domori.com.
But there is a stop-gap measure. A bridging loan, if you like. Giovanni Pilu and Coco Chocolate’s head chocolatier Rebecca Kerswell have joined forces to produce Cortes Apertas, blocks that marry Domori chocolate with the flavours of the Sardinian landscape. The blocks come four ways: white chocolate with coffee and cinnamon; dark chocolate with orange and sage; dark chocolate with rosemary; and milk chocolate with almonds, dates and honey.
They cost $12.95 for a 75g bar and are available online at cocochocolate.com.au/shop/. Kerswell also has a store in harbourside Sydney suburb of Kirribilli, and the Sydney Chocolate School in Mosman.
Giovanni Pilu has added dishes to his menu that feature Domori and he hopes fellow Sydney Italophile chefs from LuMi, Ommeggio and Otto will follow suit.
But be warned, two or three squares won’t be enough. Eating this stuff is a fast track to sure addiction.
Photos Susan Skelly and Courtesy of Domori