On a recent visit to Andalusia, after I had declined a flamenco lesson, private bull-farm tour, tapas-cooking class and sherry tasting, my exasperated Spanish host suggested an hour’s road trip from the 18th-century olive-estate-turned-rustic-chic Hacienda de San Rafael (where I was unwinding amid sunflowers, butterflies and flamingos). We were to make a pilgrimage to visit his chocolatier friend in Cádiz, the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe. Bull’s-eye.
Driving past the 18th-century city walls, we did not aspire to take a historic wander around the Moorish old city, nor did we head towards the waterfront where the Cádiz Cathedral rises under its gilded cupola. Those Zurbarán saints at the Museo de Cádiz would just have to wait. We parked near Oratorio de San Felipe Neri where I heard a tour guide say something about the 1812 Constitution as we breezed past into Cádiz’s ancient warren of narrow pedestrian lanes, and towards Pancracio, at the corner of José del Toro II and the high street known as Calle Ancha.
A display of freshly baked chocolate croissants greeted us outside the white-washed boutique. Though it was only around 10 in the morning, I accepted a white Marcona almond, dipped in white chocolate and dusted with raspberry, from founder Pedro Alvarez. To be diplomatic, I also tried one covered with green tea dust. I don’t usually like white chocolate but I was happily nibbling away as Alvarez explained his motivations behind Pancracio in two words: quality and crunch.
“Crunchy is my thing,” said the English-speaking Alvarez, a trained-economist-turned-brand-consultant-and-graphic-designer who added chocolatier to his CV 10 years ago, in part to bring top-quality international products to his native city. Starting with pure Belgian chocolate, Alvarez sniffs out other ingredients on his global gallivanting. In between bites of Minicrujientes – his delectably bite-size bars of dark, milk and white chocolate, each generously coated with cocoa nibs and toasted wafer flakes, salty corn or cookie pearls (€24 for a box of 15) – we bonded over a shared love for Siddhalepa, an Ayurvedic pharmacy in Colombo. I spied the Crunchy Bar (€20), a singular and signature Pancracio item made with 35 per cent milk chocolate and covered in crushed pralines and wafer bits, the latter a nod to traditional Spanish sweets, and my eyes alighted on the 330g slab, a decision my undisciplined self lived to regret.
We moved on to sampling Alvarez’s dark cacao-nib “cruffles” (€17 for 12), as I wandered around the attractive space, picking up a year’s worth of hostess gifts that should make me a popular dinner party and weekend guest. These included Pancracio Choconade black-olive paste infused with dark chocolate (€8.20). “Good with goat’s cheese on bruschetta, or with smoked salmon,” Alvarez called out, before I moved on to grab several adorable baskets of baguette-shaped chocolates and a white porcelain pot of chocolate sardines.
“Quality chocolate satisfies you with less,” insisted Alvarez, while I pretended that sampling was still an adequate description of my fully fledged attack on his inventory. But the gracious Spaniard nonetheless held out a box of his dark-chocolate domes (€20), made with a ganache of Pancracio Chocolate Vodka (€18.75 a bottle), triple distilled and infused with macerated cocoa beans, vanilla and sugar.
Rather belatedly, I practised a bit of patience, allowing the lavish ganache to linger on my tongue, but then Alvarez announced that it was time for lunch, and with that he handed me a shot glass full of the clear, ambrosial-scented liquid. I downed it and then gamely followed my leader back outdoors into the medieval maze.