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Cross Country Drive

Seriously Belgian. Naturally African.

Between the weather and the pandemic, the world has a little less sunshine and happiness than before. That said, we need to remember that this is temporary… What is interesting is the new nuances of “local”, and “stay close to home”. In travel terminology, in the past this would infer that perhaps you were going to stay in South Africa as opposed to travelling overseas, or even holiday in your province. Currently, these terms could mean staying within a 50km radius of your home. 

As we slowly open up, the progression from home to province to South Africa to International is going to be gradual for tourism. It is rumoured that this will be one of the last industries to open up completely. That said, we’re all experiencing some levels of cabin fever, so let’s make the best of a difficult situation – why not explore your home town? It is time to become a tourist in your own city, wherever that may be…

More than that, it is time to carefully consider where you spend your disposable income, and whom you support. Make every penny count towards building our economy and supporting those lovely, quirky entrepreneurs that have managed to survive the last few months. They are all really in need of our support – the large corporates will survive, but for smaller companies the future is less certain.

Many of us are based in Jozi, which I think is one of the most interesting cities in the world. I am particularly intrigued by people who have left our shores for many different reasons, and who choose to come back. Somehow it reinforces the fact that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. One such individual is Vicki Bain. 

Vicki Bain, chocolatier extraordinaire

She has a background in environmental law and sustainability, and her passion was and still is this beautiful planet that we have borrowed from our children.  Her career took her to France and then Belgium, consulting to companies on how to comply with the various environmental laws and regulations in different countries. Whilst in Belgium, she discovered another passion, falling deeply in love with chocolate!  It was an easy conversion to a profession that combines both art and science. She was incredibly homesick, and chose to return to her roots.  She was raised in Johannesburg, and has a deep love for the country that has surrounded her for most of her life. And now, the Chocoloza that she and her team have built combines her passion for environmental protection and celebration, but also women’s empowerment and supporting the local economy. 

‘Seriously Belgian. Naturally African.’  This means they use pure Belgian chocolate and the typically Belgian approach to pralines, but the rest of their ingredients are as fresh and local as they can get…

“One of the many things I love about our country is that we are so spoilt when it comes to food.  Having lived in Europe for 14 years, I now have a deep appreciation for the quality and availability of our fruit and nuts and dairy – something that I might have taken for granted previously.  As an environmentalist living in a cold, northern country, if you want to eat seasonal, fresh fruit and veg that hasn’t been shipped from the other side of the planet then you are very, very limited.  When you are eating a steak that has been industrially raised on a very small plot of land and raised to get the most out of that, you just can’t compare it to a beautiful piece of fresh, Karoo lamb which has been raised in one of the most glorious spacious places on the planet. I’m not much of a meat eater, and I will not eat a battery chicken or anything with an unhappy story, so the difference has really stayed with me. I will tell anyone prepared to listen how lucky we are to be living in this country of ours, and how spoilt we are for food.

The same thing applies to fruit and veg and nuts and dairy.  At Chocoloza we use cream that comes from Mooberry Farms, from free range cows that have been raised without growth hormones or routine antibiotics – and you just cannot compare the taste of their cream.  So, we use that when we make our ganaches or our caramels.  If you ever come to our flagship store at 44 Stanley, you will see the glass-fronted workshop behind the counter and you might find us making tonka caramel – a big, steaming pot of boiling cream infused with fresh, grated tonka beans being poured into another big steaming pot of caramelised sugar, and the big, willowing clouds of flavour and scent just can’t fail to make you happy.  

Another favourite recipe of mine is our Granadilla Passion, which has become our chocolate tribe’s most favourite praline (next being our Lime & Basil, and our Salty Tango).  It’s a white chocolate, which is interesting because a lot of people think that they don’t like white chocolate because it’s generally too sweet.  But it absolutely should NOT be too sweet – sugar is one of those things that we use very little of, because it’s mostly used as a cheap way to fill things up and extend the shelf life.  It doesn’t add any flavour of its own, and in fact it tends to mask the flavour of whatever else you are creating.  So, our Granadilla Passion is made with fresh granadillas from the lovely Laiken and Jason who run Ganico – an organic farm out in Muldersdrift.  We use their granadilla pulp, sieve it and reduce it (another good time to come and take a big, gulp of the air in our workshop!) and turn it into a ganache using Callebaut high quality white chocolate, which is full of flavour and cocoa butter but not full of sugar, so you get all the flavour of the granadilla coming through. It’s a real explosion of flavour. It really is true that when you focus on great quality ingredients, prepared with love and care, and without artificial flavours or preservatives or palm oil, the result is something exceptional. 

On the other end of the scale, we make a wonderful praline that we call our Madagascar Marble, which is made with single-origin Madagascan chocolate and plenty of girlpower!  Madagascan chocolate naturally has a bit of a fresh, fruity, almost berryish taste – all naturally present in the cocoa.  Cocoa is a lot like coffee or grapes – if you don’t blend it with other origins, you really get the flavour of where it’s from. If you come and join us on one of our Chocolate Adventure Evenings, you’ll leave with a full insight to where that flavour comes from (as well as box of chocolates that you have made yourself in our workshop) but suffice to say, we are often misled by looking just at the % and not at other aspects like the origin and traceability of that cocoa. How was it grown, was it gentle with the earth and our people, how does it actually taste?

I also love that our Madagascan Marbles are made with African cocoa, the same way that our Creamy Coffee ganache is made with African coffee beans from the lovely humans at Bean There Coffee.  Our raspberries come from Mama Lungi’s Field Berry Farm near Walkerville, where she grows the most beautiful quality berries imaginable.  And I will often volunteer to go and pick up our stash just for the beautiful drive out there. It fits with our mission to try to source as local as possible, to try to keep our economy supported but also because we really should be very proud of our local goods – they are such excellent quality. And how can you not love ingredients that are grown in this gorgeous part of the world?  So, we don’t have pistachio as an option (until someone starts growing them locally!) but our selection is really a celebration of the best that South African and Africa has to offer!

Chocolate really is both art and science.  The science lies in getting the cocoa butter (as well as the chocolate) perfectly tempered – something that all of our chocolatiers can do on sight alone. And then combining it with our azo-free colourings that we use to give that splash of colour, and beautiful shine on the pralines.  It requires perfect knowledge of how to get those little cocoa butter crystals to behave perfectly, the skill to airbrush the colour on or hand-decorate it.  And then we mould them nice and thin, so that they crack open quickly in your mouth – giving you a burst of the flavour and happiness inside.  The art is in the flavour combinations, in the careful decoration of the pieces, in the love that goes into creating pieces of chocolate art.  The science is in making it look easy. 

As I write this during lockdown, Chocoloza is at work and selling from our 44 Stanley and Checkers Sandton outlets, and we have plenty to keep us busy.  But my little soul is longing for the Karoo, for the open veld, for Suikerbosrand, for whatever open piece of our beautiful country we can get out to with binoculars and our well-loved bird book.  And when I get there, I want to know that I have done everything in my power to keep it that way.  So, for us, that also means that our packaging is all locally made from local materials.  Our boxes are made in Joburg from 100% recycled board, and when you refill them, we’ll give you a free, extra chocolate in your box.  We are completely plastic-free, so even the little transparent windows in our Easter egg boxes are made from wood cellulose instead of plastic.  Whilst I might not be advising big corporates on how to comply with their air emissions or waste permits, at least I know that my team and I are doing as much as we possibly can to celebrate and protect our little corner of the Earth.”

The heart and soul of Chocoloza is women empowerment and their love for our country. They are a team of 13 women, all of whom have been trained at Chocoloza to be top quality chocolatiers. They recruit on passion – people who want to grow and learn and be part of a team that wants to take on the world together.  Their focus on passion has given them the most incredible team (they have people who used to be transport drivers, domestic workers, night club managers) together making the most incredible team you will ever come across in the world of chocolate. 

This is what we are talking about!! Spend your money with those who put our earth, our beautiful country and her people first. Make every cent really count…

#StayWarm #StaySafe #ExploreLocal

Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team

Instagram/Facebook: @chocolozabelgianchocolates
Twitter: @chocoloza 
Shop: 44 Stanley Ave (Milpark), Johannesburg
Tel: 010 900 4892

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