May 24, 2016
A thrilling Scandinavian chocolatier making waves on the world stage. A trip to Denmark never looked more enticing.
In a few short years Peter Svenningsen has gone from chocolate hobbyist, to fine chocolatier working exclusively with one of the best chocolate makers on the planet. With his clean approach, and thrillingly showcasing Mikkel Friis Holm’s chocolate, Peter has not only come to my attention, but has been winning awards by the handful at the International Chocolate Awards in both his Scandinavian heats and at the World Finals. In the recent 2016 Scandinavian heats he won 4 gold and 3 silver awards, particularly astounding when you consider that there is only ever one gold awarded in a given category.
Based in Denmark, Peter’s work is all about the chocolate he uses, which he sensitively creates into water ganaches or pairs with complimentary natural ingredients, many of them grown or foraged close to his home. The results are something I find deeply exciting, understated, thoughtful and thought provoking, intense in flavour but with a signature purity of taste. Meeting Peter late last year at The Chocolate Show in London was not only a rare opportunity to taste his chocolates outside of Denmark, but also a happy chance to meet the creator behind such thrilling work. He is the most enthusiastic and delightful man, wearing his success very lightly, and overjoyed that others are also excited about what he is doing.
When and why did you decide to start working with chocolate?
At the very beginning, it was due to my first wife being diagnosed with cancer. We were told to eat dark chocolate high percentage when craving for sweets. We lost the battle unfortunately. When I met my new wife, I wanted to be romantic, making filled chocolates, but she is lactose intolerant. So I decided to go with water…, after playing around, I decided after 28 years as a graphic designer, to go all in…, I did this in 2012…, I met Mikkel (Friis Holm), who was the first to really believe in my approach, and this took off. Now I love using his chocolates because of the quality.
Tell me a bit about how you make your chocolates?
For me its all about the chocolate. Being able to taste chocolate, and not something too perfumey or over sweet. Sometimes my “tastes” are so subtle you almost cannot taste them, but I sometimes do this to keep focus on the chocolate I am using. To bring out the acidity, sweetness, fruitiness of the cacao…, as Bill Bernbach, advertising guru from Madison avenue in the 60’s said: the magic is in the product! This I feel applies to the way I see filled chocolates. It might not be the classic “smooth” French/Belgian praline. For me it’s about taste, which means that its texture may be a little coarse or grainy if it gives me more taste. Like my 100% Grated or my Grainy Pear. I grate 100% into my ganache, so it gives more taste. And making my pear pieces, i use the whole pear for taste, and pears are grainy
You often add new seasonal recipes, do you enjoy cooking up new flavours and ideas?
I think it is important to always be nosey, to explore and discover. I think that if you stand still, you actually move backwards. Sometimes I discover a “new” taste I want to try. I might look forward, how it’s being used in the present “kitchens” but sometimes it’s fun to go backwards and find old recipes, see how they used it and maybe “reinvent” or modernise. I like making new varieties, but I think it’s important to not just make new things all the time. It’s a fine balance. But all in all, I love playing around, using nature’s own pantry in my chocolates.
Starting up your own business must have been a steep learning curve. What have been some of your greatest discoveries?
It’s been tough. Once I discovered the difference in using quality chocolate, I found that it was important to not compromise. But it is definitely not the easiest path to follow. But using quality ingredients makes all the difference, and I am sure that it will pay off in the long run! And oh god, the paper work! Who invented that?
Tell me a little about where you work, where you make the chocolates and then where you sell them.
At the moment I have my own little corner in Friis-Holm’s factory in Denmark. My ingredients I harvest, forage or grow myself. And alongside I find producers that have the same philosophy as I do to quality and uncompromising way of working with ingredients. Like using Iskilde water and Sealand Birk birch sap as bases. Finding the right organic blueberries or getting yearly harvest of sour cherry juices from Frederiksdal Cherrywine. I have very few specialty stores that sell for me, my main point of sales is b-t-b and to restaurants, cafes and hotels. It is easier as long as I am a one man company. I have now started selling in Japan, and hopefully new markets will come soon…,
How have you seen consumer and food professional attitudes change towards fine chocolate since you first became interested?
Definitely. Consumers are starting to take an interest in quality chocolate. To a degree one could say that we are, at least here in DK, where coffee roaster and micro breweries were some years ago. Today consumers are very into coffee beans, where they are from and what level of quality producers etc. Consumers would rather buy a little less, or pay a little more for high quality. This too can be seen in chocolate. The bean to bar movement has been a great eye opener for people, and now we chocolatiers can “tag” along. By using high end chocolate, our products also “improve”. Does that make sense?
Yes certainly! It is a trend towards connoisseurship across many foods. How do you think the chocolate market is going to develop going forward?
I think we will see more bean to bar producers, and also see more chocolate producers going back to making their own chocolates again. Maybe some chocolatiers will start to work with and attempt to produce their own chocolate for their pralines. A type of “micro” chocolate makers. Maybe :-). This could/might put more focus on protecting quality beans and plantations, hopefully creating better conditions.
Chocolate aside what food do you love?
I love all kinds of food, fresh produce, good meat and lots of home baked bread with homemade jam and preserves! Baking is definitely high on the list..,
Has your own palate and feelings about chocolate changed since you started?
Very much…, from enjoying “milk” chocolate together with dark chocolate, I almost never eat it any longer. Am totally in love with dark chocolate. My palate has developed so I enjoy chocolate even more now, have found myself actually being able to eat and enjoy some 100% bars! But again, percentage is not the most important thing, but the quality of beans being used, giving the chocolate its “body” its taste and various tasting notes.
What is coming next for Peter Svenningsen? What plans do you have for the chocolate and for the business?
To earn money…, hihi. To an extent I am at a crossroad now, where it takes money to earn money. This means I need to invest, in machinery etc to be able to expand. This would mean I could upscale and be able to produce larger amounts…, I would love to be able to expand, so I could bring in an extra partner. To develop and to be able to challenge and be challenged. So for me this is what 2016 is all about. And at the same time keeping my focus on maintaining the level of end product that I have achieved, at least so far..
Can you tell me what your desert island chocolate would be? It can be a bar, filled chocolate, chocolate dessert, anything chocolatey.
Thats an unfair question. Someone once asked me ‘name your 2 bread and butter pieces’…, well, I said there was the pecan piece, the olive oil piece, the cherry piece and maybe the spruce needle or the blueberry piece…, hihi. I think it would have to be a pure dark chocolate bar. Possibly the Medalga pure dark 70% from Friis-Holm, the one I just used to infuse arctic thyme into. Its a great mellow piece of chocolate.., or maybe the Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75%…, oh gosh…, not easy!
And what of the chocolates? I was lucky enough to have a few to taste. So here are my notes, just in case you weren’t already booking that trip to Copenhagen.
The Arctic Wild Thyme bar, marries an intense herbal infusion with the well matched fine cacao of Friis Holm’s superb Medalga chocolate. It won a gold award in the 2016 Scandinavian ICA heats.
Strawberry Gastrik, which won a bronze, is a very subtle affair. As Peter says, often his added flavours are there only to serve the chocolate, and this is certainly the case here. I loved this, finding the fruit and acidity of the added ingredients amplifying beautifully the green and fruity quality of the cacao.
Olive Oil and Yuzu takes green to another level, in which the sweet, grapefruity aromatic citrus are added to base notes of chocolate. This has an ending that I can only describe as deep green.
A 70 & 100% water ganache with 70% shell and vanilla, is super elegant. This is a lesson in fine dark chocolate, with rounded warmth, spice, dried fruit notes, and toffee, ending in toasted cocoa and subtle coffee notes. The chocolate used has been opened up by the creation into a ganache and the balanced use of a little of our most familiar spice.
Another 2016 gold medal winner, an 85% ganache with birch is, like all Peter’s work, a very pure taste experience. Smooth, without bitterness despite the high percentage chocolate used, it has a honeyed quality. Not so much in sweetness, as this is barely sweet (another characteristic of Peter’s work), but more in its subtle floral notes. The sap gives the chocolate an organic quality, the barest scent of leaf and tree. I loved this!
If you, like me, want to try more of Peter’s chocolates, then book a flight, be very nice to the friend who is travelling to Denmark, or watch out for any appearances he might make outside his native country. I’m crossing my fingers that he comes to The Chocolate Show again this year. I will be going shopping!