Precious little of all this matters to chocolate enthusiasts & everyday consumers unless the flavor measure up. The proof rests on the taste buds with the following caveat: beware of variability.

There are only great bars; no great chocolate per se. Makers face the daunting challenge of a 4-way interaction to orchestrating flavor development: a) genetics; b) terra; c) processing; & d) time (the last always & often patiently among the essential ingredients that bring it all together). It’s extremely difficult to fix any one of these factors let alone all of them simultaneously. If the devil’s in the details, then God presides over their consistency.

Artisan barsmiths approach this endeavor with a philosophy in mind, setting parameters of what to do, & utilizing techniques in how to do it. Yet with so much variability – sometimes within the same batch – even the most accomplished concede it can come down or add up to techno-magic… that blend of alchemy, science, & art.

The fundamentals, however, always remain the same. A great barsmith can do very little with a bad seed; a mediocre barsmith can ruin a truly good one.

Marañón Canyon chocolate exhibits maddening levels of variability, beguiling beyond seasonal vintages or even batches, but between each tasting of the exact same bar. It has nothing to do with any assumed idiosyncrasies regarding palate, viz., that perceptions change from one day to the next depending on what one ate for breakfast; or the weather; or the newspaper’s astrological forecast. When a reference control bar, used to A/B or compare against the test bar, nets identical results & holds constant time & again, then any changes detected in the test bar between tastings are on the chocolate rather than the palate.

Using that protocol, Marañón Canyon makes for one dynamic chocolate. Fragility defined. Minute oxidation alters the profile dramatically. Allowing it to breathe, to decanter so to speak, is almost a necessity.

Marañón’s inaugural commercial release, manufactured by SM, is the 68% Fortunato No. 4, so named to honor the grower whose genetic results of his trees hit the motherlode quick on just the 4th DNA sample tested.

It alternates between predominate Fruits ‘n Flowers, then darkens, coarsens, & flattens out completely to stringent coffee grounds (almost strident too; a café-sour such as it is)… but don’t give up, it returns back again to former splendor, only fuller… all in the space of 3 different tastings in a couple days!

Safe to state that on average the front lip catches citrus berry radials cut with a tannic cocoa, the latter suggestive of some smoked budwood branch as if still hanging on their (burning) bush, aerating into phantom floral wreaths around balsam of Peru before a rapturous milk chocolate (those White Seeds perhaps?; a real glory moment in any event) vaporizes the flowers.

Sui generis… so conjuring that these chocolate co-conspirators struck a deal with the devil. That’s how demonic & wily it tastes.

Fortunato No. 4 virtually parallels the tale of Fortunatus (Latin for the Italian Fortunato) – the proto-novel of feudal Europe. It follows the life of Fortunatus from poor obscurity (his Dad squandered the family’s savings by the time Fortunatus turned 10 years old) thru to his adventures to fame & fortune.

Like father / like son, Fortunatus was also once well-to-do, then left penniless wandering from place-to-place ‘til he found himself lost in a deep forest, without any path, little light, no food & scarce water, unable to find his way out…

Suddenly one night he beholds a beautiful woman in the darkness: “I am Dame Fortune & I’ve a gift for you. Shall it be wisdom, strength, long life, riches, health, or beauty? Think well, & tell me what you’ll have.”

Fortunatus, lending truth to the maxim “Tis ill thinking on an empty stomach,” rushes an answer, “Good lady, let me have riches in such plenty that I may never again be as hungry as I am now.”

She grants him a purse with 10 gold pieces that are immediately replenished whenever he makes a withdrawal from it. She then points the way out of the woods & he begins life anew in the lap of luxury.

With this wealth, he travels to many lands & eventually meets the Sultan in Cairo. Among the treasures that the Sultan owns is a red cap with the power to transport its wearer to any place desired. Fortunatus puts the cap on & away he went, much to the chagrin of the Sultan who thereafter missed his prized possession.

Upon death, Fortunatus left the purse & cap to his sons. Being reckless & jealous of each other, they frittered it all away.

The tale of Fortunatus marks the passing of feudalism into modern, globalized capitalism. It conveys the moral that people would be wise to desire wisdom above all else, without which it becomes far too easy to lose one’s way… & subsequently fortune.

The collective wisdom of those involved in this bar of chocolate demonstrates that the lesson is being heeded.

Because of it, the fate of cacáo appears hopeful.

Will it always be this way? Time will tell… whether it can achieve the consistency & standard that perennially bedevils chocolate – even the great ones – everywhere.

A great bar? Hmmm… a bit underwhelming, lacking, as expected for this cultivar, punch & power but, moreover, clarity too (which it demands).

The addition of cocoa butter by SM obscures the package; quite extraneous considering a cacáo endowed with an inherent soft pad discerned in its more naked, albeit imbalanced, 75% prototype.

Further, the viscous mouthfeel delays rather than broadens the taste horizon; butter retarding the bouquet without contributing enough lubricant to counter the noticeable grain in the texture, caused by 32% or so sugaring, on account of a lazy longitudinal conche (60 hours of friction-only low-heat fail to coat all the particles sufficiently in the suspension). Instead of carrying the perfume, it diffuses it… vaguely.

SM also rides the roast a little high (creating a smoke-filled entrance) so by the time the liquor does reach its fabled longitudinal conche, it has limited its options for that stage.

All understandable given how this cacáo rings mostly in the upper register with thin bottom notes so they sought to buttress them. To its credit, SM crafts better symmetry because of it, creating a bottom end difficult to achieve with this particular Nacional, including a trace caramel to suspect some vanilla smear (though none actually added).

Finally, the percentage recalls the 68% Cru Sauvage from Bolivia – yet another cacáo whose structure easily supports a mid 70% to low 80% threshold (later confirmed by El Ceibo & Zotter). Something about what barsmiths views as ‘delicate’ origins (& make no mistake, Marañón Canyon, to repeat, defines ‘fragile’) steers them into semisweet formulations instead of relying on the more intrinsic values of the nut & shaping them without excessive sugar. In the process, they’ve taken one problem needing to be solved & exchanged it for another needing to be dissolved.

Even so, one bite of this lost treasure transports to the very terra of a far-away land. Its rediscovery returns rare perfumes & restores archetypal characteristics to the planet’s chocolate depository. An incunabula recovered from a bygone era of how it might have been.

Unless you’re over 100 years old, you’ve probably had nothing like it.

A transformational chocolate that should convince tongues of the coming & the glory of… a special cacáo… that has yet to meet its ultimate maker. One that dispenses with the butter, boosts the cacáo-count to about 72% & caresses this beauty to full, au natural fruition that lets this F-4 fly.

So in the spirit of Give My Regards to Broadway and Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, can’t blame this one on Marañón. They alone produce truly verified Nacional. The “real” (both genuine & royal) Ancient Nacional. The vast majority of others? Mostly imposters.

Damn the ratings, such as they are (always ephemeral / perishable at any rate), quantified into a slippery 8 or so on a 10-point scale. Scripture tells us that man does not live by bread alone. The manner in which Marañon Canyon Cacao goes about its business, sustainable in the full sense of the word, earns them, symbolically, a perfect 10.

GO TO SECTION XVI –> Pearson & Sons: The New Nacional Guardsmen


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