About one month ago, I read a blurb in the Boston Globe about a Chocolate Class offered by a small independent chocolatier, Temper Chocolates. I called and reserved a spot for L. and me that day. Then I carefully entered the date, Oct. 27th, and time in L's palm pilot to make sure that we both made it there!
The class was held in the Commonwealth hotel in Kenmore Square, just upstairs from the tiny kiosk store. About 25 or 30 "students" enrolled and the room was packed. Each place setting in the u-shaped configuration had a small plate with about 9 squares of chocolate. Ice-cold water in pitchers and goblets were at the ready so that we could cleanse our palates between nibbles.
Caroline Rey, the young owner and chocolatier, led us through the evening.
We had a packet of information next our plates that detailed the major trends in the chocolate world: country/region of origin, percentage of cocoa content and cocoa varieties. Just as the grapes grown in the hills of Tuscany produce a distinct vintage, so too does the cocoa plant grown in a specific valley in Venezuela affect the taste of the final chocolate product. Or so the theory goes.
The finest chocolate in the world grows in a Chuao, Venezuela. We got to taste it. We had started with a Hershey's bar and moved up to the refined Chuao chocolate. And, sure enough, I could tell the difference. And I did think the Chuao was amazing. But I am no chocolate snob. There is a time and a place for a Snickers.
One of the most useful, and poetic, things we learned that night had to do with cocoa content. It turns out that the best chocolate bars should have five ingredients: chocolate (cocoa), sugar, soy Lecithin (an emulsifier), cocoa butter (which is the naturally occurring oil found in the bean) and vanilla. Milk chocolate, of course, should have milk as the sixth ingredient.
Many chocolate makers take out the cocoa butter and sell it the cosmetics industry for a huge profit and then use synthetic fats in the chocolate instead. For example, a Godiva bar we looked at used "butter oil" which is soy bean oil treated to taste like butter. Yuck.
Another useful fact: While Godiva did in fact start out as a small Belgium chocolatier, it has been owned and operated since the 1970's by Campbell's. Yes, the soup people. Do not be seduced by the brand name.
Ms. Rey sells chocolates by Amedi, who manufacture in Tuscany. Although all cocoa is grown in South America and Africa, it is all manufactured in Europe and around the world. A student did ask about Fair Trade, which is an obvious concern, but Ms. Rey deftly replied that she believes Fair Trade is mostly a marketing device. In other words, they claim to monitor the plantations, but in reality this is nearly impossible. So don't buy it to ease your conscience, because it is most likely just a ploy to get your chocolate dollars. Hhmmm. I am not sure about that, but I see her point.
As the class ended, a student next to us identified herself as a Boston Globe Food Writer and asked us questions about our experience at the class. She was a lovely woman and we enjoyed telling her about our passion for sweets, even if he prefers milk and I prefer dark. I'll keep my eye out for the article!
Basic Plain/Dark Chocolate Tasting Technique:
To taste the base and primary flavor notes, wait a few seconds after you place a piece of chocolate in your mouth.
To release the secondary flavors, expand the chocolate's surface area by chewing five to t ten times.
Let the chocolate melt slowly by pushing it gently against the roof of your mouth. Note the flavor, the texture and the way the chocolate lingers on the tongue.