June 18, 2013
Put simply, I love Friis Holm’s chocolate, and you will too.
When Mikkel Friis Holm took to the stage at Chocolate Unwrapped he left no one in any doubt how he felt about chocolate. He was at pains to emphasize the pleasure and the sensuality that chocolate’s unique cocktail of flavours and texture bring. He was cheeky and light-hearted in his presentation of his own glorious wares. His joy and jolly demeanour are not a stage act; his is genuinely infused with enthusiasm and delight for cacao, its potential, and the heavenly things he makes with it.
All of this belies the fact that he is a very serious chocolate maker indeed. He is passionate about sourcing the best cacao, gaining as direct a link as possible to the farmer and the product. He works with Xoco on sourcing the best fine flavour, directly-traded cacao, and is working on bringing the final details of production entirely under his control and making bean to bar.
What I love about Mikkel and his chocolate is that, unlike some chocolate obsessives, he hasn’t lost sight of the pleasure factor. Pursuit of esoteric flavours and production values can dominate and take precedence over the joy of chocolate. However every bar of Friis Holm chocolate I have tasted is gloriously, decadently, delicious, first and foremost.
What inspires me about Mikkel is how innovative he is in understanding and getting the most out of his beans, all the while charmingly self effacing about it.
The best way to explain both these things is to have a closer look at some of his chocolates:
A wonderful place to start is with the Nicaraguan Dark Milk 55%. I featured this bar as one of my top ten things of the whole of last year, and it is a likely candidate for this years list too. I am far from the only person who adores this chocolate, it was awarded one of only two medals for a milk chocolate at last years world finals of The International Chocolate Awards, and at the recent European semi-finals for the 2013 competition it won the milk chocolate gold! This chocolate is exceptionally smooth, with the beautiful melt characteristic of Friis-Holm’s style. It has cream in the aroma, and absolutely delivers the comfort-blanket warmth and ease of a milk chocolate. But it is also much more. It starts with a caramel note, which intensifies into deep flavour redolent of a caramel on the edge of burnt, smoky and glorious. Then it segues into the wonderful salty, almost savoury olive notes of a fine Nicaraguan cacao. What a pleasure, what a ride!
The second chocolate is the same cacao, also a dark milk, but increased up to 65% percentage. Tasting this will start to show you the kind of serious play Friis Holm is engaged in. By tweaking nothing but percentage he shows the startling difference in the slightest change. This chocolate is darker in appearance. The saltiness comes through quite early, with earthy notes and that dark caramel. Here there is toast at the end, and the olives are added to by a little herby basil note. This chocolate is less perfectly balanced, but at least as interesting and delicious.
Further to these two is an exclusive, as I have a secret stash of the same chocolate, but which was made without milk. Mikkel did not put this into production, but in the spirit of experimentation wanted to taste it nonetheless. So for comparison, he gave me a precious sample of the Nicaraguan, 65%, plain. This is darker still in appearance, as you would expect, and a drier melt, although still very smooth. It starts with a bright burst of olive, with that basil and lemon in the mix, then the cocoa notes arrive, and it is warm and spicy, finishing in the deep caramel, in this case with a malt edge. If this ever goes into production I will be first in the queue.
The final chocolate to consider is actually two chocolates, and to me represents much of what is special about Friis Holm, chocolate making, and the future of chocolate connoisseurship. In playing with the chocolate making process, Mikkel tasted a batch of Chuno cacao that had been divided in two parts and fermented with fractional difference. Both were fermented in equal quantity, in identical conditions and for the same number of days. The only difference being that one batch was turned over twice, and the other three times. He had no expectation of identifiable difference. What he found was startlingly clear, so much so that he put the chocolate into production, making two 70% dark bars with only this distinction between them. There is no more exciting demonstration of the effect of process on taste, and its potential. The double churned chocolate is the creamier of the two, and opens with a creamy hit of ripe plums and raisin, it has cinnamon and gingerbread, smooth cashew nut flavour and a long honeyed cocoa and fruit aftertaste.
Its brother, the triple turned chocolate is less subtle, more intense. It is brighter, with more acidity. The plums are replaced by grapefruit, the honey by dark caramel. It is tart and deep and a lemon curd, burnt sugar delight.
What is unavoidable is the clear difference, a hugely exciting discovery and, as with all of Friis Holm’s chocolates, an experience of pure pleasure and the finest taste.
Note: Friis Holm is based in Copenhagen, and while his chocolate is not easy to get hold of in the UK, you can buy it at chocolate shop Alexeeva & Jones in London’s Notting Hill Gate. Check the Friis Holm website for other stockists and festivals.