Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Milk chocolate a taste of the past

Chocolatier Igor Van Gerwen has produced a 47 per cent cacao milk chocolate using Peruvian Pure Nacional, the rarest cacao bean in the world.

In 2013, Belgian-born Van Gerwen was given exclusive rights to introduce the most sought-after chocolate on the planet, Fortunato No. 4, to the Australian market.

Van Gerwen, chief chocolatier at the House of Anvers, in Latrobe, Tasmania, visited Peru in March 2014 to be involved with the harvesting, fermenting and drying of the famous cacao beans. He says the trip satisfied his conscience as a chocolatier that the Fortunato No. 4 was sustainable and that the farmers were receiving a good return. It also inspired a milk chocolate that he says has a cacao content comparable to Belgian dark chocolate.

 Igor Van Gerwen named his chocolate after Peruvian farmer Don Fortunato.
“To me, it’s perfectly balanced. It is like a chocolate macchiato with a dash of milk,” Van Gerwen says. “If you think about it, most Belgian dark chocolate only contains 54 per cent cacao and some as low as 45.5 per cent. The low bitterness of the white beans allows us to increase the cacao content and reduce the sugar content by 30 per cent to make a milk chocolate that is not too bitter,” he says.

Van Gerwen's trip was such a success that he was invited back to Peru in July to talk to farmers at a conference on growing heirloom varieties of cacao, and participate in demonstrations at the 5th Salon del Cacao y Chocolate in Lima from July 3.

Igor Van Gerwen inhaling the exotic aroma of the Pure Nacional Dried Cacao Bean, in situ, in Peru.
For those not in the know about Fortunato No. 4, the story began about a decade ago, when Americans Brian Horsley and Dan Pearson - who were working in Peru sourcing food for miners - rediscovered 24 Pure Nacional cacao trees in the Maranon Valley in Peru. Van Gerwen says the trees have been certified to be the original variety by the US Department of Agriculture. 

"Fortunato No. 4 is couverture chocolate made from the original cacoa strain, thought to have been wiped out by disease in 1916. Lost for around 100 years, it was rediscovered growing at a height of 1000 metres in the remote Maranon Canyon in Peru in 2007. This Pure Nacional cacao has 40 per cent white beans, which adds a nutty flavour to the original fruit and floral flavours," says Van Gerwen.

“Due to the low tannins and bitterness in the white beans, we have been able to develop a milk chocolate with low sugar and high cacao content. Most milk chocolate contains between 30 and 38 per cent cacao, so, in short, this is a full-bodied milk chocolate with a similar cacao content as a Belgian Cark couverture,” he says.

The cacao is prized by some of the world’s top chefs and chocolatiers such as Anthony Bourdain, who uses the first harvest of the beans for his Good & Evil chocolate bar. “I have tried many varieties in my 30 years as a chocolatier and I find the balance of the Fortunato No. 4 cacao bean and the rich dairy used the best I have ever tasted,” he says.

Chocolatier Igor Van Gerwen went to Peru in search of the 'holy grail' of cacao trees in the Highlands.
Van Gerwen says his trip to Peru in search of the prized cacao trees was like searching for ‘the holy grail' in the highlands. The Belgium-born chocolatier named the chocolate he makes using the prized bean after Don Fortunato, the owner of the mother cocoa tree.

In the spirit of collaboration that mainlanders often comment is so typical of Tasmanians, Willy Simpson, of Seven Sheds Brewery, has developed a beer called Black Inca, using the Fortunato No. 4 for flavour. The two producers are geo-tagged onto an interactive map for the Cradle To Coast Tasting Trail, which has many more examples of producers working together in the region for the greater good.

"I hope my customers enjoy this rare treat as much as I do," says Van Gerwen.

 Milk Chocolate made from Fortunato No. 4 is flavour squared.
For more information about Fortunato No. 4 Milk Chocolate, please visit www.anvers-chocolate.com.au

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Bewitched by Bruny

Bruny Island emerged as one of the top holiday destinations in Tasmania when gambling magnate David Walsh gave the island state a boost of optimism, investing some of his millions on the Museum of Old and New Art.

On weekends, visitors to MONA - which opened in 2011 - arrive like invading armies. And, when they are done walking through rooms where art, sex, defecation and death are front-of-mind, it's only natural that they might want to become fresh-air fiends on the rugged island that is just a short ferry ride from Kettering, on the outskirts of Hobart.

View from the top ... at Cape Bruny Lighthouse, Bruny Island, Tasmania.                                      

Take a hike
My cousin Patrick Bortignon has lived on Bruny Island for 30 years. He was the resident National Parks ranger for two decades and says he has noticed a huge influx of domestic and international travellers over the past five years or so.

The island's beauty is indeed exceptional with its craggy cliffs and black sand beaches reminders of its volcanic past. Patrick says it's worth making the effort to trudge along the trail to Grass Point, which curls along the coastline and rewards explorers with views of Adventure Bay and Cape Queen Elizabeth. The more energetic can leg it to the Fluted Cape, which climbs steeply to the summit and slices through towering sculptured cliffs.

Walk up an appetite on the walk to Grass Point, one of many trails that crisscross Bruny Island.  Photo: Carla Grossetti
Let there be light
Bruny Lighthouse is another top-notch attraction with stunning views of the island that sits some 3000km from Antarctica. Tucked away on the island's most southern tip, it makes an ideal lunch stop and also showcases the island's rocky extremities.

As well as being a great place to marvel at the forces of nature that have carved the coastline, Bruny Island is a haven for wildlife, too. Spot sea eagles, echidnas, rare white rock wallabies, penguins and seals, pods of dolphins and whales making their annual migration past the island.  Chugging from cove to cove on board a Bruny Island Cruises boat is another way to appreciate this raggedy-edged location.

The isthmus known as 'The Neck' is another spectacular landform and trekking up the timber-stepped boardwalk to the Truganini Lookout is a must. After you've taken some time to appreciate the 360 degree views and tramped down the stairs to the penguin rookery, do read the plaque that honours Truganini, one of Tasmania's foremost Aboriginal leaders of the 1800s. Truganini's life story deserves reverence and demands visitors reflect on the pain and suffering that was inflicted on so many indigenous Australians during settlement.

Take the timber-stepped boardwalk to the top of Truganini Lookout.                                              Photo: Carla Grossetti
Made on Bruny
Although it takes one and a half hours to drive from the north (Dennes Point) to south (Cape Bruny), there are so many compelling reasons to stop the car that it's impossible to experience everything on offer in one day.

One of the best things about Bruny Island is the fact that you can go from hiking in the remote wilderness and bouts of birdwatching to tasting artisan cheeses, fresh-shucked oysters and premium wines all while doing a lap of the island.

When you have had enough of being whipped by the wind and admiring the beauty of the precipitous cliffs, Bruny has many food and wine focal points that have given the island added appeal. Hotel Bruny is one of the local eateries that celebrates the region's bounty and gives it a bit of gastronomic cred. 

The Bruny Island Cheese Co. 
Say cheese
The hotel bigs up Bruny Island with Bruny Island smoked Atlantic salmon topped with Bruny Island Cheese, Bruny Island oysters or Huon Valley field mushrooms on toast. Braised shoulder of lamb slow-roasted in Moo Brew pale ale with pink eye potatoes is also engineered to thrill. 

It's fair to say Bruny became a bonafide destination for food tourists when Bruny Island Cheese Co's artisan cheesemaker Nick Haddow set up an outlet on the island to sell his award-winning cheeses.  Bruny Island was also given a ringing endorsement when the island was featured on SBS's Gourmet Farmer series, which Haddow co-hosts with food critic turned pig farmer, Matthew Evans.  

Bruny Island Cheese Co. is now a destination in its own right, the cellar door is the place to go for a cheese platter and bottle of local wine. Haddow also sells homemade ice creams that sing of the seasons: think organic rhubarb and bay, quince ripple and leatherwood honey.

Another notch in the belt
Drive-thru oysters? Get Shucked!
If you want to put a lid on your coffee cravings, head up the hill to the Hothouse Cafe, where you can enjoy panoramic views of Neck Beach, the Tasman Peninsula and Mt Wellington.  Those running late for the ferry should screech through the Get Shucked drive-through to order a dozen of Bruny Island's best.

The Bruny Island Berry Farm is also worth a pit-stop for the signature dish: mixed berries in champagne jelly served with cream and ice cream. For those interested in a tipple or two, a visit to Bruny Island Premium Wines, Australia's most southern vineyard, is a celebration of the island's cool climate with wines bursting with varietally definitive aromatics.

Getting there
Bruny Island is nearly 100km long so if you are on a day trip, it's best to catch the 7.45am ferry from Kettering. Early arrival at the terminal is suggested, especially on weekends. For enquiries, phone + 61 3 6272 2322.

Where to stay
Explorers Cottages are simple, comfortable self-contained cottages with a log fire. Located in Lunawanna, on the way to the Lighthouse, the cottages are an affordable option for families. At the Paris end of Bruny Island you will find the Cloudy Bay Beach House, voted Australia's best beach house in 2010.

The convict-built Cape Bruny Lighthouse was first lit in 1838.                                                           Photo: Carla Grossetti