Marou – chocolate makers
By Ann Wheaton in HCMC
I heard about MAROU chocolate from the Australian International School. The summer program included a visit and I invited myself along. As a chocolate aficionado this was definitely a trip worth pursuing. I was particularly enthusiastic about sourcing a variant to the limited supplies of imported chocolate available in the supermarkets, the quality of whose products are frequently spoiled by the lack of care in handling in the prevalent weather conditions, and which are not kind to the finished product.
|Chocolate in conch machine - Photo: Ann Wheaton|
I was loaded on to the bus with approximately 30 small children and we were driven through the heavily congested roads to arrive, half an hour later, at our destination. Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou operate an artisan workshop which includes a French, artisan chocolatier who monitors the operations of the factory. The other staff members are local people who are being trained in different aspects of the process.
The tour commenced with an appreciation of what a cocoa bean tree looked like. In the courtyard some small trees had been planted but, we learnt, it will take another ten years for them to reach their peak production period. The cocoa bean fruit is shaped like an elongated melon ripening to a golden or maroon hue with multi-colored flecks. The proprietors source their beans from small producers in various districts of Vietnam and the produce varies according to the soil in which it is grown. This means that the finished chocolate is quite variable in taste. The cocoa beans are processed according to their region so that those specific flavors are retained.
The beans are fermented and dried by the farmers whom have all built strong personal and business relationships with Samuel and Vincent. The fermented and dried beans are packed in burlap sacks and come in to the factory for processing. Samuel and Vincent started out with little knowledge of the cocoa bean to finished product route and sourced information from wherever they could find it. They also had great difficulty finding appropriate tools, and the result was that they built their own prototypes, which they are still using. These are uncomplicated machines; hand operated for the most part, but are superb examples of the innovative and inventive character of these two men, who have adapted what they want to do to local conditions.
The staff has learnt how to roast, winnow, mill and press the bean under supervision from the ‘experts’. A highlight of the tour was seeing the liquid chocolate in the conch machines, the heavy rollers ploughing back and forth through the chocolate mass for a couple of days before proceeding to the next stage where it is tempered and put into the moulds.
When the chocolate is set it is then packaged by hand in beautifully designed ‘wallpaper’ which is colored according to the district from where it is sourced. My favorite part of the trip was the tastings at the end, I think the children also enjoyed this the most. Individual chocolate flavors include raspberry, lime and chili, honey and coffee – all delicious and fillings also made by MAROU from locally sourced natural products.
MAROU is the first artisan chocolate maker based in Vietnam and they would like to make their gourmet chocolate recognized world-wide. MAROU brings together French chocolate-making know-how and Vietnamese agricultural production.
Chocolate lovers can find this product in many locations throughout HCMC’s District 1 and District 2.