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Italian chocolatier finds sweet spot in Philippine cacao

Simone Mastrota’s craft chocolates use only two ingredients–local cacao and organic cane sugar
/ 07:10 AM December 07, 2017

Local chocolate is dressed up in Florentine paper. —PHOTOS BY JOAN BONDOC

Richly patterned paper and gold tinsel were peeled off to display sleek chocolate bars. The guests couldn’t believe that the chocolate was grown in the Philippines, and used only two ingredients—local cacao and organic cane sugar.

Tigre Y Olivia chocolate reflects the emerging bean-to-bar trend in the Philippines. Chocolatiers treat the cacao beans themselves, instead of buying processed chocolate from another manufacturer.

Italian chocolatier Simone Mastrota classifies his chocolates as single estate, which means the main ingredient comes from only one area. The cacao beans are sourced from Davao del Norte, Davao Occidental and South Cotabato, all of which have been farming coffee and cacao for centuries.

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Complex tastes

Like a sommelier describing the notes in wine, Mastrota waxed lyrical about the complex tastes of each dark chocolate bar. Every bite was meant to release a host of sensations and subtle flavors.

He invited the audience to rate the flavors according to acidity, bitterness, astringency, sweetness, fruitiness, floral tones, nuttiness and earthiness.

“This is a bit drier on the mouth, but you can taste the mocha, cinnamon and pepper,” Mastrota said about a chocolate bar whose cacao origins are in Davao del Norte.

Turning to another variant whose cacao beans come from Davao Occidental, Mastrota explained that its intensity unleashed earthy undertones such as mushrooms.

Asked how he produced nuanced chocolates despite using just two ingredients, Mastrota said: “It starts with finding the right bean. I work with farmers who know their fermentation. The wrong method can kill the flavor of cacao. I roast, crack and winnow the cacao beans, separate skin from bean, and grind with a stone grinder for a few days.”

The cane sugar and chocolate are left in the melanger (mixer) for more than a day. Cacao has to be ground before it’s made into a paste. It’s mixed with sugar, tempered, put in molds and wrapped.

“It’s a long process. I don’t push a button and out comes the chocolate from the machine,” said Mastrota.

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Simone Mastrota

Right farmers

Mastrota had been a chocolatier in California. Last year, his Filipino-American wife Mia, a data analyst, was posted in the Philippines. Mastrota and his family moved to San Juan, La Union, close to the beach.

Knowing that the Philippines had a cacao-growing tradition, he traveled around the country to find the best cacao. In America and Italy, he had to import his raw materials from cacao-producing countries. In the Philippines, he saw the opportunity to put its chocolate on the world map.

Finding the right farmers was challenging. “I’ve had bags full of bugs, or cacao that was not fermented properly. It was a learning experience for me,” he recalled.

Mastrota works with suppliers from Mindanao who know how to ferment, dry and store the ingredients properly. He is expanding his network into La Union, other parts of Luzon and Bohol.

“The fun part is getting cacao from various origins. Like grapes for wine, cacao will taste different depending on their soil, climate, altitude and variety,” he said.

Heritage

Mastrota’s craft chocolates, Tigre Y Olivia, are named after his daughters Tiger Lily, 6, and Olivia, 2. In a nod to his Italian heritage, the bars are elegantly wrapped with Florentine paper and gold paper.

The Santa Maria variant is 75-percent dark chocolate with a classic taste of fruity notes, spices and honey. The Santo Tomas bar is 77-percent dark chocolate with a citrusy scent with floral and caramel notes, while Subasta is 70-percent dark chocolate that is earthy and slightly bitter.

“It’s not for everyone, but it adds variety,” he said.

For people who want something sweeter, he introduced the milk chocolate version and the Talandang which is 70-percent rich and set off by the sweetness of raisins. —CONTRIBUTED

Tigre Y Olivia is available at the Christmas Market of Power Plant Mall; Solace Hotel, 9639 Kamagong, Makati; Ritual at Languages Internationale Bldg., 926 Arnaiz Ave., Makati; Commune, 36 Polaris, Makati; YDG Coffee in ID Center, Don Chino Roces Ext., Makati.; and Hillside Café, 57 Mother Ignacia, Quezon City. Follow on Instagram @tigreyoliviachocolate

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TAGS: cacao, Chocolates, organic cane sugar, Simone Mastrota, Tigre Y Olivia chocolate
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