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When does chocolate cross over from being a sweet treat to a work of art? I think it's at the point you become heartbroken by chomping into something so utterly beautiful.
Michael and Wiktoria of Cheeky Nilla put me in the difficult position recently of enduring such heartache as they kindly sent over a hand-painted chocolate sea shell and a pair of chocolate Ara Macaw parrots so I could see their creative chocolates in person.
I never knew I could feel so guilty about destroying a beautiful piece of art just so I could taste it. It felt so wrong and yet it tasted so right. Think this sounds a tad melodramatic? Scroll down and you'll see what I mean.
Back to the beginning and a knock at the door. A brown cardboard box had arrived, and I dived in straight away. I gingerly opened it, careful not to cause sudden movement (and instantly forgetting it had likely been through a rough time in the postal network already).
Balls of brown paper kept everything in place, and to my surprise, the delicate pieces of art had arrived in one piece. Completely recyclable packaging and yet it had protected the chocolate perfectly. Bravo Cheeky Nilla, bravo!
The sea shell and parrots were both sealed inside a compostable bag, tied with a maroon Cheeky Nilla ribbon. The packaging is made from a plant-based cellulose 'plastic' that is biodegradable and recyclable.
Until recently, the sea shell was presented in a floral plastic-free reusable kraft box, but due to supplier issues, it is now presented in the plant-based bag until a suitable sustainable alternative is found.
The Macaws were also sealed inside a plant-based bag. Ordinarily, they are presented inside a lovely forest-themed plastic-free box.
I found the ingredients for these pieces online:
Cheeky Nilla Hand-painted Dark Chocolate Seashell ingredients:
Sugar, cocoa butter, rice powder, cocoa mass, emulsifier (soy lecithin), vanilla, Cinder Toffee (organic sugar, glucose syrup, sodium bicarbonate). Cocoa solids: 55% minimum.
Cheeky Nilla Hand-painted Chocolate Ara Macaws ingredients:
Dark chocolate (Sugar, cocoa butter, rice powder, cocoa mass, emulsifier (soy lecithin), vanilla; Milk-Alt Chocolate (Organic sugar, cocoa butter, rice powder, cocoa mass, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), vanilla, agave syrup, coconut cream; Cinder Toffee (organic sugar, glucose syrup, sodium bicarbonate). Cocoa solids: 55% minimum (dark chocolate).
The Hand-painted Dark Chocolate Seashell is vegan and made using UTZ-certified chocolate that contributes towards Puratos' Cocoa Trace programme. It's available with or without the cinder toffee inside the shell.
The Hand-painted Chocolate Ara Macaws come in either the same 55% dark chocolate or a vegan milk chocolate, and are available in four varieties: plain, salted caramel, cinder toffee, and coconut. I was sent the cinder toffee variety.
Cheeky Nilla Vegan Hand-Painted Dark Chocolate Seashell Review
With chocolate this pretty, you need to give it some time.
It would be sacrilege to smash these pieces in an act of wanton destruction, without first appreciating the artistry that has gone into making something so simple look absolutely stunning.
Here lies the strength of Cheeky Nilla. Sure, it makes vegan chocolate bars in a variety of interesting - and occasionally, offbeat - flavours, but it's this fusion of chocolate and divine artistry that makes the brand what it is.
So, take a moment. Appreciate the craftsmanship. Allow yourself to become captivated by the intricacies of the sea shell first.
Alas, the heartbreaking moment had come. To make matters worse, it put up a good fight. For all that time I gingerly handled it like it was a piece of priceless fine bone china, it took a frenzied attack to get it into manageable pieces.
For a hollow shell, it comprises of very thick dark chocolate walls. Picture how thick you really want your Easter Eggs to be, and think thicker again. You will need some strength or culinary tools to break it up. In places, it's over 1cm thick.
Inside, a layer of soft cinder toffee awaits.
The aroma of this dark Belgian chocolate reminds me of previous trips to Bruges. It's a gentle aroma, that's slightly sweet and faintly fruity.
The chocolate is slow to melt in the mouth, but eventually yields a general cocoa vibe. There's faint hints of fruit and toasted nuts as a mild bitterness edges its way in. The finish is quite sweet, with a general cocoa flavour in the aftertaste and a very mild bitterness.
The chocolate isn't too intense and so most recipients would be very please most people. If you're sat there cringing at the idea that this shell is made of dark chocolate, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by its mellow quality.
Inside, the cinder toffee crumbs were sweet but moist and crumbly. The flavour was lost against the chocolate, but it did at least add an extra touch of sweetness.
Cheeky Nilla Vegan Hand-Painted Dark Chocolate Ara Macaw Parrots Review
Onto the deep red, yellow, and green gold-lustre Ara Macaw parrots. These handsome creatures are individually painted by hand so have slightly different quirks and complexions, much like in real life.
These chocolate birds exhibit a different type of allure to the chocolate sea shell, but are just as captivating.
Again, despite my own feelings, I had to be cruel to these birds in a scene befitting to any horror movie. I mean, how could anyone do something so cruel and heartless to something this pretty?
The core of the parrots are a mix of solid dark chocolate and cinder toffee. Atop of this is a thin shell of dark chocolate, that features the intricate painting.
The parrots use the same 55% dark chocolate as the seashell, which means you get a balanced chocolatey flavour here too. The cinder toffee blended into the chocolate was crispy here, and that added a pleasant crunch together with mild caramel flavours.
Cheeky Nilla Vegan Hand-painted Chocolates Review
RRP: £16.99 | Cheeky Nilla | Shop now
Incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking (but delicious) to eat. Vegan food never looked so good! The sea shell and parrots are superb gift ideas for foodie friends and family - vegan or otherwise. I'm most smitten with the chocolate seashell. It is perhaps the most beautiful thing I've ever eaten.
Where to Buy Online
You can order the vegan Hand-painted Dark Chocolate Seashell online directly from Cheeky Nilla via their website (£16.99). It's available with or without the cinder toffee filling. Order it without the honeycomb to ensure a gluten-free product.
The Hand-painted Chocolate Ara Macaws are available in a vegan milk chocolate or dark chocolate as a pack of four (£18.99). These are available as plain chocolate, or in a coconut, cinder toffee, or salted caramel flavour.
These lovely creations are perhaps the most beautiful thing I've ever eaten. They would easily become wonderful handmade gifts for treasured foodie friends and family, and those people who would appreciate the time and effort that has gone into making bespoke pieces of art. These are definitely two very fine examples of gifts that show you care. Get your Christmas order in early as I bet these are very popular gifts.
Would you have the courage to eat these works of art, or are they just too darn pretty? Let me know in the comments below.