There are various ways for me to introduce the Bremen chocolate manufacturer Hachez here. Of course, I have mentioned their products before. Since I was born in Bremen, I am naturally partial to their chocolate and their philosophy, but there is more to their excellence. A production process that includes a conching time of 72 hours is a good starting point for an exceptional collection.
As a child, I was not really aware of Hachez being special – let’s say that a child’s perception of sweets is, well, different. Hachez was something on grandma’s coffee table, distributed in minimal quantities and accepted with a munching smile of regret (is there not more of it?) – it never really entered my world in the same massive way as the towers of Ritter squares that my other grandmother had assembled for me one Christmas, or the bite-size chocolate bits, called Schogetten, that were the accompaniment to our afternoon teas, as soon as the Ritter squares were gone. I achieved some virtuosity in snatching Schogetten from the plate – the trick was to reduce them before even being noticed.
Aided by the fact that it is not easily obtainable abroad, Hachez has now become my special favorite. Visits to Bremen result in my carrying back piles from their classic “Edel Chokoladen” collection, with a special emphasis on Edel-Bitter-Sahne, Edel-Zartbitter, Edel-Mokka-Sahne. There is nothing better in the world, I believe, than these.
On the Hachez website we can read that the company’s explicit aim is exclusivity. At the moment of writing (Jan 11, 2009), the news archive in the ‘company’ tab of the German version of the page features a discussion of an unfavorable review by the German magazine “Test”, in which the Hachez business director quite elegantly states that, of course, Hachez is something altogether else than the average contestant: “…we offer a special and exceptional chocolate, which naturally does not meet the average taste of the masses, but an exclusive one.” Well well, if their stuff wasn’t so good, I would be tempted to find out more about the ideology that dictated these lines.
And here is the rub. Not all of Hachez’ chocolate is good. There are various high-cocoa-content chocolates in Hachez’ catalog, and here, things have turned rough in recent times. I have earlier written about the taste balance of various versions of the 77% Cocoa d’Arriba line. My conclusion in my earlier post was “One would wish the people of Hachez to reconsider their fancy experiments, or to offer several cocoa blends within this line to match their specialty recipes more closely.”
On the other hand, I used to like the classic Cocoa d’Arriba bar, the one with no added fancy flavors, very much. That was years ago. Let’s see what Hasso G. Nauck, the Hachez business director, has to say about the newest test results of this variety: “Since our chocolate with 77 % cocoa content was the product in the test with the greatest cocoa intensity, it did not surprise us that we were described as “very bitter”. On the other hand, we would like to leave it to everyone’s individual judgment whether we ought to be described as “faulty”, “slightly rancid” or “very slightly strange”.” Wow. Here is someone who really is sure of his products.
I am not half so sure. The Cocoa d’Arriba used to be smooth in texture albeit a bit rustic in composure. It lacked (and lacks) the sourness of some of the high-cocoa-content competitors, and the brittle dustiness of others, both of which is decidedly positive. But something must have changed over the years, not only the packaging and the shape of the bar. These days, this chocolate in fact does have a funny aftertaste. “Bitter” is not the word – it resembles closest the aftertaste of Brazil nuts past their date, or the smell of too-old Indonesian Keluwek nuts. One might accept such an aftertaste in some specialized single-origin chocolates that have occupied the top shelf of a specialty shop a few months too many, but as a default condition in a prominent product line of a luxury brand, this taste has no place. So ‘rancid’ no; ‘faulty’ yes. Certainly not ‘very slightly strange’ either, in fact, just plain old ill advised: there cannot be any doubt that in the Cocoa d’Arriba, Hachez is using top quality ingredients and the most adequate production methods, just as in their other most excellent chocolates. The problem must, hence, lie in the mix – the taste selection – or in modern terms, the actually intended product profile. Apparently the taste-master’s carefully honed taste and my personal taste don’t match. I should admit that single, patiently taken pieces of this chocolate can occasionally be nice in spite of everything I said.
This is patently not the case with the fanciful fruity or nutty varieties of Cocoa d’Arriba. I’m talking about the Mango-Chili bar, the Blackberry bar, the Strawberry-Pepper bar, the Orange bar, a bar with peanuts, the one with raspberries and balsamic vinegar and finally, tomato and sea salt.
The Orange may be okay, and the Strawberry Pepper is perhaps slightly uncommon but it did amuse me for a while when it was new. Raspberry and balsamic vinegar survives as well, because one fortunately can’t taste the vinegar.
Mango-Chili and Blackberry both have the very unfortunate characteristic of enhancing the dubious flavor component of the cocoa that I described above. Even if that flavor perhaps was a deliberate product line decision, the addition of these fruits smacks of someone’s slipping touch and is due for a serious revision.
Peanut is downright bad. If the Hachez people loved freshly roasted prime-quality peanuts just as much as they love chocolate, this accident would never have happened.
As a joke, one of my colleagues and I once developed the idea of a luxury restaurant in the self-punishing department. The menu should contain all sorts of luxury food in absolutely impalpable combinations. Our problem was that while we could think of lots of crude breaches in taste etiquette (such as a combination of good red wine and Swedish surströmming, for example), we lacked the knowledge for developing the really sneakily sophisticated creations that would attract a truly dedicated public. Our plan amounted to nothing – Hachez, however, has taken the concept to perfection. I am talking about Cocoa d’Arriba Tomato & Sea Salt.
There is little that is more satisfying than nice sun-dried tomatoes, or good chocolate. But the combination of the two, made crunchy by morsels of salt, is the worst catastrophe in terms of pleasure food that I have ever encountered, and believe me, if you live in Sweden and sometimes eat in restaurants, you encounter a lot. Believe me, too, that I made a sincere effort to eat and like the stuff. But how can you like something that tastes like toenail jam?
A full jackpot for the taste laboratory at Hachez in Bremen. Their tomato team should be stewed in vinaigrette and dressed with pickled pumpkins (Hey. There’s another idea). Or assigned to clean the shop floor henceforth. On their knees. Using old toothbrushes.
And this must happen to my absolute favorite brand of chocolates worldwide. I can’t believe it.