I used to be a chocoholic. There, I’ve said it. What a relief. Now that it’s out of the way, I think that I should also share that I was over my addiction. Totally. Could walk past a bar of chocolate and not turn a hair. You could crack a bar in my presence and I would continue a conversation without even a glottal stop. Until this weekend.
Was it my fault that Blossom Cottage, the gorgeous little restored self-catering accommodation in Greyton on Ds Botha Street, was directly across the road from Von Geusau’s outlet? I am not entirely sure if it was fate or providence. But the mere sight of Von Geusau’s delectably hand wrapped chocolates caught me. Reeling. Intent on a taste if it was the last thing that I did …
And taste I did. You see, the outlet at the Oak and Vigne Café just happens to have a tasting section. Delectable flavours up for grabs. All displayed in little glass dishes under a velvet cloth. I could no sooner contain myself than backtrack and leave the chocolate display safely behind me.
Chilli, Masala Chai, Earl Grey, Star Anise, Rose Geranium, Cinnamon & Orange, Lemon & Vanilla, Rock Salt (they got there before Lindt), Espresso, Almonds & Orange peel – I was utterly smitten by the flavours. Caught off guard I found myself pillaging the offerings, right there in the shop. Thank goodness that the chocolates are safely off to the side of the restaurant in a little alcove, or I would have been the talk of the town.
And thankfully I was forced to practise some self-restraint infront of Jadey, one of Von Geusau’s trusty chocolatiers, although she probably wouldn’t refer to herself as such, but she is one of five local women who work in Von Geusau’s little factory on the edge of town, hand making and wrapping his line of truffles, plain chocolate, bouchés and exotic flavoured chocolates.
Jadey is lovely. She is very enthusiastic about the chocolates and her employer, whom she describes as extremely generous. And despite the fact that she is sick of chocolate – ‘we have to taste them all the time’, she confides, ‘so that we can tell if the flavour is right’ – she does have her favourites: in dark chocolate the Hazelnut Crunch and the Cinnamon & Orange (I can confirm that the latter is indeed an incredible combination), in milk chocolate she likes the Almond & Orange peel and the Lemon & Vanilla (ditto for the Lemon & Vanilla – quite wonderful!) and in the white, the Crème Brȗlee.
Photographs – Left: Richard Von Geusau / Centre: Gaynor manages production / Right: Von Geusau outlet
The hand rolled and moulded truffles stand in little bowls under cover and I select a number to take back to savour after dinner. They’re gone long before that and my other half returns for more, but that only goes to show how very more-ish they are. It’s heady stuff, this chocolate!
Jadey explains some of the process behind chocolate making. It’s quite an art, if I’ve understood even a little of it correctly. Imported Belgian chocolate is tempered before use so that it is shiny and ‘snaps’ in that way that we have come to expect of bars of chocolate. It’s also why, if you melt a bar of chocolate on the back seat of the car accidentally, it loses its shine. Thirty two degrees is the optimal temperature. At this level it’s regarded as ‘in temper’. Any lower and it’s too gooey to work with, and higher it pops out of temper (no wonder chocolate is so closely linked to emotional disturbances in women!).
I meet Richard the following morning. He is at a half jog on his way from the Oak & Vigne after his early morning coffee (it’s the town’s local haunt, kind of like Oppiekoffie Coffee shop on 7de Laan) to his little delivery van to meet me up at the factory, and I call out to him. It seems perfect to try and photograph him in the little alcove surrounded by his chocolates before heading on to the factory. And I hear a lot more about the chocolates and their origin from the creator himself.
Richard is totally unassuming. I am surprised. The name and the brand have been carefully aimed at a certain market. They look and sound exclusive and I expected to feel intimidated. But this gentle man is humble, fun, unhurried and perfectly content to explain the ins and outs of chocolate to me, when he must have explained it already to any number of journalists, and I happen to know he has a delivery due in Cape Town this morning.
He loves what he does. And he’s completely candid about how it all started. Richard Von Geusau woke up one morning as an accountant, and went to bed that night with the idea of becoming a chocolatier. In between, he happened on a book written by Chantal Coady, founder of Rococo Chocolates and author of Real Chocolate and two other books on the fascinating subject. Something just felt right about the idea of making chocolate and, after a phone call to Chantal, during which she invited him over to London, Richard found himself in the UK finding out all he could about the process of making chocolate from a very generous woman.
Following that was a visit to Belgium to do a course, before heading back to the little village of Greyton, which by that stage was already home to him. Ten years later and Richard is a household name. His chocolates have earned him accolades, he has an excellent relationship with Waterford Estates in Stellenbosch, with whom he is doing wine and chocolate pairings, he supplies Melissas and is in talks with Pick n Pay.
Richard’s chocolates only contain the best ingredients. No vegetable fats or artificial additives here, but cocoa butter, which admittedly means that his chocolate will melt before the likes of Cadbury’s, but the high percentage of cocoa in his creations provides that multi-latyered, complex taste.
He enthuses about his suppliers and before I know it, I am sampling little discs of Valrhona (by this stage we have moved on to the factory perched just outside of Greyton), a French chocolate manufacturer based in the little town of Tain L’Hermitage, near Lyon, where Richard has visited to make sure that his 70% dark chocolate bars are made with the best.
When I asked him why he imports and doesn’t make his own chocolate, Richard smilingly says that he doesn’t have the arrogance to assume he can do it better. Why reinvent the wheel, when the leading producers of chocolate in the world are already producing something so close to perfect? It is the creative aspects of selecting different flavours and making the chocolates that he enjoys.
Von Geusau (pronounced like the Afrikaans ‘gee’ and the English ‘sew’) chocolate bars are monogrammed, break easily along beautiful triangular lines, the flavours are inventive, imaginative and intensely satisfying, they are hand wrapped in various brightly coloured foils, within rather chic navy sleeves with hand-written, colour-coded labels, and are sold in 50g and 110g bars. Taste them at an outlet near you!
Nothing chocolate, nothing gained…
Contact Von Geusau Chocolates:
Telephone: +27 (0)28 254-9100