British Chocolate Week is already underway. This year Salon du Chocolat opens its first
edition in London from 18th to 20th October 2013 at
National Hall, in Olympia in London. See http://www.chocolateweek.co.uk for events around Britain including
Salon du Chocolat.
Since chocoholics tend to be very serious about their
subject, you might want to ensure that no foodie one-up-manship gets in the way
of your enjoyment, so here is a brief guide on how to judge chocolate:
your bar – it should be flawless, evenly coloured and preferably a dark
mahogany. A black chocolate implies that
either it has been made predominantly from Forastero beans, or it has been
over-roasted. A strong earthy flavour
implies the former, a strong bitter taste the latter.
Snap off a
piece. It should make a sharp sound and
not splinter or crumble. Before popping it into your mouth, give it a thorough
sniff. Since cocoa beans contain over
400 chemical compounds, you should be able to detect a sweet fragrant smell
with lots of different notes.
While you’re snapping and sniffing, make a note of how it
It should feel silky rather than sticky and just begin to yield to the
warmth of your fingers.
Place a piece of chocolate in your mouth and let it
melt on your tongue. As it melts carefully note its
texture. It should be smooth and buttery as it becomes
a creamy liquid. If it doesn’t
immediately start to dissolve, or it has grainy, waxy or gluey texture – it’s
been badly made.
Now, consider its
It should have a subtle bittersweet taste balanced with a little acidity. Its flavour should develop and change,
releasing new flavours as it melts, such as floral, fruity or spicy notes. These will vary according to the blend of
cocoa beans and how they’ve been prepared.
Lastly, take note of the
finish once you’ve swallowed (or spat out, if at a tasting) the
chocolate. The flavour of a good
chocolate can linger for up to 45 minutes! It should continue to develop and
have a clean aftertaste. Any unpleasant
taste, residue or puckering indicates that it’s a bad chocolate.
Don’t be misled by
High cocoa percentages are not automatically an indication
of good quality, merely a statement of fact, like the percentage of alcohol in
a bottle of wine. The quality of the beans and method of production is far more
important. However, dark chocolate should contain a minimum 60% cocoa content
and milk chocolate a minimum of 30%.
Single estate, single named bean or organic are not necessarily
indications of quality. Just as above, it is the skill of selection, treatment
and manufacture that really counts for the final quality.
The creation of good chocolate is as complex as making
a fine wine. There are three main varieties of cocoa beans: strong earthy
tasting Forastero, fine flavoured Trinitario and aromatic un-bitter Criollo.
Porcelana, for example, is a genetically pure strain of the Criollo bean. Trinitario and Criollo beans make up a small
percentage of world production. However, like vines, the characteristics of
each variety are affected as much by the local soil and climate as by how they’re
handled and blended.
Traditionally, cocoa pods are split open with a
machete and the 40 or so cocoa beans inside are removed with their sugary white
mucilage (coating) and left to ferment.
This reduces the acidity and bitterness of the beans and helps develop
their aromatic qualities. If this process is badly executed, the resulting
chocolate will either taste bitter or lack flavour.
If they’re dried too quickly or are poorly cleaned the
beans will taste acidic and smoky. Since
the majority of beans are sold on the world market, it’s hard for buyers to
control the quality of their raw cocoa.
However, there is a small but increasing number of haute couture
chocolate companies that buy direct from cocoa growers to ensure the highest
possible quality of bean.
If you feel like cooking, go to the chocolate orange cakes
in the main index of Cook now – they’re delicious, although I do say so myself.
Choc chip cookies, will also soon be up
on the main Cook now page.