For the Love of Chocolate

The taste, the look, the feel of an obsession

Chocolates El Rey: From Venezuela to Fredericksburg

Established in 1929, Chocolates El Rey (www.chocolateselrey.com) is one of the world's best manufacturers of premium chocolates, owned and operated in Venezuela by the Redmond family since 1973. Their connection to Central Texas started when Jorge Redmond, president of the company, sought his old college friend Randall Turner to be the president of the North American and European branch. Turner, born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, of American parents, was living in Fredericksburg at the time, and had been for years. "I didn't want to move elsewhere," he confides. "These days, you can pretty much conduct business from anywhere. I do travel frequently to Venezuela, Europe, across North America, and soon to Asia, because I do want to have firsthand contact with our distributors and customers." An energetic and friendly man, Turner truly believes in their products. He speaks of them with a permanent smile on his face, switching effortlessly between English and flawless Spanish with a Venezuelan accent. Once I tasted the chocolate, it was easy to understand the enthusiasm and permanent smile.

El Rey is rather unique in its approach to producing chocolate. European makers have traditionally blended different varieties of cacao from various parts of the world to produce their chocolate. Based on the fact that Venezuelan cacao is reputedly the most aromatic and flavorful in the world, El Rey does not blend, preferring to focus on the natural qualities of single varieties and using only 100% Venezuelan criollo and trinitario cacao beans grown by a cooperative of small farmers in northeastern Venezuela. They produce single-bean origin chocolates, not unlike appellation of origin in wines. The result, as is the case with wines, is superb chocolates with distinct characteristics of flavor and aroma.

El Rey currently has two lines of products named after the place of origin of the cacao beans: Carenero Superior and Rio Caribe. They are mostly geared to the food-service industry, although both are available in retail and wholesale formats through their online catalog and local distributors. A third retail line, Tr–pico, is due out soon and will feature three kinds of chocolate bars enhanced with nuts and roasted cacao nibs.

The Rio Caribe line has two presentations, named after villages in eastern Venezuela's cacao growing region. Cariaco is a wonderful dark chocolate made with 60.5% cacao, while Irapa is a milk chocolate made with 40.5% cacao, sweetened with brown sugar. All six of the Carenero Superior presentations are named after shade trees traditionally grown alongside cacao. Tasting these chocolates one after the other was an amazing experience that allowed me to distinguish and compare their individual flavor characteristics. Icoa, El Rey's white chocolate, has been described as the only white chocolate in the world that actually tastes like chocolate. This is because they do not use deodorization, a chemical process that strips flavor from the cacao butter. Caoba, a milk chocolate with 41% cacao – one of the highest cacao solid contents of any milk chocolate in the world – is creamy, smooth, and incredibly flavorful. But I was completely blown away by the complex, distinct flavors and intense chocolate taste of El Rey's dark chocolates: Bucare (58.5% cacao), Mijao (61% cacao), Gran Saman (70% cacao), and Apamate (a whopping 73.3% cacao) are all worthy of the Food of the Gods title implicit in cacao's botanical name, Theobroma.

These quality chocolates are widely sought by chocolatiers and chefs around the world as the raw material for their special creations, including many in Austin. And why not? After all, some of the world's best chocolate is right here in Fredericksburg, ready to be discovered by the rest of Central Texas. And Randall Turner is waiting with a smile.

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