Last year, I took my young son to Rovaniemi (Finnish Lapland) to meet Santa! It had been on my bucket list for a while, and he was at the right age where he was old enough to appreciate it yet young enough to get swept up in the wonderment. And while climate change was blamed for the rare lack of snow on the ground at the time, the trip was still full of magic and wonder.
During a visit to Arktikum - a museum and science centre in the Finnish city with a spectacular glass dome to observe the Aurora Borealis - I spotted an unusual bar of chocolate tucked away on a shelf in the gift shop, flavoured with a local delicacy - reindeer. Yep, dark chocolate paired with flakes of reindeer jerky.
You know where this is going...
Hang on, you're eating Rudolf?
To many Brits, the idea of eating reindeer is absurd. But throughout Scandinavia, the meat is eaten in much the same way as we eat beef.
Reindeer husbandry dominates around a third of the country's land, and you'll find reindeer up in the northern province of Finland grazing in the wild. There's around a 4,400 reindeer farmers in Finland, a number that has been in steep decline since the early 1990s.
Around 79,000 reindeer are slaughtered each year. While the native Sámi rely on reindeer husbandry as a vital source of income, many Finnish farmers use the revenue to supplement their agricultural and forestry businesses.
Finns consider reindeer meat a delicacy. It's available throughout Finland and Scandinavia, and the tender and succulent game meat tastes similar to venison. The lean meat is also packed with proteins and vitamins.
In Finnish supermarkets and restaurants, you'll see reindeer steaks, reindeer sausages, reindeer burgers, and even reindeer pizza. Much like with beef, it is also available dried as reindeer jerky, which is how we arrive at today's review.
The packaging on this bar was simply adorable, drawing inspiration from the arctic landscape and presumably the Aurora Borealis. A dark green and black colour scheme lead the way, with a reindeer motif rising above the treeline. The Taiga logo sat on a silver-foiled silhouette of fir trees.
Text on the front was minimal, with the Taiga logo above the product name of "Dark Chocolate with Reindeer Crisps". The 100g bar was made using Finnish reindeer meat.
On the reverse was the ingredients list in Finnish, Swedish, English, German, French, Russian, and Japanese, suggesting it is a popular souvenir item:
Taiga Dark Chocolate With Reindeer Crisps ingredients:
Chocolate (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, emulsifier (soy lecithin), vanilla flavour) smoked and dried reindeer meat 5% (reindeer meat, salt, black pepper, garlic, cardamom).
There was no mention of the minimum cocoa solids on the packaging, so I asked Taiga and they confirmed it contained 56% minimum cocoa solids. The bar also contained 42% sugars.
The outer cardboard packaging opened up to reveal a brief description of how Lapland reindeer meat found its way into this chocolate bar (in seven languages), alongside a reindeer graphic. I would have liked to see more background information on Taiga's heritage detailed here, perhaps with some information on their range of chocolate - although translating that into seven languages would limit what could realistically be printed here.
Taiga Dark Chocolate With Reindeer Crisps Review
The chunky 100g chocolate bar arrived sealed in a clear plastic wrapper. A standard mould was used to create a classic looking chocolate bar. I had expected to see reindeer jerky swirled through the recipe but discovered on the underside of the bar that it was not. Instead, a generous helping of reindeer jerky shavings were sprinkled on the molten dark chocolate, forming a rough textured rear to the bar.
The pungent initial aroma was bitter, meaty, and earthy, akin to the fragrance of Marmite or beef flavoured crisps. The chocolate itself had minimal fragrance and was effortlessly dogged by the reindeer jerky.
The mould used created a natural division into a dozen pieces, and each snap was clear and crisp. The thick blocks were formed in solid dark chocolate, so there was plenty of opportunity for the sweetness and flavour of the chocolate to balance the savoury notes from the reindeer meat.
The taste is clearly unusual, and I think Taiga was very much aware of this when they crafted the bar. "Do you dare to taste?" is written on the packaging, implying this unusual combination is something quite different to the norm. I think you'll either love or hate this bar.
The meatiness together with the saltiness were the first characteristics I detected in the taste, closely followed by the sweetness from the rich chocolate. Despite being a dairy-free product, it had a creaminess that came through mid-way that developed into the aftertaste, toying with the sweetness and saltiness. The chewiness of the reindeer jerky added texture to the smooth dark chocolate.
I tried isolating the dark chocolate to better understand its flavour profile, which was easier said than done as the reindeer meat had a penetrating force. The chocolate itself is very sweet, and had a relatively weak flavour profile. I picked up earthy, woody notes with a subtle hint of nuttiness. Personally, I wanted to taste tart berry notes in the cocoa to cut through the savoury flavours.
The chewy dried reindeer meat was smokey, gamey, earthy, and salty. It had a much deeper and richer flavour than beef jerky, but the texture was very similar.
The meaty and salty notes from the reindeer lead in the aftertaste, with the sweetness and creaminess from the chocolate coming through underneath. There was a rich cocoa edge to the flavour, too.
Overall, this was a very quirky and unusual bar that was perhaps not for everyone, but I enjoyed the combination of 56% chocolate together with the chewiness and meatiness of the jerky. The saltiness derived from the Lapland horned chum played well against the the dark chocolate, striking the right balance between sweet and savoury.
I acknowledge it is an unusual flavour combination, particularly for British palates, and that the bar could easily be classed as a novelty gift. It may well not be for everyone (plus you have to get over the notion that you're eating Rudolf!), but I love weird and wonderful unexpected combinations like this. I found this bar by Taiga to be well balanced, with a fusion of sweet and savoury flavours that worked really well.
If you find yourself in Finland - and I do urge you to visit if you can as it's such a beautiful country - seek out this bar from Taiga and give it a go. Alternatively, you'll find it available on their website (€9.90).
Taiga Dark Chocolate With Reindeer Crisps Review
RRP: £9.90 | Taiga | Shop now
A generous helping of salty, chewy reindeer jerky sprinkled over chunks of smooth dark chocolate. It's a very unusual flavour combination but the sweetness works a treat with the meaty flavour and saltiness.
Meat and chocolate - a dream combination or one to skip? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.