I’ve been reviewing a lot of unconventional chocolate lately – nib-filled bars and coated cacao beans to name just some, so I thought it was about time to get back to a simple, pure chocolate bar and talk about the essence of cocoa origin. Cocoa origin is primarily about place. Where the cacao is grown imparts a certain character to the chocolate that cannot be reproduced exactly the same way elsewhere.
The venerable Valrhona makes such a wide range of chocolate that many people are not aware of some of their more obscure limited edition bars. Akin to how some of the world’s finest wines are made, the Chocolat de Domain bars use cacao from only one estate where Valrhona can more closely control and monitor the quality of the beans produced year after year. In keeping with the wine analogy, Valrhona declares a vintage for each harvest, in this case 2009. The Palmira Plantation is situated in the fertile lands of west Venezuela close to lake Maracaibo. It’s here that they grow the world’s most rare major cacao variety – Criollo, a flavor bean that’s used to make less than 5% of all the world’s chocolate , a bean known for it’s subtle nuanced flavors. By getting very specific about location – down to one individual estate, Valrhona takes single origin to the extreme.
Put it all together and you’ve got something truly unique – a chocolate made from single-estate cacao from a specific harvest year representing the characteristics of that growing season, location and, most importantly, bean variety – Criollo. Now that’s just half the battle because after harvest, there are nine more steps involved in making a fine chocolate bar all of which can be fouled up in some way. But, I wasn’t too worried going into this tasting since I’ve been told that the French know a little something about food and Valrhona about chocolate. No, I went into this with great expectations. So let’s taste.
WHAT: Valrhona Palmira Chocolat Noir de Domain (single estate). 64% cacao. 75g bar. Ingredients: cocoa beans from Venezuela, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin, vanilla. Where to buy.
WHEN: August 14, 2010
OVERALL RATING: 90
AROMA: Honey, caramel, lavender, vanilla, banana, orange blossom, faint almonds.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Banana, floral – lavender, light coffee and buttered toast.
MIDDLE TASTE: A long, slow release of fruit – blueberry, cantaloupe, apricot and orange. The fruit notes are less intense, yet not as short-lived as some less refined bars. They are slow, steady and elegant. Very gratifying.
FINISH: Orange, citrus, creme and angel food cake slowly dissolves into vanilla ice cream. A wonderful, long-lived finish leaves no unpleasant tastes. Fades into an almost imperceptible straw note.
TEXTURE: What is remarkable about the mouth feel was that the bar didn’t just melt away, it was more of a sensation of dissolving slowly into liquid. This is velvet.
LAST BITE: Most likely the result of long refining and conching, this bar gives up its fruit in a slow, steady stream that you can savor. Unlike some of the minimally processed bars like Taza  where you get a sudden blast of bright fruit, Palmira is elegant, refined and sensual. This bar is all feminine , not necessarily voluptuous like Scarlett Johansson, but more elegant and mature like Cate Blanchett.
The most rewarding part of the experience is the middle taste with its long and remarkably well-balanced fruit. Valrhona seems to have worked hard to remove any off-notes at the expense of some intensity in the middle. The result is well worth the trade-off with satisfying well-balanced fruit that you don’t need to search for. What a fine criollo bar should be.
 I paid for all of the chocolate myself.
 To compare Taza to Valrhona is absurd, but that’s the point – these are completely different styles.
 Estimates of world-wide Criollo production vary greatly with some estimates at less than 1%.