Review: Van Dender – Venezuela Milk 44% & Vietnam 80% (**)

The Creator:

Herman Van Dender is a well established name in the Belgian pastry and chocolate world. Herman took over his dad’s chocolate atelier in 1988 and has done numerous internships and specific trainings all over the world. By now, Vandender is a official supplier to the Belgium Royal Court and is one of the two main judges in the Belgian version of the immensly popular tv show Bake Off. In Japan, Van Dender is even an icon in chocolate.

After a trip to cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast, Herman did set up his own chocolate factory in 2014. Van Dender is known for filled chocolates, ranging from the classics to more contemporary and daring creations, including herbs and spices, fruits and origin chocolates.

But the company also offers a range of origin chocolate tablets, made from bean to bar.

Now, Van Dender is not a small scale chocolate producer. At this point, he makes the chocolate couverture for his pralines and pastry. He even produces chocolate drops to be used by other parties in the chocolate business. His products are well spread in the culinary world in Belgium and are even offered in a Belgian Supermarket chain (Delhaize). Which is exactly where I found the bars I will present here.

I brought back home a 44% milk bar, made with cocoa from Venezuela and a 80% dark bar produced from Vietnamese cocoa.

There is absolutely no info to be found on the type of cocoa used, specific regions of harvest. Not on the box, nor on the companies website. After tasting so many different chocolate bars from all over the world, certain origins hold promises of recognizable flavors to me. Let us see if we can find them in the bars on the table today.

The Bar:

Van Dender offers his chocolate bars in a straightforward cardboard box, showing the logo of the company in the from of a Maya style drawing. The box shows the origin and percentage. The ingredients list is shown on a black sticker on the back.

The milk chocolate bar sits in a gold bow with black imprint. The dark chocolate in a black box with gold imprint. All in all, it looks quite simple and doesn’t have the luxurious feel many origin bars have.

Inside, a cellophane wrapper protects the chocolate bars. There is also a small leaflet present, giving a short overview of how Herman Van Dender came to chocolate making.

As unimpressive the boxes are, the tablets themselves look absolutely gorgeous. Sleak design, sharp lines and the Herman Van Dender name embossed in the bar are making clear this isn’t your average tablet. It is scored in squares with a large central piece in the middle. Both the milk and dark chocolate versions look perfect and lush.

Tasting Venezuela Milk 44%

Bean: not mentioned

Origin: Venezuela

Maker: Van Dender Chocolates, Belgium

Ingredients: sugar, cacao butter, milk powder, cocoa mass, soy lecithin

Price: € 5 – 70g – Van Dender web shop – Belgium

Batch: l:0110911 – best before 11/10/2021

Harvest: Not mentioned

Color: light, cappuccino brown

Aroma: caramel, milk, hazelnut spread

Taste: An immediate sweet start with milky caramel and honey. Although not crystal clear, there is a sensation of golden raisins present as well. Just not powerful enough to break through the main flavor. Hazelnut praliné and a malty note come forward at the end of the melt and lift the flavor. Slightly clingy on the tongue. The aftertaste keeps the hazelnut spread and cocoa notes alive for a medium long time.

I have mixed feelings about this one. It remains very close to what we Belgians know as milk chocolate, though some more interesting taste notes are present if you really pay attention and due to the higher cocoa content of industrial milk chocolate – it isn’t as sweet as feared.

Final evaluation:

Visual appeal: 4/5

Aroma: 1/5

Melt and mouth feel: 2/5

Flavor profile : 1/5

Complexity: 1/5

Overall: 9/25 (**)

Tasting Vietnam 80%:


Bean: not mentioned

Origin: Venezuela

Maker: Van Dender Chocolates, Belgium

Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin

Price: € 5 – 70g – Van Dender web shop – Belgium

Batch: l:0102914 – best before 14/02/2021

Harvest: Not mentioned

Color: ebony dark

Aroma: roasted cocoa, wood

Taste: Starts dark with roasted cocoa and wood. Fairly quickly, a spike in acidity and building coffee bitters emerge. There are dark chocolaty notes, but they are constantly overwhelmed by a strange swirl of bitters, acidity and sweetness. This flavor dance makes it hard to pinpoint any specific notes or even to focus on the chocolate. I can’t make up any of the flavors I’ve come to expect from Vietnamese cocoa, other than the slightly thicker mouth feel representative to the origin. The after flavor lingers long in the mouth, but remains quiet high in bitters and dark tones.

Not quiet up to the standard of Vietnam bars I’ve become to know and love. Even though the high 80% cocoa percentage is well controlled and is not too overwhelming, I would love to experience more of the spicy, fruity notes Vietnamese cocoa can bring.

Final evaluation:

Visual appeal: 4/5

Aroma: 1/5

Melt and mouth feel: 2/5

Flavor profile : 1,5/5

Complexity: 1/5

Overall: 9,5/25 (**)

I must say that I’m a bit disappointed after trying these chocolate bars. It is great to see origin chocolate making an appearance in a supermarket, certainly if it is even made from bean to bar. Yet I feel these products will not convert many people new to premium origin chocolate. Even though the price is higher than your average chocolate bar, I feel these Van Dender bars don’t set themselves apart from the industrial competition. Obviously this chocolate is a step up from the mass produced products, but they stay well into known territory when it comes to the overall flavor profile.

Somehow I can even understand this from a commercial viewpoint. As Herman Van Dender described in the book “Belgian Chocolate Bean-to-bar Generation” by Pierre Marcolini, Michel Verlinden and Alexandr Bibaut, his clients didn’t react to well on his first efforts to switch to his own couvertures in the Van Dender pastry. After all, the switch from industrial Belgian chocolate to bean to bar origin chocolate can be quiet a shock. Herman switched the mind of his clients by mixing in classic chocolate with his own product for use in his pastry. By changing the percentage his own chocolate in the mix from 25% to 100% over time, he won the palates of the public over.

I feel the same thing could be going on in these tablets. Is it bad chocolate? Not at all. But it still remains close enough to what people know as chocolate and won’t scare them away from these bars. Let’s hope we will see an evolution to bright flavored origin chocolate over time. Because these origins deserve it. And so does the public

Links:

Vandender.eu

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