Nibbles & Tipples: Sake, Whisky and Chocolate Pairings with Fossa Chocolate
There’s a scene in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where the visionary Mr Wonka – owner of the Wonka Chocolate Factory - declares he’s created the ultimate chewing gum:
“Just a little strip of Wonka's magic chewing-gum — and that's all you'll ever need at breakfast, lunch, and supper! This piece of gum I've just made happens to be tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie, but you can have almost anything you want!'”
The eccentric Willy Wonka, played by Johnny Depp. (Image source: NDTV.com)
I always wondered what would happen if we had a Wonka Chocolate Factory in Singapore. Well first off, gum would be banned. But secondly and more importantly, perhaps instead of tomato soup, roast beef and blueberry pie, confectionaries might be inspired by popular local flavours of mala xiang guo, salted egg cereal prawn, and pineapple tarts?
Turns out that’s not so far-fetched a concept!
The kid version of me would be astonished to know that such a chocolate factory would eventually come to exist, homegrown right here in Singapore.
Spicy Mala, Salted Egg Cereal and Pineapple Tart chocolate bars. (Image sources: Fossa Chocolate, Wok and Kin)
Introducing Fossa Chocolate, Singapore’s first bean-to-bar craft chocolate maker. Since Fossa Chocolate’s founding in 2017, the team of chocolate makers – headed by a trio of friends Jay, Charis and Yilina – have constantly dreamt up new and experimental chocolate bars that incorporate uniquely Asian ingredients.
Like a kid in a candy shop, I’m happy to report that I recently purchased three different bars of Fossa chocolate today, each a different flavor with an Asian flair. As if that wasn’t enough of a treat, some of them were enjoyed as pairings with spirits.
My chocolate haul.
Yet before I dive into the chocolate reviews (and succumb to a sugar rush), I feel it necessary to discuss a couple of things unique about Fossa...
Elevating Asian Flavors in Craft Chocolate
Located in sunny Singapore, the team at Fossa Chocolate have often taken the expansive map of Asia as potential flavour reference points. And why not? Asia is home to a diverse variety of local ingredients and taste palettes, each with their own unique characteristics.
Yet when they first start operations, the team noticed that many of the dominant flavours in craft chocolate were still mainly shaped around Western ingredients and taste preferences. One of their first efforts to rectify this was a collaboration with tea curators Pekoe & Imp to create Chinese tea chocolates. As founder Charis Chia pointed out:
“There aren’t any fine Chinese tea chocolates on the market. There’s earl grey, English breakfast, but no honey orchid hongcha, or honey orchid oolong. So that’s why we wanted to try to put all these teas into chocolate.”
(Image source: The Chocolate Website)
Since then, other exciting Asian-inspired creations have included a satay-sauce inspired Chilli Peanut Praline, a Shrimp and Bonito bar inspired by a trip to Tokyo, and Kaya Toast chocolates made from Nanyang Kaya.
(Image source: Fossa Chocolate)
Bean to Bar
As bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Fossa makes its chocolate from scratch using cocoa beans. This compares to traditional commercial practices of using couverture chocolate, used by larger brands like Hershey’s and Cadbury. Fossa sources its cocoa directly from growers and fermentaries, paying attention to how the terroir (or climate) where the crops are grown may influence the final flavors.
They occasionally also work with farmers to try out new fermentation and drying protocols – post-harvesting variables that also shape the taste and qualities of the cocoa beans.
Sourcing, sorting, roasting, grounding, setting... In the words of Willy Wonka: "Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple" (Image source: Fossa Chocolate)
There is clearly a lot of thought and intention placed into sourcing, yet that is only half the battle won. Once the beans reach their factory, a manual and time-consuming process begins. The team painstaking sorts the beans, before roasting them to enhance its natural flavours and aromatics. Next, the roasted beans have to be grounded into cocoa liquor (sometimes for even up to 5 days!) before being conched with sugar in a melanguer to smoothen the texture. This process also helps to remove acidity. Finally, the chocolate is carefully tempered and set into bars.
We’ve opined elsewhere about the concept of craft in whisky and spirits making, and in the context of chocolate making, allow me to borrow @Charsiucharlie’s definition of craft creators:
Small, independent operations, devoted to authenticity, use of traditional or local ingredients, traditional production methods and the prioritisation of quality over efficiency or profit.
This is certainly the way I’ve come to think about Fossa. They ain’t your Cadbury, but Fossa is a brand borne from a love of fine cocoa, a respect for process and a goal of elevating Asian flavours on the world stage.
Now without further ado, let's dive into the chocolates!
Chocolate Bar #1: Sake Kasu 73% Dark Chocolate
As a sake fan, this Sake Kasu dark chocolate caught my eye immediately. Sake kasu is the leftover rice that remains after brewing sake, and this bar is made from sake kasu sourced from two craft breweries: the first being white kasu from Akishika Shuzo in Osaka and the second being a red kasu from Mukai Shuzo in Kyoto. The cocoa was sourced from Kalantan.
There’s an immediate and robust aroma of sake that wafts up as you unwrap the package. I catch a whiff of mild yeast flavors, reminiscent of aged cheese and marmite spread, before a faint scent of Japanese grapes follows.
(Image sources: Sweet and Savoury by Shinee, Edible Boston)
Upon taking a bite, there's a slightly bitter yet elegant taste of roasted dark cocoa, before very gentle notes of mushrooms and miso comes to the fore. The chunks of dehydrated sake kasu folded into the chocolate adds a really nice textual contrast, and as one chews on it further, delicate lashings of raisins and grapes emerge. That said, the fruitiness does take a backseat to nuttier umami flavours of miso, mild cheese, and marmite.
This was perhaps the most complex of the three I tried!
A grown up's chocolate bar, with a robust earthiness to it. Sake fans will appreciate that one can clearly taste the influence of the fermented rice, which adds extra dimension that rounds out the bitterness in the Kalantan cocoa.
I’d recommend pairing this with a Joyo Tokubetsu Junmai 60, a light-tasting sake with muscat flavours. The bright fruitiness of this sake would complement the earthier, more full-bodied flavors of this dark chocolate bar well!
Chocolate Bar #2: Salted Egg Chocolate
The brand calls its Salted Egg Cereal chocolate "your favorite tze-char dish in a bar". To make this bar, Fossa used white chocolate that was slowly caramelised to attain a blond color and biscuity scent, which was then blended with homemade salted egg cereal.
For those unfamiliar, tze-char is a local colloquial term derived from the Hokkien term for "cook and fry", and refers to popular hawker stalls that serve a variety of home-cooked Chinese style dishes. One of the more popular tze-char dishes in Singapore is the salted egg yolk cereal prawn - a crunchy, sweet-savoury buttery dish that me and the rest of this country are hopelessly addicted to.
(Image source: Eatbook.sg)
I wasn't disappointed. The texture of the chocolate is really creamy and milky off the bat, and there's a slightly charred smokey quality to the caramel sweetness of the blond chocolate. It really does remind you of the characteristic wok-hey taste you get in tze-char dishes!
You also get tiny bits of cereal and wildly aromatic crushed curry leaves folded into each nibble, resulting in the chocolate taking on a slightly grittier texture thats similar to the crunchiness of the cereal prawn dish. There's so many different flavours and textures at play here, but somehow it blends together in a really cohesive and delicious way.
Local fans may also be reminded of another delicious tze-char dish when savoring this chocolate - butter pork ribs with condensed milk powder sprinkled on top.
Absolutely delicious. (Image sources: Sethlui.com)
Safe to say: this was my favorite of the lot! I love the bold re-intrepretion of a savoury hawker dish. Using blond chocolate was a great call, as it produced this creamy malty-vanillic flavor that acted as a great base on which the spicy scent of the curry leaves and the smokey stir-fry quality of the salted egg cereal could do their thing.
I tried this with the Benraich Smoke Season - a dram that has always reminded me of honey-glaze char siu. The sweet-smokiness of the whisky added extra dimension to the charred caramel flavors in this chocolate.
Chocolate Bar #3: Yuzu Sea Salt 54% Dark Milk
Last but not least, the Yuzu Sea Salt Milk Chocolate. If you're a fan of yuzu tea or lemon meringue, this is the one for you.
The milk chocolate here has a caramel, biscuity taste, and reminds me of digestive biscuits. It's further elevated by the sprinkling of sea salt flakes, which cuts through the maltiness to bring out its sweetness.
Interspersed in the chocolate are candied yuzu peels, that bring forth a citric note that come across really crisp and sharp. I like that the yuzu peel is chewy and coated with tiny sugar crystals, as it gives this chocolate a great textural contrast. One might also be reminded of candied ginger pastilles.
If I had one gripe, it was that I wish the yuzu peels were distributed in smaller pieces and more evenly integrated into the whole chocolate, as at times the malty chocolate and the yuzu peel felt like two distinct but separate flavor components.
(Image sources: Baking with Granny, The Japan Times)
Overall, this was a really light-tasting milk chocolate with a very pleasant airiness to it. I imagine this would be great to munch on after an oilier, fried meal - delivering a refreshing hit of fruity sweetness to the palette.
Munch on this while you sip on the Caol Ila 2008, 13 Years, 55.4%, Signatory Vintage from Malt Grain Cane. This Islay whisky brings forth whiffs of sea salt and ocean spray, blending beautifully with the citric flavors of the yuzu peels!
As someone who's always on the hunt for new whisky and spirit pairings, I'm glad I gave Fossa Chocolate a try. I've found their handcrafted chocolates tend to carry greater depth and layers in flavors and textures, which can hold up well to the complexity of craft spirits. Mr Wonka would be proud.
On a sugar high,
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