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Green and Blacks Organic Multireview

Tuesday 31 Aug 2004

From time to time we get asked about organic biscuits. So when Green and Blacks got in contact to let us know that they were launching a range of entirely chocolate covered biscuits we thought we'd better investigate.

Of course organically grown food is widely available now and whilst its generally more expensive most people who buy it seem to do so with out much quibbling. The fact that it's been produced without the use of agrochemicals and all their effects, not only on us the consumer, but also on the environment, seems to be a price worth paying. In-particular, organic farming methods encourage an increased biodiversiy compared to conventional farming. Green & Blacks certainly make this claim for their cocoa bean crop which is grown in Belize by an old fella called Saul Garcia. A variety of cocoa bean types and their cultivation amongst other tree species helps make the crop less susceptible to pests and diseases. Very good. However, I'm often disappointed that organically grown produce doesn't seem to taste any different to its conventionally farmed alternatives. Certainly with vegetables its got much more to do with the variety and where its grown rather than what has or hasn't been sprayed on it. If you want to know what a carrot or tomato really tastes like then you still better off growing your own.

So never having pushed the boat out and spent 1.50 on a big bar of their chocolate, but having heard very good things about it I was more than a little curious to try their biscuits. We got our hands on the entire range Dark, Milk, Ginger and Hazelnut each consisting of ten thin but elegant biscuits. As you would expect the box bears the mark of the Soil Association, especially given that Craig Sams, President of Green and Blacks is chairman of the aforementioned. Inside wrapped tightly in clear cellophane bearing gold Green and Blacks logos is a large molded plastic tray holding its precious cargo. Now obviously these are posh thorough bred biscuits, not a bunch of old dobbins, and so expect to travel in the lap of luxury if they are to turn up looking at their best. Still it does slightly undermine their saving the planet credentials.

So cellophane seal compromised there was little left to do except start scoffing. The chocolate immediately lived up to expectations, and exuded those refined and rich flavours one would normally associate with an expensive Belgian confection. With such a substantial flavour, and at 42.5% by weight, the chocolate could easily overwhelm the biscuit turning it merely to a structural component. Well certainly for the three non ginger biscuits it almost succeeds. Some butter and vanilla flavours just about hold out, and the Hazelnut only really makes its presence felt if the odd piece of it clings to your teeth after the biscuit has met its end. However, where they do succeed is in their texture which is crunchy with little grains which work as little islands of biscuity interest in a sea of posh chocolate. The ginger version is covered in dark chocolate which works very well and the hazelnut in milk. Green and Blacks describe this as 'perfect balance between biscuit and chocolate', which I suppose it is if you are wanting to taste mostly chocolate, and you probably are if you bought these.

It comes as little surprise to find out the biscuits are made in France. They feel very continental and no doubt the French in common with the other Euro chocolate axis countries have the necessary experience in working with such premium grade biscuits. At two pounds a pop you're not going to be giving your spares to the dog, children or visiting royalty for that matter. Keep a look out for them in Waitrose, Sainsburys, Tescos and Asda amongst others.


Iced VoVo

Monday 23 Aug 2004

This really wasn't meant to be a the Iced VoVo but rather the Griffin's Toffeepop, so that we could do a clever compare and contrast to the previous biscuit of the week the Burton's Toffypop. However, through no fault of their own the entirely chocolate covered biccys from NZ had managed to melt themselves together and so were not looking at their best. So swiftly I moved to next in reserve the Iced VoVo a biscuit I have been meaning to grapple with for quite some time. Lets be realistic, yet again its got a silly name which is basically a red rag to a bull when it comes to biscuit reviewing.

So here we are with another Australian classic from Arnott's, and its one of those that the Aussies like refer to when ever the subject turns to jam and marshmallow. As you see from the pack it is doing sterling work keeping alive the 'My little pony' school of design in the sphere of biscuits, with strong use of vivid pink, gold and fairy dust sprinkles. If you have just spent the morning breaking rocks in the sun with an enormous hammer then the Iced VoVo is not going to be near the top of your biscuit list. Mind you if on the other hand you have been busy simulating a gymkhana in your bedroom some where in the Great Southern land then its a no brainer.

So how does the biscuit stand up to scrutiny? Well first of all they are not the same sort of thing as our Jacob's Mallows/Mikados which is more than evident when the pack is opened as they are tightly packed into a single plastic tray, resting on their sides. This speaks volumes about the biscuit base and its topping. The biscuit is something like a richly golden Marie in texture and appearance, and 45mm by 60mm is about 18% wider than the Jacob's. The frilly detailing and edging mean that this is quite a precise bit of baking. It also means that it can take a certain amount of abuse which would see the soft based Jacob's crumbling.

The topping is comprised of two outer lines of pale pink icing, an inner line of raspberry-ish jam (there is some raspberry content). The outer icing stuff is evidently an transitionary form between icing and marshmallow, and is perhaps closest to the stuff that pink shrimp sweets are made from. Now I can't be entirely sure about this as the Iced VoVos shared a ride with the afore mentioned Toffeepops so simply they may be a bit worse for wear. Then again this might be a true and accurate representation, and there is that silly name to take account of. If these are indeed Iced Vovos then the stuff on top must be icing and as such not as fluffy as marshmallow.

So to the all too obvious final point, what is a VoVo. Obviously there is one in here as they had to ice it to make these. My Aunty Shelia, a Londoner, always finds exotic foreign sounding names tricky to pronounce and so would usually string a few extra sylables in or subtitute the end of the word for an 'AH'. I remember it was somewhat embarresing and confusing when her friend June got a new Volvo. It took a few seconds to establish that she hadn't had a very delicate operation but had bought a car.

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Friday 30 Jul 2004

Whilst in Ireland the other week we couldn't help but notice the abundance of Burton's ToffyPops a biscuit which is becoming ever more scarce in its native UK. The first packet I obtained for review purposes lasted about thirty five seconds once I had given the 'Its OK I've taken the picture' signal. This left me with a solitary Toffypop, a bisected one at that, with which to carry out the review. I could have bluffed my way through it, but such is the rigour of the NCOTAASD review process I had no option but to go out and buy a second pack.

Its easy to see why the first batch took such a battering, as there are a mere ten Toffypops (name trademarked by the way) to a pack. At 50mm across 10 mm deep the Toffypop seems quite dainty. of course any small biscuit that is also carrying around 32% toffee and 13% Milk chocolate, is going to have a great deal of trouble fending for itself. The biscuit base is somewhat like a sponge flan case in cross section, although the biscuit itself probably has more in-common with its stable mate the Jammie Dodger. However, the base seemed to be slightly more crunchy than its jammy sibling. I measured the toffee well at approximately 3mm deep which certainly allows for enough toffee for it to make its presence known. It would probably be more accurate to classify the toffee as soft caramel and it readily forms dangly stringy bits as you bite lumps out of your biscuit.

The pack shows with some degree of artistic license bisected toffypops with toffee oozing from them. The biscuits afford just enough toffee to the eater for us to overlook this rather glamourised artificial reality. The ingredients list condensed milk which no doubt is used to make the toffee, much in the way its is used in bannoffee pie, or as we have learnt various Latin American biscuits (see your reviews section). The other interesting fact to be gleaned from the pack is where Toffypops have been hiding apart from Irish supermarkets. Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Spain all seem to be receiving shipments of these tasty little biscuits, whilst in the UK their habitat seems to be mostly confined to the Spar, although I haven't looked in a Coop for them. Much the same sort of thing happened to the range of Neanderthal man at the end of the last ice age 13,000 years ago. Of course they didn't all end up in the local Spar as it hadn't been invented, nor could they get cheap flights to Ireland.

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