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January 25-27


April 11, 2013 4

I still remember vividly the tsunami of chocolate envy that engulfed me when I first read Joanne Harris’ evocative description of Vianne Rocher’s “Grand Festival du Chocolat”. Her graphic description of sensuous encounters of the cocoa kind was almost too much for any chocolate-loving girl to endure. And so it was with a definite frisson of anticipation that I arrived in Pittenweem on Easter Monday to take part in a promisingly entitled “Chocolate Making Workshop” – just one of the events in Pittenweem’s Grand Festival of Chocolate.

People making chocolates at Pittenweem
Chocolate making enthusiasts at the Pittenweem Chocolate Company workshop

The festival was the brainchild of Sophie Latinis, founder and chocolatier at The Pittenweem Chocolate Company and proprietor of the town’s Cocoa Tree Café. Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone so well versed in chocolate etiquette, Sophie is Belgian by extraction. However, to lead the workshop, she had invited a fellow chocolatier, Charlotte Flower from Acharn near Aberfeldy. Charlotte is a weel kent face in Scottish chocolate circles, and her fascination with foraging means the flavour of her unique chocolates varies according to what is in season at any time, which could be rosemary, lavender, Scots Pine, wild mint or soft fruits, among others.

Perhaps ironically, one of the first things I discovered when I reported to Pittenweem Church Hall on Monday afternoon, resplendent in my favourite Snoopy apron, was that neither Sophie nor Charlotte is particularly fond of the term “chocolatier”, which they feel tends to conjure up connotations of – in their words – “men with extremely tall hats and egos to match.”

Job titles duly dispensed with, it was quickly evident to the four apprentice chocolatiers for the afternoon that our two mentors were knowledgeable and passionate about every conceivable aspect of chocolate, from pod to final product. Both spoke animatedly about the difficulties and benefits of encouraging larger chocolate companies to source their beans from Fair Trade producers. They also talked in reverent tones about their occasional sorties to the Salon de Chocolat in Paris, where the top chocolatiers (resplendent in their tall hats, bien sûr) battle it out in the various disciplines of the chocolate championships.  To the four of us, sitting mesmerised by their ready flow of information, it all sounded like another world: a world with a chocolate centre…

Multifarious white, milk and dark chocolate concoctions were dotted around the kitchen in a cornucopia of pots, pans and other heating devices, so the temptation to dip one’s finger into the beckoning mixtures was at times excruciating. However, we all dutifully managed to retain our self-control for the first 10 minutes, as Charlotte and Sophie had stressed the importance of making sure that the chocolate was adequately “tempered” before we began working with it.

Charlotte explained: “Chocolate is an amazing substance, and cooking with it is like being in a scientific laboratory. If you look at chocolate under a microscope, you’ll see an emulsion comprised of a medium of cocoa butter in which are suspended small particles of cocoa solids and tiny particles of sugar.

“When cocoa butter crystallises,” she continued, “it can form into any one of 6–7 different structures, which makes it a rather fickle product to work with.  If chocolate callets (like thick chocolate buttons to you and me) aren’t melted and cooled correctly, the chocolate won’t form the correct crystal structure.” Apparently, that means it won’t snap and – quelle horreur! – that it may well develop a bloom (the familiar unattractive grey residue that we sometimes see on chocolate).

We were shown how to test for correct tempering by pouring a sample of molten chocolate onto a strip of plastic to see how well it set – if the chocolate is correctly tempered, when it hardens it should be shiny and make a distinctive “snap” when broken in two.  As it transpired, the melting chocolate wasn’t quite ready for our ministrations at that point, so instead we turned our eager attentions to the equally fascinating art of truffle making.

Stages in the process of making chocolate
From pod to chocolate delights – the stages in the chocolate making process

Charlotte produced several bowls of gorgeous ganache (a mixture of chocolate and cream) in a variety of flavours including plain dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate ginger, and chocolate flavoured with lavender. She then demonstrated how to make a white chocolate ganache flavoured with real lemon zest. It looked utterly amazing, its rich, golden yellow colour being surpassed only by its tantalising lemon taste which transported one’s taste buds straight to Sicily.

As instructed, we each rolled ourselves a selection of “ganache balls” and once they had set firm, we dipped our truffles tentatively into bowls of different types of molten chocolate. Fortunately, we had been equipped with the requisite “dipping forks” for this precarious process and were able to remove all our mini-masterpieces safely without having to dive into the bowls of molten chocolate after them (although admittedly, that prospect was not an unpleasant one…).

Myriad sprinklings (ranging from crunchy strawberry balls to cocoa tips to slivers of caramel) were provided for decorative purposes, and we were also given tiny piping bags so we could add ornamentation in contrasting colours of chocolate.  Truffles duly completed, we turned our attentions to making – and decorating – a bar of chocolate.  This process began with the rather unlikely task of “polishing” the inside of the moulds with wads of cotton wool, as Charlotte warned us that any greasy fingerprint or other imperfection on the inside of the mould would spoil the shiny appearance of our finished bar.

Next we ran the moulds under the inviting fountain of milky brown chocolate emanating from the magic chocolate melting machine, and scraped off any excess before knocking the mould firmly (but carefully) on the table surface several times, to bring to the surface and burst any lurking air bubbles.  Last but not least, there was another flurry of sprinkling as we “personalised” our bars with our choice of tempting toppings.

While the chocolate and truffles were setting,  Sophie talked us through the many and complex processes involved in chocolate production, starting by showing us a genuine cocoa pod containing still damp cocoa beans (each pod contains around 30), which looked a far cry from the dried and roasted beans which she showed us next.

Dreamy chocolate for tasting at Pittenweem
Deluxe chocolate from Pittenweem Chocolate Company for Tasting

She explained that the beans are removed from the pod and then fermented (for anything from three to ten days, depending on the producers’ patience and schedule) before being dried, roasted and ground to create a cocoa paste. It was certainly mind-boggling to learn how many processes the humble cocoa bean undergoes before ending up as the melt-in-the-mouth chocolate we know and love. All of which brought us neatly to the culmination of the workshop: a chocolate tasting session featuring three different types of pure dark chocolate. Sophie forbade us to bite the chocolate samples, instructing us instead to allow each piece of chocolate to melt gradually on our tongue, so that we could pick out the characteristic flavours.

Chocolate making at Pittenweem
Square Sparrow’s masterpieces made at the Chocolate Workshop

It goes without saying that I was in my element: talking about, working with and learning how to “taste” chocolate properly. There really was no better way for a self-confessed chocoholic to spend the afternoon of Easter Monday. However, sadly all good things must come to an end and before we knew it, it was time to pack our truffles proudly into smart golden boxes and slip our customised bars of chocolate into see-through cellophane sleeves. It had been a truly wonderful afternoon characterised by laughter, creativity and, above all, a shared passion for chocolate – Vianne Rocher would most certainly have approved.

Find out more about the Pittenweem Chocolate Company:
Website: The Pittenweem Chocolate Company
Facebook page: The Cocoa Tree Cafe
Twitter page: @PittenweemChoco

Find out more about Charlotte Flower Chocolates:
Website: Charlotte Flower Chocolates and Blog
Facebook page: Charlotte Flower Chocolates on Facebook
Twitter page: @cocoaflower

This article has been submitted to Crail Food Festival by food, family and lifestyle blogger SquareSparrow.  You can read more by visiting http://square-sparrow.blogspot.co.uk/ or join me on http://www.facebook.com/square.sparrow  or send me a Tweet @SquareSparrow.



April 5, 2013

The village of Anstruther in Fife’s East Neuk has a history of French connections, not least the fact that it is twinned with the French town of Bapaume. Maybe it is no surprise then that this is where Frenchman Julien Poix decided to open his French deli, La Petite Epicerie (“The little Deli”) in 2009. Julien, who has over 15 years’ experience in the restaurant and catering industry, moved from France to Scotland over 10 years ago. Why Anstruther? He was drawn to the wealth of local produce and beautiful, peaceful surroundings and hoped that the steadier hours of a deli would be a better balance between his passion for food and his family than the long hours of working in a restaurant.

The Auld Alliance alive and well in the East Neuk
From France to Anstruther

I think France and Scotland both share a passion for food but was interested in Julien’s take on the culinary differences between the two countries. He said that in France people tended to eat later in the evening, giving them more time to prepare food and there is a big focus on quality ingredients. I wish I spent a bit more time cooking with better ingredients rather than rushing home from work and chucking another dubious ready meal into the microwave! Fortunately, I discovered that La Petite Epicerie’s treasure trove of the best of local and continental food could help me. How? By providing the key ingredients to better everyday meals which are good value and easy to make.

La Petite Epicerie in Anstruther, Fife
Clockwise from top: Exterior of La Petite Epicerie, Julien standing behind the counter, French pink garlic and onion, the deli’s magnificent fromage counter

I bought a hamper and a steak pie from La Petite Epicerie last week. Armed with these goodies I was able to whip up four delicious dishes tout de suite:-

1. STEAK PIE HEAVEN – La Petite Epicerie quite simply sells the best steak pies I’ve ever tasted. Julien makes them in the shop using steak from local East Neuk butcher extraordinaire, J.B. Penman of Crail. I first discovered their hearty, moreish charms one New Year’s Day, when one large La Petite Epicerie steak pie disappeared very quickly into six hungry mouths! This time round I cooked the pie with simple parmentier potatoes (local new potatoes par boiled, cubed and roasted in the oven with a bit of Very Lazy’s garlic, chopped onion, rosemary and oil or butter) and some local carrots and leeks (chopped and fried with a little olive oil and a splash of Calvados). A simple but oh so génial evening meal!

2. CLASSIC GAULISH STARTERLa Petite Epicerie’s incredible selection of imported terrines and pâtés make for a simple, superfast but delicious starter or snack, paired with biscuits or just toast. There are lots of duck and other meaty terrines as well as tempting seafood ones – I went for the Wild Boar Terrine for my hamper because it was a bit different and French, the sort of thing which Asterix might have eaten in ancient Gaul. I selected some Italian Bruschette Maretti mixed cheese flavour biscuits to go with it.

deli terrines at La Petite Epicerie, Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife
Seafood terrines at La Petite Epicerie

3. FIFE FARFALLE – I made a simple weeknight supper with two fantastic fresh, seasonal local ingredients from the deli – Wild Garlic Pesto from Fife’s Trotters’ Independent Condiments (the colour and smell of which is wonderfully intense) and Anster cheese with chives from the St Andrews Cheese Company, near Anstruther. I simply boiled some dried pasta, roasted chopped peppers, cherry tomatoes and onion in the oven and put it all together with the Pesto, some olive oil and the Anster cheese grated on the top, Quick, fresh and garlicky – fantastique!

4. MOROCCAN MID-WEEK MARVEL – Finally I used the Gustosecco Tangier Couscous (which has apricots, almonds and vine fruits in it) and homemade Mint Infused Olive Oil from La Petite Epicerie to make another quick but superbly tasty mid-week meal. I chopped chicken breast, coated it with some Harissa paste and seasoning and pan fried it. Meanwhile I made the couscous – which couldn’t be simpler – and mixed in pomegranate seeds, fresh herbs, seasoning and some of the olive oil. I served the chicken and couscous with some supermarket-bought tzatziki on the side and a cheeky wee glass of vin rouge.

Deli hamper - La Petite Epicerie, East Neuk of Fife
Hamper from La Petite Epicerie – priced by ingredients

By the end of the week it was clear that I’d been eating better, more exotic, fresher meals, without the pain of spending huge amounts of time cooking, stressing or looking for recipes. Magnifique!

Julien is always on the lookout for great new local and continental products for his customers but La Petite Epicerie is not just about quality products. It’s clear that Julien is genuinely passionate about providing great service to help his customers. He recently introduced some recipe cards into the shop to help customers who are having trouble deciding what to buy. I think this is an excellent idea which more shops should be doing. The deli also offers a free home delivery service within a 10 mile radius, a service Julien started to help out elderly customers who were stuck at home, unable to travel to the shop in bad weather. In a nutshell, as one customer said, the deli “brings back the France-Scotland Auld Alliance to our community and treats us to wonderful service and foods.”

Julien hopes one day to open a second deli but right now he’s busy expanding his outside catering service (he’s already catered for dinners, birthdays, christenings and even weddings). Any time off is spent with his young family, recently enlarged by the birth of his second son.

The Crail Food Festival is “a fantastic opportunity to showcase local food suppliers and what a community spirit the local area has”, he says. We’ll have to wait and see which local and continental products La Petite Epicerie will be selling at this year’s Festival to help us improve our everyday cuisine (though dressed crab and game terrine are in season so they could be amongst them). Whatever they are I can’t wait to do my bit for the Auld Alliance and try them out!

Find out more:
Website: www.la-petite-epicerie.co.uk
Facebook page: La Petite Epicerie Deli
Twitter page: @EpicerieDeli

This article has been written for the Crail Food Festival by Sara Scott aka The East Neuk Blogger. You can read more by visiting http://rosecottageeastneuk.blogspot.co.uk or send me a Tweet @RoseCottageFife.