heist chocolate: ‘saturday morning cereal milk’

I often buy chocolate, but not this kind of chocolate. It arrived, regally. In a thick brown paper envelope with a branded stamp, the face of a cartoon boy. I have since learnt that his name is ‘Bashful Tompkins’, the kooky mascot of the Cardiff based, Heist Chocolate. Within the envelope, is another brown paper package. It is sewn at the top with white cotton, like a perfectly crafted Italian handbag. In the chunky yet elegant parcel, lies the chocolate. The design itself is a spectacle. It reminds me of the adorable animations used at drive-in movie intermissions in the 1950s. It’s achingly cool. Is this what the inside of a hipster’s brain looks like? Maybe. In tow with the packaging, was a postcard with a handwritten thank-you note. A warm and welcome interaction during lockdown.

The chocolate bar dances joyfully in front of the sun and a spillage of milk. The flavour is called, “Saturday Morning Cereal Milk”. You may have heard of the flavour, cereal milk before. It gained cult status when chef Christina Tosi showcased it at Milk Bar and Momofuku in New York in 2008. More than just iconic, the flavour is a nostalgic reminder for many. For me, it’s waiting for the milk in my bowl to infuse with wheat and sugar to devour before running for the school bus.

Heist Chocolate was started by Mikey Lewis in 2016. He notes on the Heist website that it actually started when he was 7 years old and sent to the doctors for a chocolate addiction. Addiction aside, this is the kind of guy I want to buy chocolate from. Based in Wales, independent and clearly passionate. Since Nom Nom Chocolate seized trading, I have longed for an independent Welsh chocolate maker to buy from that experiments with interesting flavours. It looks like, Heist might just be it.

The experience of receiving Heist Chocolate alone is special, the packaging itself is a gift, the chocolate, a bonus. When you head beyond the beautiful tan paper packaging, carefully opening the stitches of cotton, is a golden wrapper. It makes me feel like the Welsh Charlie Bucket.

I read online that the chocolate is best enjoyed one square at a time. Before I read that, I absolutely did not consume it in that fashion. However, when I return to eat it, one square at a time, I prefer it. It allows me to focus on the complexity of the flavours. As the chocolate melts, sea salt pirouettes on the surface of my tongue. Is this what it tastes like to have will power or is the chocolate just that interesting?

The chocolate isn’t as pale as your average white chocolate. It is saturated in yellow, a pint of milk with a mountain of custard powder in it, ready to be stirred. It is thick, thicker than most chocolate bars I have eaten. Perhaps that’s because it’s hand made and is stone ground. Whatever the reason, I like it. It feels chunky, thick like my iPhone 8+. You can see why it is packaged in such a large envelope now. It’s as if the envelope is a protective phone case and the chocolate bar is the smartphone. It doesn’t taste like plastic as do many other white chocolate bars, thankfully. I am surprised to find that there are no cornflake pieces in the chocolate, but the taste is present. Towards the end of consumption, a malty taste appears. It’s the kind of wheat like taste that I search for, to work out whether a food has wheat in it or not for my mother who is coeliac.  

This chocolate is unlike any I have consumed before. I like that it’s handcrafted, chunky, not at all rough around the edges but clearly not made by a machine. I think if it was to resemble true cereal milk, it would be lighter in colour, and perhaps have notes of marshmallow or a sour taste to it, to taste more conventionally ‘milky’. But then again, to to summarize or describe that flavour, would depend on the kind of milk that you enjoy using. The flavour is distinctive, and something that I would prefer to savour than eat in a large quantity to appreciate as much as possible.

Heist Chocolate is continuously selling out online, and rightly so. They are stocked across the UK, and from what I’ve seen on Instagram, are indeed a hipster’s delight. It’s great to see a Cardiff based chocolatier having a great deal of success and I hope it long continues. I will certainly keep the envelope that the chocolate comes in, I sort of want to keep sunglasses in it, it’s that kind of chunky. As for the chocolate, I look forward to seeing and tasting what they do next!

an ode to the humble pickled red onion

Ok this isn’t an ode exactly, but there is something poetic about the way the tart yet the nectarous flavour of pickled red onions hits your mouth. Aesthetically on a plate of food they look impressive, fancy almost. An onion lounging in a sweaty bath, marinating its tough pores in sugar and salt until aged enough for consumption. Not quite so glamorous now, but it was never meant to be. For thousands of years, we have pickled vegetables out of necessity, for preservation.

In recent years, there has been a fermented foods renaissance. Perhaps it’s the sudden urge to improve our gut health, as if our guts have never existed before this decade. Perhaps it’s Instagram food culture, and how the purple acidic rings sit so perfectly on a plate of food, craving our attention. Whatever it is, fermented food is having its moment, and right now, I am putting them in everything and on everything that I can… but not ice cream. That’s too far.

Not only do they elevate the look of a plate but pack a punch in flavour. They have style and substance, and let’s face it – the second is paramount when eating. Acidic but sweet and tangy, it pairs fantastically with savoury food. A regular component in Mexican cooking, pickled red onions work so well with the herbs and spices traditionally used in the cuisine. It’s cousin, the quintessentially British cupboard essential – white pickled onion is a flavour that I am familiar with. Be it in jarringly acidic Monster Munch crisps that remind you that you have a cut on your finger, or with leftover meat at Christmas.

It’s no secret that vinegar can transform our food. The sharpness dances in your mouth, adding a layer of flavour that you will crave to experience again after trying. The first time I tried pickled red onions was at a Las Iguanas restaurant in Cardiff. The chain was my introduction to Mexican cuisine, along with those El Paso meal kits that are always on offer at Asda. Not exactly authentic, but it opened my eyes to a different cuisine than what I was used to, and encouraged me to explore the cuisine further.

Did you know?

The first pickles on record were cucumbers, and they were first pickled in the Tigris Valley in India. The word itself comes from the Dutch pekel or northern German pókel, meaning “salt” or “brine”. The more you know for your Zoom pub quiz, eh?

The unorthodox recipe I use to pickle red onions includes:

  1. Allocating a mason jar
  2. Slicing two red onions into rings
  3. Pouring equal parts distilled vinegar and warm water over to generously coat the onions. *For some magical reason beyond my knowledge, I find that adding specifically warm water helps to speed up the fermentation process.
  4. I add a generous amount of caster sugar and salt to taste and let the onions enjoy their sweaty bath for as long as it takes them to relax into a lovely pink tone and the water is fuschia.

*You can modify your pickled red onions with adding spices such as hot peppers and mustard seeds to your jar.

I have enjoyed pairing them with meat – in burgers or on pork belly where the pickled red onions seem to cut through the fat beautifully. It’s great on brunch food, where it marries well with an avocado drenched in lime and egg on flatbread. It’s of course great on Mexican food, such as the chilli bowl below. The food combinations that you can create with pickled red onions are limitless. They’re full in flavour, beneficial for your health, aesthetically pleasing and cheap to make – what are you waiting for? Your love affair with red pickled onions awaits.