Carob, olive oil & cheeselet? These Maltese chocolates are like nothing you’ve tried before!
Chocolate District are championing local products with their new chocolate line.
Opening its doors six years ago, Valletta-based ‘chocolate café’ Chocolate District is the brainchild of local brothers Mark and Dennis Aquilina.
Looking back on when they first started out, Mark recalls, “my brother Dennis and I wanted to do something together – we’re totally different but found common ground in Chocolate District.” And while their hopes were high, he admits, it wasn’t certain how things would turn out. “When we opened, a lot of people didn’t think we’d make it. No one in our family owns a business, but we were blessed with a family who’s poured in countless of hours to make this work,” he smiles, and here they are, six years later!
The pair started off by importing fine, award-winning chocolates from around the world, but their target, Mark explains, was always to turn it into a chocolate café. “We started bringing our own specialty coffee beans and leaf teas, and it took off from there. We eventually added the cafeteria, espresso machine and chocolate infusions. We wanted to be creative and do something fun with chocolate – something Malta had never seen before.”
Authentic Maltese chocolate
And a few short weeks ago, they did just that, introducing their very own chocolate line which, he tells me, has been in the making for two years. “We wanted to create authentic Maltese chocolate,” he asserts. The result is an incredible line of six flavours, comprising some traditional flavours and others that are, well, not quite so common. The six are Sea Salt, Olive Oil, Nougat, Carob, Maltese Coffee and yes… Peppered Cheeselet!
Emphasising their desire to use authentic Maltese ingredients sourced from traditional businesses, Mark tells me that a big part of the reason for this latest venture was creating an interest in the best local ingredients and produce.
The Sea Salt flavour, for example, is made using sea salt from Ta’ Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo. “The hard work that goes into getting salt from the salt pans is extraordinary,” Mark says. “The family who operates them is facing a lot of challenges due to factors like demand and weather conditions, so, thanks to the medium that is chocolate, we want to help raise awareness of this authentic Maltese tradition. By buying a chocolate bar, you’re also putting money into the pockets of the people who run these traditional businesses – they’re extremely passionate about what they do, and we’re passionate about helping them.”
Meanwhile, the olive oil used in the Olive Oil chocolate is also as Maltese as it gets – made using Bidni olives – which are among the very few endemic varieties of olives in Malta. “They originate from trees which are located along a stretch of land stretching from Bidnija to Wardija," he explains, adding that the Bidni olive oil's strong peppery taste works beautifully well with chocolate. "Another fascinating thing about the Bidni is the health benefits – so high in anti-oxidants that fruit fly eggs cannot survive," he adds.
Mark goes on to pay his respects to the incredible work of olive oil sommelier Sam Cremona, who has invested a lot in local olive trees and olive oil, and whose "devoted husbandry saved the Bidni from near extinction." He also commends the Grima Family for keeping this age-old Maltese tree and the traditions that surround it alive.
Another unique flavour is of course the Maltese Coffee, a recipe which combines coffee, aniseed, roasted chicory and cloves, harking back to times of old. But the flavour that I’m most curious about it also the most unusual: Peppered Cheeselet! “This is something which has never been done before,” Mark says, explaining the thought process behind it. “We couldn’t use fresh cheeselets because the shelf-life wouldn’t work, so we needed to break it down, look at the properties and what makes up a peppered cheeselet, to create something that when you bite into it, you really feel like you’re eating Gozitan cheeselets with dark chocolate! It also had to be balanced and taste nice,” he smiles.
I couldn’t wait to try this one in particular, and while I admit being a little skeptical beforehand, I admit – not only does it really taste like Gozo’s famed cheeselets, it’s also perfectly balanced and works beautifully alongside the dark chocolate flavour! Who would have thought? Well, these guys, obviously…
I move on to sample the others, savouring the incredible tanginess of the salt in the Sea Salt flavour, and delighting in my personal favourite – Carob – which distinctly reminds me of the much loved karamelli tal-harrub (carob sweets) which I look forward to every Lent.
The Maltese quality of Chocolate District’s line is also reflected in the packaging, designed by Mark himself using the traditional tberfil technique characteristic of Malta’s colourful old buses. Speaking of the packaging, he says, “we also wanted to incorporate the use of the Maltese language, which I don’t feel is done enough locally, so each one includes a Maltese translation” – and indeed, why shouldn’t it?
Hitting the shelves just over a month ago, the chocolate line has been received incredibly well, Mark reveals, laughing, “We can barely keep up with demand, and we’re already planning to increase our facilities!” And let’s just say, it’s easy to see why!
Check out Malta’s only authentically local chocolates using fantastic Maltese flavours at Chocolate District, Melita Street, Valletta, and let us know – which is your favourite?